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Let's Do Lunch!

Let's Do Lunch!

"How are you?" "I'll give you a call!" and other words we use to create the illusion of caring.


People frequently use expressions like "let's get together soon" or the infamous "let's do lunch" as throwaways with no intention of following through on the deed behind the expression. These figures of speech are known as stereotypical brush-offs.

A manager of quality assurance at a construction company complained in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that while he feels compelled to make polite conversation in the workplace, he's "not always in the mood to hear about their travails, about the traffic, bad weather, a flat tire, their job, projects, family, schools and their health from headache to sore toe."

With all the "How are you?"s that echo down our streets and the ubiquitous "air kisses," we have become habituated to meaningless conversations, to saying words that have no substantive content behind them.

In Jewish tradition, meaning what you say is not only a good idea -- it's mandatory. (Just think of the boon to the restaurant business if everyone really did "do lunch"!)

A specific category of forbidden speech is called "genaivas daas," stealing someone's mind. This is not an ancient vision of some science fiction monstrosity; this is about deceiving people with our words. If we inquire about someone's life and we're really not interested, that's stealing his or her mind. We're creating an illusion of caring.

If we invite an acquaintance over for dinner and a) we never really intend to have them over ("Still remodeling your kitchen, Doris?") or b) we know for sure they're not available, we're stealing their minds. We're trying to satisfy an obligation without really…satisfying an obligation. We're trying to create an impression of friendship and good will without any of the effort involved in created true relationships.

If my friend's word doesn't mean anything, how exactly do we define relationship?

Our family recently visited Universal Studios. The most interesting experience there is not the high-tech rides but rather the back lot tour of all the stage sets for many different movies. The guide is fond of pointing out how it is all a façade -- just the front of the building with nothing behind it. Unfortunately many of us have taken that as a model for our lives as well.

Have we become so used to treating others cavalierly? As the WSJ article suggests, "That's the sorry truth about office prattle: Our mouths move, but we often don't mean it."

"Often" is putting it generously.

We say what is beneficial to us -- whether it's in a business or social context -- with little to no regard for the person we're addressing. I have a number of acquaintances who have made it a habit to never return phone messages. I don't like the phone either, so I can empathize with the desire. But if you don't like to return messages, don't record any! Don't use your answering machine. Otherwise you are deluding your friends into thinking they will hear from you.

Although saying things you don't mean is often done as an attempt to strengthen relationships -- "I'll call you!" -- it results in just the opposite.

If my friend's word doesn't mean anything, how exactly do we define relationship? If her request for information is insincere, if her dinner invitations are always coincidentally when I'm busy, what makes this a friendship?

If he can't be bothered to return my phone calls, if we've been waiting two years to set up a mutually convenient dinner date, then this friendship isn't high on the priority list.

Mean what you say and say what you mean -- a simple prescription but difficult to implement. We don't have to express everything that's on our mind (especially if it's negative) but when we do open our mouths, "you gotta be sincere."

Personally, the people who have most influenced me are not the brilliant, charismatic teachers or the powerful and wealthy businessmen, but those people whose sincerity and honesty shone through, who I knew I could trust. And that's certainly what I want for my children. I don't want them "doing lunch" (although I am open to invitations!); I want them reveling in the joy of having true friends over for dinner and having a home and personality that is open to all. I want them to mean what they say even though the temptation is to do otherwise. It's an important part of being a mensch, which is what we all want our children to be.

December 6, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) HannahNana, January 27, 2013 6:53 PM

If you can't say something nice...

When shown a photo of someones beloved grandchild or such, and not finding them as beautiful as the proud PaPa, I search for a Good or Benign quality to speak of; Oh! my a full head of hair, at 4 months already?!" Or, " Such a happy baby, look @ that joy, THAT is what makes the world go 'round! " It isn't unkind nor insincere. In fact JOY is a gift for everyone, show me a grandparent who doesn't want to hear this? Or "Such bright, clear eyes, a gifted child to be sure." Share the delight with the other and then instead of 'let's do lunch" Be exponential so that it is obvious you both know there won't be a follow up; for example, " Sunrise, Sunset", I'll send a gift@ _ Mitzvah; That will be here by the time we finish our supper! Acknowledging things in common without forcing an affiliation. Gosh, that's brilliant, where did that come from?

(8) rivka, December 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Politeness is fine

but does it necessitate dishonesty? I think the answer to the previous comment may not be that we should be polite even if we don't mean it; rather, we should make the extra effort and MEAN it when we ask how someone is.

If we can make the effort to ask, surely we can -- and must! -- dredge up actual concern?

(7) Gabriella Levin, December 18, 2003 12:00 AM

Sometimes it's OK to be Polite

I certainly agree with the author's perseptive and honest evaluation of the insignificance of a phrase like "Let's do lunch," although I think it is also important to note that there is room to live, as well as an obligation to be polite to one another. If anybody that wasn't truly interested in another's welfare did not make an effort to do so, then our world would be a very cruel and harsh one indeed. While I think it is imperative to be sincere to one another, I think it is only polite to inquire about someone's welfare upon encountering them. Please consider this significant issue when you encounter a situation such as this one.

(6) LB, December 16, 2003 12:00 AM

I agree

Thank you for the reminder.

(5) Anonymous, December 12, 2003 12:00 AM


I just don't know how certain people go thru life saying one thing but knowing fully well that what they're saying is untrue. It always makes me distrust everything else about them, let alone the words that come out of their mouths.

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