Sunday, January 08, 2006

Exhausting Responsibility

Why are yeshiva and college students between 18 and 23 years old so irresponsible?!

In and now out of high school, I have always been impressed with WITS' dedication to developing students with incredible middos and derech eretz (personal charachteristics, manners, proper way of acting, et al). When I got to Ohr Yerushalayim in Israel (OJ), a number of us were talking with a rabbi on the first day. When I mentioned I had been to WITS, he noted "I'm not a fan of their style of learning; it's too picky for me. But I must say, every student I've met from there has been a mensch." The rabbeim in WITS took turns giving a very good mussar shmuess (speech about proper way of acting) before Maariv (evening prayers) on Saturday nights - but most importantly, they led by example.

Serach and I got married on a Wednesday in New York, and our last set of Sheva Brachos was to be in Cleveland on the following Monday (Tuesday was 17 Tammuz, a fast day). Rabbi Yehuda Cheplowitz, a rebbe whom I admire very much, was unable to attend my wedding, having another wedding to officiate in Toronto the same night. He felt bad about this, and as he comes to collect for WITS every summer in Cleveland, he and his wife decided to drive all day from Chicago to try and make it in time for the Sheva Brachos. It's about a 7-hour drive - they drove with (IIRC) just one stop the entire way, and got there in the middle of Sheva Brachos. When they arrived, a family friend was speaking, and though I heard them walk in, they didn't say a word and remained out of sight of everyone who was there for the duration of the speech - almost ten minutes. This entire time, they waited at the entrance rather than walk in so as not to disturb either the speaker or the attention of all those who were listening. That is true derech eretz.

Contrast that with what happened today. Lander has an intramural football league. This league has 4 teams, and each team has 8-9 players. The game is played as a 6-on-6, so there should be a couple of substitutes per team. In the preseason, it was a bit tough making sure everybody got plenty of time on the field, but it was manageable. Now, I understand that people have good reasons to miss games sometimes - often, very good reasons. But you've made a commitment to play, and unless you have one of those good reasons, you better be there. It is unfair to sign up, have a number of teammates counting on you, and then just not show up. If you do have a good reason to not make it, so call and let them know.

I was running late today, and was getting ready for the game at about 1:59. My friend called and asked if I was coming, and I said I'd be there very soon (game starts at 2). I got there at about 2:05, and almost nobody was there yet - from our team, there was just me and him. Over the next couple of minutes, 2 more guys showed up. One guy had called and said he had a sheva brachos he had to go to, but said he would try and make part of the game. He came running, but told us he had to leave at halftime. This guy I not only have no problem with, I am actually impressed with: He came even though he had more important things he had to do, knowing he'd only be able to play one half.

It's the other four people I'm wondering about. One never showed up after Week 1, and essentially told us he wasn't playing anymore. It's a bit annoying that he originally said he'd play, but at least he was honest. The other three showed up most games during the season - but today, they were nowhere to be seen. I have no clue if they had legitimate reasons not be there or not, and I won't pre-judge them. What I find disturbing is that our team had 5 players for the first half, and four for the second half: And we weren't outnumbered. The other team also had 5 players, one who had to leave at 2:50 (the game started so late, this was the beginning of the 2nd half), and that's what really gets me. I find it incredibly hard to believe that of 18 players on 2 teams, seven were never heard from and never came. Sure, some may have had good excuses - but seven?!

What resulted was crazy. We played five-on-five for the first half, which is exhausting. The field is meant for six-on-six, which means it's a lot easier to move the ball and there's a lot more time for the quarterbacks, which means more running. Add in the fact that neither team has any substitutes, and you have some very exhausted players. Throw in a terrible field, which causes lots of falling when you make cuts (despite cleats), and you've got the wind being knocked out of you a little bit every once in while, too. Finally, cut it to four-on-four to start the second half, and it just becomes unbearable. A few minutes into the second half, I could no longer move, and I could barely even breathe. I've played hours upon hours of tackle football in the freezing cold with little air, or full-court basketball in the searing heat, and not had a problem. Sure, I'm not in the shape I used to be, but I'm still in far better shape than I was a few weeks ago. I called a timeout, sat on the side and drank some Powerade... and we realized that we were down 27-12 and not having an ounce of fun. Both teams decided to just call the game.

I don't understand how people can be so irresponsible and selfish. If you sign up, you play. If you volunteer to do something, you do it. If for some reason you can't, then tell people that you can't. Don't sign up and show up when it's convenient for you; do everyone a favor and don't sign up in the first place. A good friend on one of the other teams had been frustrated all year to go out of his way to travel here on Sunday afternoons from Far Rockaway, only to find out that half his team wasn't there - and then see them milling around, doing nothing. Today, he had a wedding in Rockland County, and was running late - but he still came, took a shower at my apartment after his game and got his tuxedo on to go to the wedding.

When I was in Baltimore for a weekend, my sister and my wife wanted us to stay Sunday afternoon and go back Sunday evening or Monday morning so we could spend time with the kids - but I said that wouldn't be right. We went to take an 8:30 AM bus... but it never showed. The company 'suspended operations'. I tried to find a ride, but to no avail. I called my friend, and told him I was really sorry but I wouldn't make it. Not only did they understand, they won the game, too. But at least I tried to make it, and called!

When I was in WITS, we had an intramural football league. There were something like 78 students in the high school, and all but seven of them signed up. Every week, every team had enough players to play, and almost always had all their players. There were no "no-shows", and a lot of guys played very hurt. Some guys had to be told they were not allowed to play by rabbeim or the gym coach, they were so injured. High-school kids are so much more responsible? Is it education? Poor parenting? Sheer selfishness?

I don't expect Lander College to be teaching responsibility to students who have been through about 15 years of yeshiva and schooling. These are people who, at this point in their lives, should know better. They could mention it in shmuessim, and there is definitely not the sense of camraderie and friendliness from and among the rabbeim that WITS and OJ had, nor those shining examples of how to be a mensch - but they are very nice, friendly when you go to them rabbeim. I'm also quite certain that Lander being a place that has a heavy percentage of New Yorkers affects things - there seems to be a lack of derech eretz in the NY/NJ area in general, and a lifestyle of "Me First" that corrupts people's ideals. I do believe that I've picked up certain attributes from being in New York that have negatively affected my own actions and attitudes - and I am very conscious of these when I get out of New York, and generally lose them (thank God).

But none of these excuse this shunning of responsibility. People must learn to grow up and be responsible for their actions and for their words - if you say you will do something, DO IT. These are guys in their late teens and early twenties, and while they are not expected to be perfect, they are expected to have a sense of maturity and responsibility.

I don't know all the causes for this selfish attitude, and would be very interested in what they might be. More importantly, how does one teach people responsibility and selflessness at this point in their life? Or is it just too late?

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  1. there seems to be a lack of derech eretz in the NY/NJ area in general, and a lifestyle of "Me First" that corrupts people's ideals.

    One of the main reasons I'm glad I left NY. I've always been impressed with the boys that WITS turns out, which is why I'm happy to send my own boys there.

    Just remember that one of the reasons the turnout was always good for the games at WITS was that there was nowhere else to go. Guys are pretty much stuck there, no? When you get out into the real world, there's family and jobs and traffic and numerous other things that come up.

    I'm not saying that's an excuse. I've felt the same way you do on many occasions, though not with sports. I've tried to organize music performances and rehearsals and have been repeatedly frustrated by my need to babysit the other musicians. Hey, you're a grown up! Why do I have to remind you that you said you'd show up today??

    All I can say is, get used to disappointment, and then it won't be so much of a surprise.

  2. Just remember that one of the reasons the turnout was always good for the games at WITS was that there was nowhere else to go. Guys are pretty much stuck there, no? When you get out into the real world, there's family and jobs and traffic and numerous other things that come up.

    Granted. I was thinking about throwing that in, but I decided it wasn't relevant. I and the guy who had to run to Sheva Brachos are the 2 only married guys in the league - and we were the ones making extra efforts. The guy from Far Rockaway is the only guy who is not in the school and lives farther away.

    All I can say is, get used to disappointment, and then it won't be so much of a surprise.

    Sadly, I'm all too used to it, and it's not much of a surprise at all. I think that's what bothered me more than anything: I've become used to expecting people to not keep their word. Is that what life is all about? Lowered expectations? We can no longer expect people to be good, responsible people?

  3. That works in high school, but wouldn't work here. They're just not that interested - they'll simply say, "Well, so I won't come. Big whoop." Of course it's not the highest priority - but don't sign up if you aren't coming.

  4. Maybe those guys aren't behaving responsibly, because they are NOT being held to the highest standard. They are not showing up because the game is not their highest priority and because they don't see any stakes in winning and being responsible. If they had something to lose (as in, not being allowed to play next time as a punishment), they'd behave more maturely.

  5. Ezzie -

    I have soem bad news for you. If you think this is going to get better when you get out of the 18-23 demographic, think again.

    I played hockey with a group of guys on Wednesday night for a few years at the elementary school most of us had attended. When we began playing, the game was supposed to start at 8. It only took a few weeks before the puck didn't drop until 8:30, and then 9, and then 9:30. No one ever changed the scheduled start time, and no one ever bothered to call when they wouldn't show up. The game went on for about two years, until we didn't have enough people showing up to play.

    The problem, I assumed, was no one had a vested interest in the game. They just felt that if they missed this week, they could play next week. Even thoguh we had the same basic teams each week, there was no league format.

    I decided to raise the stakes, recruited our nine best players, and got them to sign up for a hockey league at a local sports complex. Surely the fact that everyone was going to plunk down $115 for a ten week season, and the specter of playoffs, would get them to show up. It worked for season's one and two. Although there were weeks when people didn't show up, they would usually call, and only miss with a valid excuse.

    During Season Three, the guys reverted back to their old form, though. We had to switch leagues because Yom Tov was on Wednesday nights, and this league was less convenient and the rules made it less suited for our team's style of play.

    I went to Israel in the middle of the season, having given everyone on the team fair warning that I would not be able to attend.

    When I returned, I found out that our team had forfeited two of the three games that I missed while I was gone by not showing up, and not enough people were planning on coming to our final game of the season for us to play.

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  7. Just as a side point, after high school I became friends with a number of WITS grads, and have been impressed with the way most of them live their lives.

  8. Air Time - I'm sorry, and that's pathetic. I've noticed that non-Jews are often far more responsible about things like this... my brother-in-law runs a NCAA Tourney Pool - all the non-Jews pay up right away. The Jews? They take a while. People don't seem to understand chillul Hashem.

    Good to hear about the WITS grads.

    PS Was the hockey league in NY/NJ? Or what New Yorkers like to call "out of town"?

  9. Thankfully, we don't live anywhere close to New York.

    The leagues were in the Detroit suburbs.

  10. I hear your point Ezzie (and sorry your team got whooped!) but take humbrage at the NY/NJ swipe. So, we're not Cleveland but there are reasons why you are here, no? There's much more going on here. So that "much more going on" leads to added stress, time pressure, etc.

    All of that doesn't excuse the pathetic attitude of your friends. But, don't extrapolate that to the whole NY/NJ area.

    This is the same viewpoint that non-Americans have about America. We are not hospitable, we are aloof, we are uncaring. You buying that?

  11. Sorry, David. (*note* this is not an attack of David or NYers - just my own musings on NY in general)

    I'm only here until I finish school, then we're likely moving. Is everyone in New York this way? No, obviously not. Do you find a much higher percentage of people with "attitude" or whom are rude in NY/NJ? Absolutely.

    I don't know if you travel out of NY often, but try travelling to the Midwest, South, or even LA. See how long it takes before people tell you're a New Yorker - and I don't mean accent-wise. And you won't even be doing anything rude or wrong - it's the little actions that are 'musts' in New York to live that are no-no's anywhere else.

    I'll give a couple examples: Walking to shul Friday night in Baltimore a couple of months ago, my brother-in-law and I were waiting to cross the street. There was a gap in traffic, and I saw another car hundreds of feet away slowly coming to where we were - I walked across well before it got even close. My BIL was standing on the other side, aghast - he laughed and said, "You've been in NY too long."

    My wife, who NYers say 'isn't really a NYer', was immediately pegged by my friends in LA as being one when we went out to eat once: She answered her phone and was talking at a normal decibel level and normal speed - but for LA, that was strange, loud, and fast.

    The common complaint we hear from friends about Baltimore: "Everything there is so SLOW...!" Well, yes, it is. It's much slower than NY. And that's a good thing! The world doesn't always need to be running - it's nice to live a slower, relaxed life.

    The rat race just isn't for me.

  12. BTW, how many of your irresponsible teammates and opponents were native New Yorkers, just curious.

  13. Wimp!

    LOL. (Unless you're serious, in which case...)

    BTW, how many of your irresponsible teammates and opponents were native New Yorkers, just curious.

    Heh - I was wondering if someone would ask that Q... I'm not sure. I think 1 of 3 were from outside of NY (the one who only showed up once was non-NY). Of the 5 who showed, only 1 or 2 were from New York.

    Basically... of non-NYers, 3/4 or 4/5 showed.

    Of NYers, 2/4 or 1/3 showed.

    On other teams, the impression I got was the non-NYers showed, the NYers missed. In Israel, the hardest people to get to our team's football game in the AFI league were NYers.

  14. Clarification: 6 of the 7 guys who were non-NYers on our Israel team would always get there no problem. The 7th there was a dispute over money, so we had to drop him - but I think he missed once or twice during the dispute.

    Of the 3 NYers, 1 always came; 1 skipped once for a date, realized it wasn't fair to us, and told the girl he couldn't date the next Sat. night because he made a commitment to us; and one was always a hassle, though he ended up coming.

  15. Of course I was joking on the wimp thing. What do you think I'm a crass New Yorker or something?

  16. I wonder the same thing abour 4 and 7 year olds.

  17. David G - What does that tell you?

  18. Mo O, I think you missed my point. I specifically wrote that the NY/NJ attitude may have contributed, but in the end it's the lack of responsibility that gets to me.

    The point of the WITS story was to show how "leading by example" works and what true derech eretz is. That I choose one story that meant a lot to me (and you'd be surprised how many people walk in during speeches, particularly at smaller affairs such as Sheva Brachos) does not imply that there aren't far better stories.

    By the way, notice how much easier it was to get games earlier in our Lander careers? Notice also that the ratio of "out-of-towners" was higher then... and the smaller group of guys made people care more about each other. The fact that nobody in Lander knows each other is a huge issue, which we've both acknowledged and discussed in the past - but that's a seperate post, which I probably won't write.

    Plus, I'm guilty myself: My first year, I tried to at the least introduce myself to everybody. My second year, I was married, but I still tried - with little success. By last winter, I'd given up, realizing that pretty much, nobody cared.

    Kind of sad, really.

  19. 18-23 year old irresponsibility is not limited to yeshiva guys. Trust me! Having gone to public university and taught in a public university,this is a problem across the board.

    It may be compounded when dealing with yeshiva guys since they have less time (spouses, learning, davening, blogging(!))

    While not a WITS alumnus,I would have to agree that the guys generally show a higher level of derech eretz and proper middos than others. I think this might be said about chofetz chaim generally. (Having had a chavrusa there foe the past eight years. Ezzie, you must be the exception, lol.