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Mom with a View


It’s getting really hard to keep your private life private.


The password on my computer is MYOB – mind your own business. I thought it was appropriate (although now that I’ve revealed it in such a public fashion I have to change it!). I also think it’s a slogan that could be applied in society in general today, expressed more politely of course.

Not only do many people have no shame about exposing their private lives on national television (thank you Reality TV), but they don’t have any appreciation that others may be unlike them and actually have some boundaries.

I heard a story recently about a woman undergoing fertility treatment, certainly a private topic. “How many eggs did you freeze?” inquired an acquaintance at a cocktail party. No shrinking violet, the embarrassed woman shot back, “Why, did you want some?”

Boundaries please. And a little sensitivity.

Another friend recalls someone she had just met asking if she planned to have more children. “I’m not sure,” she replied, “but you’ll be the first to know!”

T-shirts with MYOB displayed in giant caps seems like a harsh way to go but it’s getting harder and harder to keep the world at bay, to keep our private lives private, to erect a fence around what’s precious.

Many years ago, I was walking down the street pushing my two oldest children (11 months apart) in a double stroller and expecting my third. A woman drove by, did a double take, screeched to a halt and got out of her car. She ran over to me. “I’d kill myself if I were in your situation. I’d just kill myself.” And she left. Did I ask?! Do I care about her opinion? Why was I subjected to her verbal assault? Why didn’t she just MHOB (mind her own business)?

For some reason, money remains taboo. The same people who think that an expectant woman’s stomach is available for public patting (would they dare pat it after she gives birth?) would never ask what someone’s annual income is, gross or net. I’m not sure why money remains off bounds or why it is considered more private than the discussion of intimate bodily functions.

And speaking of which, my husband recently called a businessman he learns with to set up an appointment. “He’s not in the office today,” chirped his helpful secretary, “he’s having a colonoscopy.”

Too much information (TMI)! groaned my husband to himself. Did I really need to know that?

“Guard your tongue” means more than refraining from gossip; it means that we should be careful about whatever we say. We should exercise judgment and caution before we speak. We should be thoughtful and sensitive and not cross personal boundaries, no matter how curious (read: nosy) we are!

We are taught that the defining characteristics of the Jewish people are that we are compassionate, kind and have a sense of shame. Not shame as in bad and debilitating psychological discomfort, shame as in “some things are private and appropriately so.”

Holding on to that sense today isn’t easy. And even when we try, we are frequently confronted by others who lack that desire and try to break through our barriers. So we need to come up with some polite but firm responses for those of us who can’t think of witty comebacks. “I’m sorry, we’re keeping that private.” “I’m not comfortable discussing that in public.” “That’s personal, don’t you think?” (Said with a smile and not aggressively) “Let’s talk about something else.” And of course, “How about those Dodgers?...”

June 22, 2013

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 17

(11) Anonymous, June 29, 2013 2:09 PM

...And relatives putting photos of your family on facebook. Hard to explain to them why i dont want it done. They take it personally as if i am judging them that they are doing something wrong for having FB and they totally do the thing of not understanding whats wrong that fb its so innocent and harmless.

(10) Mickey Oberman, June 27, 2013 6:54 PM

I see that you expect your readers to use that "f" word.
"facebook"that is.
It is probably the most pernicious destroyer of privacy there is and all its victims/members are willing to surrender their private lives to their "facebook friends" most of whom they have never met.

(9) Yisroel, June 27, 2013 4:00 PM

It's a Disease!

Being nosey is really a disease and society seems to thrive on it. I feel guilty even telling someone politely to MYOB. It's as if people expect you to tell them whatever they want to know about you or others. If you don't tell them they think you're secretive, cold, unfriendly, etc. I've had to boost my self-esteem to be more assertive when I deflect an inappropriate comment or question.

Nancy, June 27, 2013 10:28 PM

To commenter #9 Yisroel--You really hit the nail on the head! I've been called secretive by family members just because I did not want to share private information with them. (See my comment below re: my father, z"l.) Are you sure we didn't grow up in the same household?! lol!

(8) Rob, June 27, 2013 3:33 PM

Forgot to add "What do you do for a living?"

Many people think this is an innocent question, but it comes off as potentially very judgmental. Answers to the question can imply approximate salary, education level, and other things.

In polite society, it is considered gauche to inquire about one's profession or talk business in social settings, for exactly those reasons. A person's character, value, and companionship is not really related to their profession, assuming their work is legal.

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