Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Does the Squeaky Wheel Get the Grease?

Thanks to the ever-helpful Lifehacker blog, I came across this Psychology Today article: Are You Teaching People to Treat You Badly?

Essentially, a psychological theory says that if you don't "punish" people who treat you badly, they become conditioned to treating you badly. They think it's ok to treat you badly. As a dog trainer, this is the foundation of dog training. Reward the behavior you want to see more of, and either punish or ignore the behavior you don't want the dog to repeat. [Note that with dogs, punishing the dog can be seen as a reward! It's the idea that any attention is better than no attention at all. You can also see this in many a neglected child.]

As the article says, "The meek shall inherit the earth because the aggressive people of the world will trample their face into it!" [I take no responsibility for the grammar of that sentence.]

This article was only one instance of this idea slapping me in the face recently. Does the squeaky wheel get the grease? Do nice guys finish last? Or more appropriately on this blog, do nice guys convert last? 

In my discussions with people who've finished their conversions, they're often shocked how long I've been waiting to move forward with my conversion. Of course, there are always more to the situation than a stranger knows, but the question seems fair. And I admit, I wonder that myself, despite all the rationalizations I can make.

But these people always have "the" solution. My Southern self is far too polite. The overwhelming theme has been, "You have to hound the rabbis. Nothing gets done otherwise. They're busy, and you need to prove to them that you are ready to be converted. It's not their job to push you. You have to make it happen." 

What do you think? And if you finished converting, do you feel this way? Did you start "nice" and get nowhere until you began to push? Do you think this could actually backfire with the wrong person or the wrong approach?

And as a metaconversation: do you think it's appropriate to give this advice to conversion candidates? Do you stop and wonder how this advice could cause very bad behavior in the wrong hands?

[But in the interest of full disclose, I think the wrinkles have been sorted through, and I am finally getting somewhere! I can't guarantee it's going somewhere anytime soon because I have no idea.]


  1. I wouldn't give this advice to some people, but I would to you, Kochava. You're as ready as anyone ever gets.

  2. I would say that you need to be the pushy one. Maybe not bitchy but definitely let them know that you want to convert and start the time table because a) you want to finish it and start your Jewish life and b) you want to get married and start making Jewish babies. Most rabbis will understand reason b before reason a.

    Maybe create your own time line of how you want to progress and at what rate. While they may not follow it, it will show that you are committed.

  3. It's a mistake to act as if being "nice" or "humble" is the same as letting people walk all over you.

    One can be assertive in a nice, and humble, way. You can be persistent without being rude about it. Phrases like, "I know you're busy," "I hate to bother you," "Please excuse me if you feel I'm being too blunt," etc. are great when paired with phrases like, "I'm frustrated by what feels like a lack of forward movement," or "This is very important to me, I've been living as an Orthodox Jew for a long time, and I would like to see formal recognition of that," or whatever else you feel you need to say.

    When somone treats you badly, you can call it out in a nice way, by saying something along the lines of, "When you did X, it made me feel like Y. Are you willing to work with me to try to prevent that from happening again?"

    I don't think you need to "punish" other people, but you don't need to let them treat you badly, either.

  4. Be pushy, but be careful. Some of these rabbi's are mean spirited and will ruin you if you rub them the wrong way.

    Two years into the process I finally got a little pushy. As someone suggested above I asked the beis din to help me get a time line, as age is a factor and there is a desire to begin a family. To this particular rabbi, my willingness to miss the opportunity to have children was something like a test of my devotion to becoming Jewish. A sacrifice I naturally would make if the conversion was so important to me. He told me that a time line was not possible because it takes as long as it takes, they will not even give me any indication of where they think I currently stand, and if I can't live with that then I could not continue in the program.

    Long story short, I had to start over again in a new program. BH this new program is run by people who have some wisdom, not just titles, and they are willing to recognise, respect and work with my concerns.

    I'll tell you, that first beis din was horrible. Chillul hashem.

    My best advice is that if you are dealing with unreasonable individuals in your programs, let your sponsor rabbi talk to the beis din on your behalf about any significant concerns.

  5. Could you make an announcement for people who converted to post on your blog their stories and how long it took them and what exactly they did to get things done? in detail. I personally think if you don't insist they will think it's okay to keep pushing you away so you have to keep pesting them because they love to come up with additional reasons to make you go away. they're not that busy. that's an excuse to make you go away.

    **Blue Star

  6. Kochava, I have no experience with conversions, but I do have experience with unsolicited advice. It stinks.

  7. I would NOT follow the advice given above to tell them you want to hurry up and get married. That is just giving them a reason to get suspicious or turn you away. Yes, I know some BDs are happy to work with people in a relationship but many are not and if you encounter even one person who thinks you're converting "for marriage," that can derail things.

    I'm not saying this for Kochava's benefit as she is already very knowledgeable about conversion--just for any potential converts who don't know the process and read these comments looking for ideas.