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My husband has had a hell of a day. In fact there’s no need for him to even open the front door, he’s so small and weary he can just slip under it. But he says to me: “Would you like to go out tonight?

Now I know he hungers for me to answer: “No. I’d much rather stay home and listen to you snore.”

Or let’s say a friend shows you a picture of their new boyfriend/child/grandchild and looks at you expectantly.

The person who is in the picture is… let’s be kind….plain...or worse. In fact it hurts your eyes just to look at them.

But you know they want you to answer: “OMG! Look at that gorgeous face! A definite movie star.”

Or of course there is: A friend has just bought a new pair of jeans and they ask the: “Do I look fat in this?” question.

You’re thinking: “Compared to what? The entire state of Texas? The back end of a bus?" But of course what they want you to say is: “OMG! JUST HOW MUCH WEIGHT HAVE YOU LOST!!!!” And when you say it, you get a little squeal in there, which makes it sound even more authentic.

My Mother-in-Law taught me two things in life. Well, she tried to teach me many things, most of which were centered around treating her with the proper reverence and awe. But she taught me two life lessons that have been really useful.

The first is: It doesn’t matter how well you treat your cleaner. They all leave.

The second is “Never ask a Shallah.” By which she meant: never ask a question to which you do not want the answer.

Haven’t most of us learned by now that honesty really isn’t the best policy? How many friends does it take for us to lose before we realize that the easiest path is to just do a total Pinocchio?

So why ask it? Why can’t we just use the same logic ourselves when we buy that new pair of jeans, cook that gourmet meal or are dying to show off our recent work of art?

The obvious answer is, don’t ask. Button it. Keep Schtum. Never ask a Shallah.

By the way, I’m not sure if the word Shallah is from Hebrew or Yiddish or if it does exist at all. I tried to follow the derivation of the word and came up with Be-Shallah. But to understand that word I would need to buy a tome on scripture…something I can assure you my mother-in-law never did. And as for me, well that really isn’t going to happen.

So I just prefer to think of it as folk wisdom passed down through the ages and carried to my mother-in-law’s bright red Revlon lips. Anyway it seems like such a sound plan on the whole. If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t ask.

But of course they do ask. And there you are burning with great advice that would totally change their life. It seems so clear what they should do. Kick the bum out. Go on a diet Have you not got a mirror??? Yes, you do talk too much. Your child is feral.

But think. Before you respond to their question, answer this: Have you considered what it would be like going through life without a friend in the world?

There are quite a few people who would do well to ask a Shallah, but of course those are the very people who wouldn’t listen to the criticism in the first place. That would include all politicians, mothers-in-law, teenagers, husbands, wives…now that I think about it, just about everyone.

Certainly I have learned to never believe anyone who swears up and down that they just want your honest opinion. Those are the one’s especially to avoid. Of course how are you meant to tell the difference between those who really want criticism and those who don’t?

You can’t!

And yet without criticism how can we ever learn that our partner’s feet are killing them and the farthest they want to travel is to the fridge for a beer? Or that our famous family recipe for chicken soup tastes like pre-digested swill? Or that we need to consider moving up several jeans sizes? We can’t even learn that the poem we are about to submit to the New Yorker will make for some great lunchtime laughs for the staff there.

That’s what they call the horns of a dilemma and it will stick you every time.

So don’t expect me to ask you what you think of this blog. Because I don’t care. Really I don’t. No. Not at all. Honestly.

BTW Shallah rhymes with Challah (the Jewish egg bread) just in case you’re interested in taking my mother-in-law’s advice.

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now

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