As a person who abstains from drinking (for reasons of self-discipline), I am often expected (usually by assumption or without asking) to be the driver for most events and parties with my family and friends.
Does my personal decision not to drink bring with it the responsibility of serving others around me in this manner? Logically, why should others not enjoy themselves at a party (remain sober to drive) if I have already decided not to drink? I sometimes feel “used,” though, because of my personal decision.
Dear Involuntary Designated Driver,
We love how the questions that come into our Ask the Rabbi mailbox make us think. Your question certainly did that.
We would like to expand your question. In many ways it is the same one as the at-home mother whose work-in-an-office neighbor asks her to sign for her packages or let the plumber into her house. We could brainstorm and think of a dozen similar situations. Basically, people are assuming that they are asking another person for something that is no big deal.
That isn’t true, of course. Driving people home means that you get home later and puts extra wear and tear on your car. Committing to answering the doorbell for the delivery man means interrupting whatever you’re doing at an unexpected time and not being able to spontaneously go for a walk. The person asking may say to himself, “He’s driving anyway,” or “She’s at home anyway,” but he is making a mistake. When asking a favor of someone we should never minimize what we are asking. At the very least, we should never assume that help is available and we should show gratitude. If it is more than a one-time occurrence, we should take care to show our thanks with a card, gift or other gesture of appreciation.
So important is gratitude that God made Aaron bring the curse of blood upon the River Nile rather than Moses because Moses had been a beneficiary of the river, as it were, when he floated upon it as an infant.
On the flip side, you (and our hypothetical neighbor) have an opportunity to show kindness to other people. It seems from what you wrote that the difficulty is in your attitude to driving people home rather than the technical details. You feel taken for granted, which leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you saw it differently, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
Can you examine your own life to see if you are ever on the other side of the equation. Is there one co-worker who frequently heads out for coffee and either offers to pick a cup up for you or you call out, “While you’re there could you get me…?” Do you assume that your spouse will do certain things and neglect to thank her each and every time? Do you ever say to yourself, “It’s no big deal” when you ask a friend for what seems to you a small favor?
Your question is an opportunity for all of us to remind ourselves that anything someone does for us is a big deal. We should be on the lookout for those “small” kindnesses that make our lives easier and happier. We should make a point of expressing (and feeling) grateful for things others do for us even – or perhaps especially – if they are done routinely. And above all we should never have an expectation that others will do us favors. A sense of entitlement is repugnant while gratitude is Godly.
In your case, because you feel people are taking your help for granted we would suggest a two-fold track. First, do some honest introspection to see where you can improve yourself in this area. Look for occasions to express appreciation to family members and co-workers. You will be doing the right thing and maybe your actions will even influence them to do the same.
Then, the next time there’s an event where you assume you will be expected to drive, think carefully. If you truly can’t do it without feeling resentful, then let it be known in advance that you have plans after the event (and subsequently do something, even if it is going out for a cup of coffee) and, unfortunately, won’t be able to drive. Don’t sound apologetic or feel the need to say what your plans are. Ultimately, you need to decide if this is too big a thing for you to do or just one of the ways you can help out.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin