Dear Rachel,

I am a person who tries very hard to keep her word and be punctual. But I am constantly aggravated, frustrated and inconvenienced by people who don’t keep appointments, show up on time, pay on time or keep their promises. I feel so hurt and disappointed that these people don’t seem to respect me or my time. Please help me find a solution!

What’s the Good Word

Dear What’s the Good Word,

I hear you. It can be very aggravating when people are inconsiderate and don’t understand how that affects us.

The Torah mandates that we keep our word. It also tells us not to take a vow lightly. In Exodus 23:7 we are told, “Distance yourself from a false word,” which means that we have to be very careful that It can be very aggravating when people are inconsiderateour words are not only true, but also don’t contain a trace of falsehood. As King David says, “I hate every path of falsehood.”1 Many have the custom to say bli neder (without a vow) or “b’ezrat Hashem (with G‑d’s help) when making a promise, because ultimately it’s up to G‑d whether our plans work out or not.

In Judaism, there are only very limited circumstances in which one is permitted to lie for the sake of peace. (As in, “Doesn’t my wife look gorgeous?” “Oh, yes, lovely!”) But what you’re talking about doesn’t fall into that category. On the contrary, these untruths are causing conflict and eroding the trust in your relationships.

Judaism also values every moment of life. If it comes down to it, one is permitted to transgress every law in the Torah, except three cardinal ones, in order to prolong someone’s life for even one minute. Since every moment is precious, G‑d doesn’t want you to waste your time, and certainly not that of someone else.

That said, we can’t control other people. We can control only ourselves. So, let me offer you a few suggestions of how to deal with these recurring situations:

  • Be exemplary. If you are always on time and keep your word, people will be more likely to follow your example. Make it your special mitzvah to live your life with total integrity.
  • Be forgiving. People may have the best intentions, but sometimes things do come up. Acts of G‑d don’t refer only to tornadoes and hurricanes; a traffic jam is also an act of G‑d.
  • A traffic jam is also an act of G‑d
  • Protect yourself. If a person disappoints you multiple times, you may be training him or her to treat you that way. So, as much as possible, avoid people who are bound to let you down. Choose whom you want to deal with and how you want to interact with them.
  • Be realistic. If a relationship or partnership is too valuable to give up, be realistic about what to expect. If a friend constantly lets you down, don’t expect next time to be different; take any promise with a grain of salt. But if you want to maintain the relationship, don’t harp on the person’s failures, and create contingency plans in case promises don’t materialize.
  • Adopt coping strategies. If a person is pathologically late and often keeps you waiting for half an hour, bring something to do while you wait, or don’t rush to be on time.
  • Be honest and straightforward. Explain to the other person the extent to which his or her behavior bothers you, and lay down some consequences if the behavior continues. Then make sure to follow through with your consequences, if necessary. Perhaps you could offer a kind of exchange: you’ll make an effort to improve in one area if the other person works on this area.

Since the Torah cautions us to distance ourselves from falsehood, it is up to us to make sure that we are in situations and relationships with people who honor that precept as well. So, while I would advise you to be a bit more tolerant of friends who tend to be 10 minutes late, people who perpetually don’t keep their word should be kept at arm’s length. People who don’t keep their word will often prevent you from keeping yours.

You mention feeling hurt and disrespected, which makes me feel that you take this flaw in others very personally. For the most part, when people don’t live up to their word, it’s a reflection of some weakness in them, not you. It’s their inability to plan their time wisely, their tendency to get When people don’t live up to their word, it’s a reflection of some weakness in them, not youdistracted, or their fear of saying no. So, try not to take their actions personally, or ascribe meanings that aren’t necessarily true. You are, after all, the master of your own happiness, so you can choose to give people the benefit of the doubt and interpret their actions in the best possible light.

There’s one final point I want to make, which in no way contradicts everything I’ve said until now. We live in extremely stressful times, with tremendous demands on every moment of our lives. This stress can compromise our physical and mental health. So, while we have to be mindful of wasting time, there’s a benefit to being more easygoing. Sometimes, someone who is late or does not keep commitments is not inconsiderate, but rather has a more relaxed and easygoing personality. A person’s pace is very much an inborn characteristic, and while we appreciate others trying to keep step with us, it’s not a bad idea to sometimes just go with the flow and march to the other person’s drummer.

May your time always be well and contentedly spent!

All the best,