Norman Doors

Norman Doors

By Simcha Loiterman

“If we keep doing what we are doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

– Stephen Covey

I’m sure you’ve seen the Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner of Union and Main. It has these large, friendly, bubble-lettered D’s on their doors for handles. A cute touch, and they look like the perfect shape for a handle to pull on so you can pass through the gates to that Shangri-La of deep-fried goodness.

The problem is that you need to push, not pull, the doors to get in, so once in a while this momentary, awkward scene plays out as people pull and jostle with the door until they realize that they just need to push instead. They have fallen victim to “Norman Doors.”

Norman Doors (named affectionately for the design genius Don Norman) are poorly designed doors that confuse you to do the opposite of what you actually need to do. For example, a handle jutting out of a door would suggest that you needed to pull instead of push. If a door has a sign on it telling you what to do, it is most likely a Norman Door.

“Why does it [a door] need an instruction manual?… Why not make it obvious?”

– Don Norman, a man with uncommon common sense.

Seeing people standing outside, shimmying that door, gave me a mini-epiphany.

Sometimes, we have goals and we work hard to reach them, but success eludes us because obstacles stand in the way. Being taught that hard work pays off, we start working harder, we may even get relentless, work late, sacrifice, double our efforts, but the results still aren’t there.

We apply ourselves in many areas: marriage, weight loss, dating, sports, child-rearing, learning Torah, and doing mitzvos. Sometimes, no matter how hard we push, the fruits don’t come. We hit a wall and are not sure what to do next, so we go right along doing it more. All that well-intentioned effort can snowball and ferment into conflict.

One of many examples: An overprotective parent or spouse can smother the one they love so much that they stifle nearly everything the relationship had going for it. The closer they pull, the more the other side wants to break free.

The only thing some people know how to do at some point is to dig in and power through: Yell louder to win arguments, give harsher punishments to stubborn children, ride employees harder, pull that door so hard it nearly comes off its hinges. It tires you out and people get tired of you.

When we encounter a barrier in serving Hashem, we try the same things.

Mitzvos – like the many we find in Parshas Mishpatim – are certainly not Norman Doors but they can seem counterintuitive, or foreign, to us. We misread them because the world is upside down and so are we, right along with it. The Nesivos Shalom teaches that doing mitzvos and serving Hashem brings order, completeness, and truth to the world, the world is harmonious when we’re in harmony with Hashem. Until we understand that, we’re stuck, upside down, and fumbling in the dark.

Be careful not to be that person rattling that proverbial door,
stuck outside, when all that’s needed is push rather than pull

When it comes to solving our problems, the solution starts with us (It’s always easier to change yourself). Instead of working against ourselves, what if we considered something that would get us to stop spinning our wheels and perhaps still get results? Step back; find a different angle. What if we were to evaluate how we’re working, not how hard we tried?

Sometimes it’s just a simple adjustment: Listen instead of talk, give instead of take, be stern instead of soft, and the other way around. Try to do naaseh more than nishma.

Be careful not to be that person rattling that proverbial door, stuck outside, when all that’s needed is push rather than pull. Ease up; you may not figure out a better plan, but you will at least have stopped holding yourself back.

The other aspect that we can’t ignore about the Norman Door is poor design. It’s the whole reason people are rattling and tugging at the door in the first place.

We can be the cause of our own undoing because of our poor planning.

We easily and unwittingly create scenarios that are destined for failure. Our own poor life decisions hinder our ability to thrive and, like the Norman Door, end up inconveniencing others as well.

Some people have a knack for simplifying things. (Legendary salesman Ron Popeil is a great example. Malcolm Gladwell said he wished Ron designed the VCR: It would have just three large, colored buttons, and you could just “set and forget it.”) Other people have a knack for complicating them.

Stephen Covey demonstrates this brilliantly with his famous “Big Rocks” presentation.

With some stones and a jar, he showed how being more active in the wrong areas leads to sacrificing the very things we want to achieve, and they get harder to achieve because we didn’t design the right plan for success. Once we know what success is, we can go about getting there efficiently. Put the big rocks in first – get your priorities right – and all the other rocks fall into place, too.

Parshas Mishpatim is not a set of Norman Doors, but I think we sometimes put them up in front of the mitzvos, making it harder to serve Hashem than it has to be.

In VaEschanan – just before the Aseres HaDibros are repeated – Moshe says, “I stood between you and Hashem at that time (at Har Sinai).” The Baal Shem Tov explains that standing between us and Hashem is anochi; our shortcomings and selfishness are the real barriers to closeness to Hashem.

Life was meant to be enjoyed. Once you get around those doors (or see that they never existed), a rich cup of coffee awaits, along with a half dozen warm, fresh French Crullers and double-chocolate doughnuts. How you get there is up to you.

Simcha Loiterman is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. He is available for speaking engagements and presentations or a cup of coffee and a good talk. He would love to hear from you at He feels very strongly that you can learn from everyone because we all have stories to tell, lessons to teach, and can kindle a spark of goodness inside. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in “Life.” Visit his blog at  to learn more of his ideas and opinions about our beautiful world.


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