You meet a friend who you have not seen for a long time. Perhaps he has put on a few pounds. Perhaps his beard is whiter than you recall. Perhaps he looks older and more “mature” than the last time you saw him. Or consider the following: you see your friend from high school and you know she married in the last four years; however, soon after the wedding she moved to Eretz Yisroel.
She has just arrived to spend Pesach in America and you are unsure if she has children. Another scenario: you are sitting at a wedding and you recall that the woman you are sitting next to had (has?) a child who was diagnosed with a serious condition a number of years ago. You cannot recall the health status of the child.
What do you?
All of these situations and thousands more require the “S” word – sensitivity. In the first three cases, the “S” word clearly dictates for you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Don’t say to your pleasantly plump friend, “Hey, looks like your wife is doing some good cooking these days.”
Your friend will not appreciate your culinary compliment of his wife. So too, no one (not even a man) wants to be reminded that he is looking older. And certainly you would be lacking the “S” word if you said to your old high school friend, “Do you have any children yet?”
However, the last case is a little bit more complicated; namely the situation of the woman with the sick child. On one hand if you ignore the health status of her child she may be insulted.
On the other hand, to just come out and ask, “How is your daughter?” may also not be the best response. After all, perhaps the child is no longer among the living? That could cause quite an awkward situation. What do you do in such a case?
The best thing to do when unsure is to attempt to ask someone and find out the facts prior to opening your mouth. How many times could I have avoided putting my “foot in my mouth” if only I had taken the time to ascertain the facts of a given situation before I spoke?
If only I had bothered to ask someone why Mrs. Goldberg was attending the wedding alone I would have found out that she is now divorced and I could have avoided the embarrassing moment of asking her, “How is your better half doing?” Obviously, we cannot ask about everyone’s marital status prior to meeting them and we cannot be expected to do a background check on every person we come in contact with!
Even so, there are enough instances where a little prior preparation and consideration can help us avoid awkward moments. If your high school buddy is coming to town for Pesach, you can probably easily find out from a ‘better friend’ if she had a baby or not. So too, if someone had a relative who was sick, with a little inquiry you can probably find out if the person has recovered or not. The bottom line is that with a little more effort and a little more consideration we can all be a little bit more sensitive to each other.