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My last post — not my last post
If you’ve been following this blog, please accept my warm appreciation for allowing me to share my thoughts and insights.
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New look, same articles, videos, and posts grappling with the challenges of calibrating our moral compass and seeking clarity and courage in the battle against ego and the evils of self-deception.
I hope to see you there. Thanks again.
Weather or not, your time has come
Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get.
~Robert A. Heinlein
We’ve certainly gotten our share of weather this season. Blizzards in New England, ice storms in Florida, subzero temperatures in the Midwest, and devastating dry heat in California. Whatever we were expecting from winter, this was not it.
Of course, you can always find a silver lining if you look hard enough. As humorist Kin Hubbard wrote, Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.
It is remarkable how much we seem to delight in stating the obvious. Do we think that others won’t notice Mother Nature’s current disposition if we don’t bring it to their attention?
But the weather teaches a deeper lesson in human psychology, one first observed by the sages of the Talmud some 2000 years ago:
Everything is in the hands of heaven except cold and heat.
At first glance, it appears that the author of this remark was playing with our minds. After all, is anything less in our control than the weather? To complicate matters, this comment seems to contradict the more famous talmudic dictum that,
Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.
The meaning of the second statement is easier to grasp. As much as we human beings like to think of ourselves as masters of our own fate, the truth is that we have no control whatsoever over what happens to us.
Of course, we can choose how we act. But where our actions will lead, where our choices will take us, and what twists of fate lie lurking around every corner – about those we have nothing to say at all.
Consider these ironic footnotes to history:
The trendy, textured wallpaper invented in 1960 by Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding turned out to be a total failure. Well, not a total failure. Several years later it was put to good use. You know it as Bubble Wrap.
In 1968, Spencer Silver tried and failed to develop a super-strong adhesive for 3M laboratories. Instead, he produced a stickum that easily peels right off. His failure gave us Post-it notes.
Then there’s the story of John DeLorean, the wunderkind who rose to become general manager of Chevrolet, only to leave General Motors and start his own car company. His sleek, gull-winged, stainless steel luxury car captured the world’s imagination, and experts predicted boundless success. But production delays and a global recession drove his company into bankruptcy. DeLorean was arrested and charged with drug-trafficking, purportedly to raise the $17 million he needed to save his ailing company.
Sometimes we do everything right and fail; sometimes we do everything wrong and succeed. Ultimately, we have no more control over the outcome of our efforts than we have over the weather. What we do control, however, is how we respond to what happens to us.
When we forget where we left our keys, do we start snarling at the people around us? When we’re late for an appointment, do we curse the red light that makes us later? When we get caught making a mistake, do we try to deflect responsibility by shifting blame onto others? When a project fails, do we make excuses, or do we try to learn how to turn the experience of failure into a formula for success?
It’s the way we respond to situations of stress and disappointment that reflects the quality of our character. This is what the sages call fear of heaven.
Don’t we do a greater service to ourselves, as well as to the people around us, when we laugh at our own foolishness, admit our own mistakes, and quietly accept the inconveniences that fate scatters along our way? Don’t we make it easier for others to look for the good and cope with the bad when we model keeping perspective and priorities where they should be? Don’t we come out ahead in the end by challenging ourselves to do better than by cursing the randomness of misfortune?
We can’t change the weather, but we can dress warmly against the cold and stay hydrated against the heat. That’s plain common sense.
It’s less common to remain even-tempered and upbeat in the face of life’s bumps and bruises. But it makes just as much sense.
And it’s entirely in our hands.
Fighting the next civil war
It happened when John F. Kennedy appeared at his presidential inauguration without a hat. One instant of astonishment, followed by men’s hats instantaneously dropping out of style.
It happened when Michelle Obama began appearing sleeveless as First Lady. A few days of disdain and mockery from the right, after which virtually every female commentator on Fox News had shed her sleeves.
And currently, it has happened with Donald Trump’s unfiltered attacks on anyone who dares to question or oppose him. After excoriating the president for his vitriol and divisiveness, his detractors on the left have used the exact same tactics in their campaign against him.
This has nothing to do with taking sides.
Reasoning with Unreasonable People
Events on the Korean peninsula have been a source of anxiety for a long time. But the precarious game of nuclear brinkmanship turned momentarily farcical last May, when the newly elected government of South Korea condemned North Korea for dashing hopes of peace by conducting its second ballistic missile test in a week.
In other news, expectations for perpetual motion, bi-partisan government, and the end of world hunger were also shattered. The culprit was that relentless and uncompromising bugaboo known as reality.
On October 11, 2002, former President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize, in large part for his role negotiating a treaty in which North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons program. On October 16, just five days later, the United States announced that North Korea admitted to having a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
One can’t help but reflect on the classic scene in Casablanca when Claude Rains declares being “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on” — as the concierge is handing him his winnings.
If I forget thee
The UN vote is about more than Jerusalem and about more than an embassy
It’s depressing to have to state the obvious. But it’s too maddening to remain silent. So please forgive me if I revisit what many have said but few have heard.
Last week’s United Nations vote – which censured the United States for planning to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem – is a pitch-perfect example of human society’s collective descent into tribalism. And the heart of the matter has nothing to do with Jerusalem, the Mideast, or American foreign policy.
One could reasonably make the case that moving the embassy is ill-advised. I have had my own doubts whether or not the benefits of the largely symbolic gesture outweigh the potential for violent Palestinian reaction.
But that was not the stated reason behind the U.N. resolution.
Instead, leaders and pundits the world around claimed that the move will derail the peace process. And to that, the logical retort is: what peace process?
In the 53 years since the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which preceded the Six Day War and Israel’s so-called “occupation” of the West Bank), the only concession offered up by the Palestinian Authority has been to remove from its charter the call for Israel’s destruction.
The concession to stop publicly advocating the extermination of 6 million Israeli Jews was a good first step, not a final offer. Negotiation requires compromise, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak demonstrated back in 2000 when he offered to return 94% of the West Bank – an offer the P.A. refused. Since then, the only progress has been Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, to which the P.A. responded by launching missiles against Israeli civilians.
So exactly what “process” does the international community think has been derailed?
PSYCHOLOGY AND PATHOLOGY
Even more absurd is denouncing the U.S. embassy move as “illegal.” The whole world has recognized Israel’s ownership of West Jerusalem since 1947. So why should any country not be allowed to name its own capital in its own land? And why should any other country be censured for establishing its embassy in a legal foreign capital? Finally, why should longtime allies join the chorus of condemnation with absolutely no legal or moral justification?
The first two questions are merely rhetorical. It is the third question that really needs answering. Are you listening, Europe and Canada?
There are two explanations. First is the irrational Utopianism that characterizes much of the political left. Like the delusional naturalists who believe that grizzly bears and mountain lions are really peaceful creatures who will respond to human gestures of affection in kind, radical progressives fantasize that terrorists and the sponsors of terror will eagerly embrace peace once the rest of us confess our sins and beg for absolution.
It hasn’t worked yet. But the Utopians have faith, even as they remain blind and deaf to the irrefutable evidence that they themselves have become the enablers of terrorism. For all their good intentions, they have prolonged suffering on all sides by allowing corrupt Palestinian leaders to squander hundreds of millions in international aid on terror tunnels rather than easing the plight of their own people.
The second reason is that western governments are terrified that any sign of support for Israel will spark violent uprisings among their restless Arab minorities. It’s a disappointing fact of life that the politics of cowardice almost always trump commitment to justice.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The more fundamental problem, however, is the unapologetic disregard for truth.
Think whatever you want and believe whatever you want – but defend your positions with facts and logic, not disinformation and distortion. Once reasoned debate and civil discourse become impossible – whether because of ideology or fear – civilization is sure to crumble beneath our feet.
Truth be told, it’s possible that by showing the Palestinian Authority that intransigence will no longer serve their interests, the U.S. has actually moved the peace process a step forward. If other countries begin to follow America’s example, the PA will be left scrambling to make a deal before they have no more chips left to bargain.
King Solomon says, One who trusts his own heart is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom shall be kept safe.
If we truly hope to bring about peace, we have cast off our rose-colored glasses and confront our fear. Only then might we achieve the intellectual and moral integrity that will allow us to follow in the ways of wise counsel.
Leadership Lessons from the Friendly Skies
Fashions change, and so do standards. John F. Kennedy attended his presidential inauguration without a hat, and instantly hats fell out of style. Female attire that’s perfectly acceptable today would have landed a woman in jail a century ago.
But there’s a difference between styles and standards. A relaxed dress code may work in the offices of Facebook and Google, but conventional businesses find that productivity drops off when executives drop their office shirts, skirts, and slacks.
So if United airlines wants to hold its employees to a more formal standard of attire when they’re flying as a corporate perk, perhaps the company should have been applauded for its professionalism.
And if that requires family members who fly on non-revenue tickets to spruce up a bit, is that such a high price to pay?
Well, you’d certainly think so after the twitterstorm that engulfed the carrier earlier this year. And since it’s the season for New Year’s resolutions, let’s think back to last March, when an uninformed bystander jumped to conclusions and — rather than investigating to get her facts straight — tried and convicted United in the court of public opinion.
Why Ethics Matter, Part 6: Change Reality by Accepting Reality
What are Ethics? 2 minute video
How many times have you heard that — or said it yourself — when it clearly wasn’t true? When we don’t want to face reality, to accept responsibility, or to face accountability, we assert that reality must be what we want it to be and can’t be anything else.
If we aren’t prepared to face reality, we can’t be ethical, and we certainly can’t solve our problems or anyone else’s. So what do we do about it? The answer is here:
Why Ethics Matter, Part 4: The Insignificant Seven
We can learn a lot from movies if we pay attention. Good and evil, right and wrong, selfishness and altruism — all these populate the stories on the screen.
That’s why filmmakers have such a profound impact on society, for better and for worse. And because sometimes it’s for the worse, we as consumers have to chose carefully what images we allow to enter our brains.
Click and enjoy the good, the bad, and the insignificant.
My Son, the Lone Soldier
Parents worry about children. It’s what we do.
When they’re infants, we worry about every sniffle and cough. When they’re in grade school, we worry about bumps and bruises. When they enter adolescence, we worry about their hormones and teenage angst. As they become young adults, we worry about them finding their way in life.
So I understand it when people ask if I’m worried about my son in the Israeli army. But many of them don’t understand my answer.
All in all, I think he’s safer than he’s ever been.
It wasn’t part of the plan. After college, with a good job waiting for him in New York, he went to Israel for a few months of spiritual R & R in the Jewish homeland. But almost from the moment he arrived, he knew that he wanted to stay. And if he was going to live as an Israeli, he wanted to do his part to defend his country and his fellow Jews.
With barely a second thought, he became a Lone Soldier.
He found the unit he wanted – the Gadsar Reconnaissance Division of the Nahal Brigade. He was attracted by the division’s reputation for quiet determination, and he eagerly awaited the challenge of proving himself fit for an elite combat unit.
His first goal was to complete the gibush – a 3 ½ day selection trial of relentless physical rigor. Of the 15 prospective soldiers in his group, four dropped out after three hours. The rest made it all the way to the end. And in the end, he made the cut.
My son was five years older than most of the other guys – a huge difference at that age – and had to obey and respect commanders much younger than himself. But he also found that his age elicited among his peers an expectation of maturity. With that perception came a sense of responsibility to live up to what others expected.
The 14-month training proved always demanding, frequently tedious, sometimes painful and – on occasion – seemingly pointless. But he soon recognized the advantages of discipline and learned to trust the wisdom of his commanders. As his taskmasters drove him to do things he would never have done on his own and develop skills he never imagined he would want or need, he began to discover his own extraordinary potential.
He mastered weaponry, marksmanship, navigation, camouflage, demolition, and hand-to-hand combat. Above all, he acquired the self-confidence that comes from having been trained and tested – and, with it, the mindset for success in every aspect of life.
He came to value the camaraderie that comes from a shared sense of purpose. His world view grew broader and deeper. He learned to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinian people and to simultaneously loathe the corruption of Palestinian leaders who exploit their own people by perpetuating a culture of terror for political advantage.
As a Lone Soldier, having left his own parents and siblings halfway around the world, he found himself in a strange twilight zone of independence without isolation. He enjoyed the warm affection of an Israeli family that adopted him as a son, and the security of knowing that his superiors were always looking out for his welfare. And from the comments of his fellows, he gained new insights about himself:
“You chose to come over and do this – that’s absolutely crazy.”
“What is it with you? You act like you enjoy being here.”
“Dude, you have really good table manners.”
In a world of distracted, spoiled, and self-absorbed adult-children who don’t know who they are and don’t care where they’re going, my son has been trained to look for opportunities, respond to the unexpected, and navigate his way through any challenges and around any obstacles that life may throw at him.
More important, he has cultivated a sense of personal and national identity, an awareness that he is not just an individual but part of something far greater than himself – which makes him greater than anything he could become on his own. He has learned to take responsibility for himself and has developed a desire to engage the future rather than merely wait for it to arrive. He wants to make the world a better place, and he understands that the best way to do that is by making himself a better person.
In many ways I envy him and his comrades the opportunity they have, and it saddens me that more young people don’t choose to similarly challenge themselves. Most of us don’t begin life well-prepared for life, irrespective of our schooling or our vocational training. We squander so much thought and effort trying to figure things out on the fly, trying to play catch-up as we struggle with our careers and in our relationships.
We are all soldiers in the army of Mankind, all warriors on the battlefield of life. I’m grateful that my son has what so few of us have – the training and experience to meet those battles, to step forward into life with skill and self-assurance. And I’m proud that he has discovered that true joy comes from commitment to a higher purpose and higher values.
So to those who wonder why I’m not more worried about my son, all I can say is this: what on earth do I have to worry about?