After rereading every e-mail he’d ever received in his life and skimming through PDF files that should have been archived years ago — in short, doing anything but work — Itzik made a spur-of-the-moment decision. He packed his laptop into a backpack and went out to Gan Sacher. The air was cool and pleasant, suffused with the fragrance of freshly mowed grass. He sat down on a big, flat rock, opened the computer, and began typing:

How to Be Nice: A Guide to Interpersonal Relations

1. Think about how you would like to be treated.

Itzik smirked at the bush next to him, recalling his last conversation with Leiby Weiss, who’d made that very suggestion. “I don’t need all that artificial etiquette,” he’d told Leiby bluntly. “And it really doesn’t bother me at all when people speak their minds. That’s how I’d like to be treated. Skip the ceremony, get to the point. Don’t ask me how I’m doing when you don’t really care. Does that mean I should treat other people the same way?”

“Of course not,” said Leiby, horrified. “Think about how you’d want people to treat…” He almost said, “your child,” and stopped just in time. “How would you want people to treat someone you really care about? Someone whose feelings matter to you a lot?”

Itzik had thought a bit, moving his mouse back and forth across the screen, and finally had to admit, with considerable discomfort, that there was nobody he really cared about all that much.

“There must be somebody you care about,” Leiby insisted. “Think.”

Honestly? It was that injured deer from Evrona. Itzik’s heart went all soft when he thought of her. He opened the pictures Yoav from the animal hospital had sent him. The doe lay there, calm and comfortable, with her leg splinted and bandaged. Her little fawn was close at her side. Itzik smiled when he saw the baby. What a sweetie.

It was so easy to love them! They made no demands. If people were like deer, he could get along with them with no trouble. But to Leiby, he said, “I don’t know. I can’t think of anyone who’s that close to me.”

“Hmm,” said Leiby. “I think we’ve hit upon a bigger problem. But anyway, let’s go on.”

And now, sitting on the damp rock, Itzik typed out Leiby’s second rule:

2. Think of the person you’re dealing with. What is he feeling right now? What would make him feel good?

Itzik ripped off a handful of leaves in frustration. How should I know what he wants? I hardly know what I want. And how he feels? What am I, an omniscient god with divine knowledge of people’s hidden feelings? A hapless slug inched away from him, leaving a trail of slime. “Maybe I’ll never learn this stuff,” he said to himself, despairingly. “For the rest of my life I’ll go blundering around, offending everyone I meet, never managing to connect. I’m the normal one and I know it. But they’re the majority.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 708)