Ever since we were young children we’ve believed that people who were whispering (or conversing in a foreign language) while we were in the room must be talking about us. And they are obviously saying something unflattering – otherwise they would include us in the conversation. Right?
And with (some) maturity comes the recognition that they probably aren’t speaking about me at all. They have more interesting, or at least more personally relevant issues to discuss. In fact, they are probably talking about themselves!
Yet, even with that realization, I find myself unable to fully break from that childhood pain and expectation. It still seems rude and hurtful to me when people whisper around me – particularly at my own (Shabbos) dinner table. Whatever they are saying, even a benign comment about the weather, is something they are excluding me (and most of the rest of the guests) from hearing. They may even be saying something complimentary (see the power of positive thinking!) but they are nevertheless creating an uncomfortable us-versus-you dynamic.
And while I certainly can’t ask them to refrain from this behavior (unless they happen to share my surname!), I can make decisions for myself, about my own desired future behavior. That, of course, is what we should do anytime we witness unattractive behavior in someone else. We need to focus the lens inward (ah, I know, it’s so much easier to see what’s wrong with everyone else!).
So, as much as I want to share that private joke with my husband or add something to the conversation for his ears only, or even just express some personal feelings, a public forum is just not the right moment. If anyone else will feel hurt or excluded, I should keep my mouth shut.
Whispering is a unique challenge. Usually we need to be sensitive about the content of what we say. In this case, it’s the saying of anything at all that can be insensitive. We have to exercise self-control and bite our tongues when someone’s feelings are at stake, however witty an aside we were about to make.
If something is truly worth saying, it can be said aloud to everyone. And if not, perhaps our spouses don’t need to hear it either!
If our children can’t behave at the table, if they are constantly whispering to each other, then in addition to admonishing them about this negative behavior, we need to take some practical action. We need to separate them. And we need to do the same with adults (through advance planning of course!).
Not everyone thinks it’s rude to whisper (how else to explain this widespread phenomenon?) but, whatever their viewpoint, you can have a family rule – a zero tolerance policy for whispering at the table.
And then you can all brainstorm together about cute, yet practical, ways to enforce it. Let me know what you come up with. I’m looking for some good tips…