I accept your teachings of God’s desire for his children to interact with one another and am intellectually exploring those ideas. As a gifted software engineer interacting with other humans is not one of my strengths and I am attempting to get better at it.
Over the past couple of years, however, I felt the need to disassociate myself with two former friends. One was quite close; the other lives two doors away from me. Without getting into gossipy details, I feel there are a certain set of circumstances that it is okay to disassociate from another human. One example might be that the friend was asking your assistance in carrying on an extra-marital affair. Another might be that the friend had anger issues and regularly yelled at you, your wife, and your children. But what if their actions were less harmful? What if a person regularly insulted you? Regularly asked you to work on his for profit business for free? Ran a business where both he and the employees knowingly broke the law?
So what principles should be applied to harmful human associations? Where is the line drawn? What kind of venues should be left open for reconciliation?
Thank you for writing with such self-awareness. Many very competent people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics feel less capable in human relationships. We think there should be a special course helping these talented people expand their considerable abilities into relationships. We know of what we speak. One of us (that would be Rabbi Daniel) actually became an electronics engineer. Worried that 10 hours a day in a lab with instruments would encourage a disconnect from people he switched into sales and became what they called then, a tech-rep.
While we certainly speak glowingly of the importance of human relationships, we hope that no one interprets our words to mean that we should have unthinking interaction with others. In fact, one of the episodes on Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show Volume 2 discusses the dangers of associating with the wrong people.
Ancient Jewish wisdom even presents certain rare circumstances where an entire community should shun individuals. The instances you give of people trying to lasso you into participating in their wrongdoing or supporting their wrongdoing suggest good reasons for pulling away from those relationships. We’d just like to add that the “less harmful” examples you ask about sound quite harmful to us.
Having said that, sometimes a bit more forcefulness and forthrightness can keep a relationship from ending unnecessarily. On occasion, avoiding confrontation results in prematurely ending a relationship. For example, someone who keeps asking you to work for free on their business might benefit more from an outright polite but firm statement that you can’t do that rather than an evasive, “I’m really busy right now,” which encourages them to repeat the request. Some people come from a culture where insults show friendship and closeness. Stating that you aren’t comfortable with that type of exchange might allow you to maintain a cordial relationship.
Like most things, relationships fall into different categories. There is a large gulf between bosom buddies and ‘cross to the other side of the street’ people you need to avoid. Most people fall into the spectrum between those two extremes.
Enjoy the variety,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin