Booby Traps // And how to avoid them

By Ruchama Feuerman

“I’m a good listener”

If someone tells me she’s a good listener, I wonder why she’s telling me. After all, if she’s really a good listener, why announce it? Won’t I soon find out?

Actually, the odds are that this person is a bad listener (and maybe doesn’t know it). Because if she were really a good listener, it would be so essential to who she is, so effortless and ingrained, that it wouldn’t occur to her to let others know. It would be not only superfluous but odd, like someone announcing she’s a good breather.

I wish someone had told me this when I was 20 instead of finally figuring it out for myself when I was 45.

Whenever I was on a shidduch, if the guy said, “I’m a good listener,” I foolishly believed him. True, for the five minutes that I shared something, he sat there, fist propped under his chin, eyes on mine, and listened earnestly. But after that? With his listening dues paid, he hogged the rest of the conversation. It’s not that he was lying to me. He just had unbelievably low standards for what makes a person a good listener.

Perhaps the so-called good listener should say instead, “On occasion, if I marshal all my concentration and set aside every distraction, I can listen pretty well. But not for very long, so don’t count on it.”

What I’ve learned: Don’t make statements about yourself to people you’ve just met. Let others discover what there is to discover.


“I’m a proud X”

I’m a proud liberal, I’m a proud father of three girls, I’m a proud Jew, I’m a proud undertaker.


Is it possible that the person who calls himself a proud undertaker actually feels a little squeamish, maybe even ashamed of his job, and is unwittingly apologizing for it? It strikes me as having an undertone of self-justification.

I used to call myself a proud introvert, until I realized I wasn’t proud to be an introvert at all—in fact, the opposite. Next time you’re tempted to call yourself a proud mother, a proud actuary, a proud extrovert, a proud ultrasound technologist, a proud vegan, ask yourself: What aspect of this identity am I unconsciously apologizing for?

Something else I’ve noticed is that whenever someone is about to attack or denounce the very thing he claims to be proud of, he’ll first say, “I’m a proud X.” It buys the attacker a little bit of immunity, or so he imagines.

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