An adherent of the Enlightenment [writes Buber], a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him, too, and to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi’s room, he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, rapt in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly, and said, “But perhaps it is true after all.” The scholar tried in vain to collect himself—his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But Rabbi Levi Yitschak now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: “My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and neither can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.” The ...view middle of the document...
People hate to not have a definitive answer. Let’s say you’re looking through the MSG website and see, how about that, the circus is in town! Childhood memories start flooding into your head and, though you can’t say why, suddenly going to the circus is the most important goal you have. But you can’t just go by yourself, can you? You have to share this event with someone else, maybe more than one. So you call your girlfriend. “Do I want to go to the circus? Let me think about it.” Let you think about it? What is there to think about? It’s the circus. It’s a known entity. Either you want to go or you don’t! Who can’t decide? Yet, amazingly, friend after friend gives you a similar, if not the same, answer. What can you do with this information? You can’t move forward on your plans. And the circus will only be here for a couple of days! The situation barely gets better if you get only a couple of confirmed answers. So long as even one person is unconfirmed, in the back of your mind, you keep wondering, “What am I supposed to do about this person?”
Note that I didn’t write that the above friends said “No”. In fact, that’s the problem. If a friend said “No”, you could say that you know where he/she stood. You can plan accordingly. But to answer a question with a non-definitive is basically to leave a person with no more information than before that person asked.
It is understandable that people in situations like the above. But even when our own interests aren’t directly on the line, we still hate people who use non-definitives. Whether it is religion, social issues, economics issues, foreign policy, war, the worst thing you can say to someone who’s made up their mind on a hot-button issue is that both sides have a point. “Pick a side!” has become the battle cry of the ages. Think back on the last election. Or the election before that. Or possibly any election since Adams and Jefferson. No matter who was running, no one was more vilified than the undecided voter. People always wonder how you stand on the fence when the choices in any given election seem so stark.
[ 1 ]. In terms of making plans, non-definitives make the questioner’s position even worse because, now, they have to deal with an unknown quantity in their plans.