Updated: Jun 9, 2020
As a Rabbi, I go to many Jewish ‘life‑cycle events’, from weddings and funerals to circumcisions and Barmitzvah celebrations. Quite often, while I’m standing and talking to someone, someone else will break into the conversation to ask me a question or tell me something and whoever I was in the middle of talking to a moment earlier gets about as much attention and consideration as a door post!
I have witnessed this same behavior in restaurants, where two people are having Dinner. A third person walks by, recognizes one of the diners and launches right in to his own story (often for quite some time!), while being totally unmoved by the fact that these two people were having a conversation with each other, and not him. He is seemingly oblivious to the fact that one of them is now being completely sidelined and ignored, all because of his “Hi! Fancy bumping into you here”.
Another way we commonly interrupt people is simply by not allowing them to finish their sentences. Spouses do this to each other frequently, even in intimate moments when one of them is confiding something of a sensitive nature. Yet, if we stop to consider the absolute truth of what is happening here, this means that it is entirely possible that they never fully listen to each other.
I will always remember a personal experience I had as a young man, when I went to consult a senior Rabbi in his private office. Although he was both a busy congregational Rabbi and a practicing judge, he had made the time to see me and we sat down to talk.
As he offered me a seat, the Rabbi said to his wife, “Please can you ensure that I am not interrupted for a half hour? I won’t be taking any calls during this time”.
I remember feeling deeply honored that this wise and busy man was giving me his undivided attention, and that he had the strength to be forthright about his choice to be unavailable for anyone else during this time.
Unfortunately, very few people behave like this. Most act as if some cataclysmic event will unfold around them if they don’t answer the phone or allow themselves to be interrupted. In reality, though, rather than successfully helping many people by flitting between each of them as needed, they constantly disrespect the person they are trying to help now, and they leave an ocean of bad feelings in their wake.
It’s not hard to listen; and when we do, there is nothing quite as fulfilling, yet this has become so endemic that society has had to devise a special name to describe this most basic expectation of undivided attention from someone who should take priority in our lives: ‘Quality Time’.
‘Quality Time’ has come to mean, for example, the father who comes home from work and doesn’t talk on the phone throughout dinner, with one ear listening to a business associate while he barks commands at his kids about sitting nicely while they eat.
‘Quality Time’ means when a father’s behavior shows his kids that, right now, he is at home with them; right now, there is nothing more important to him than his family.
Shouldn’t all the time we spend with family be ‘Quality Time’?