Friday, June 23, 2006

My friend Dan

This week’s Table Talk is dedicated to my friend Dan.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, write

Wednesday was the first day of summer, and my friend Dan went to jail.

Last we spoke, he was on an upward streak. He was interviewing for jobs, had a friend who was recommending him for a dishwashing job. In fact, there are plenty of entry-level jobs in his area, as a quick search of craigslist shows. He sounded so upbeat, looking forward to getting his life on track. What happened?

Evidently, his problem wasn’t the lack of a job. He simply made one too many poor choices.

His mother told me this morning, "I hate to say this, but he needs to spend six months in jail."

Every adolescent dreams of leaving home. But sometimes it’s a shock to find out that adult choices have adult consequences.

Now, imagine we prepared a group of adolescents with the best education money can buy – a warm, nurturing environment that appealed to each child’s unique learning style and gave them all the tools they need to live. Then, just before graduation, we explain to them, “The world you’re about to enter is a wonderful place, with every opportunity, but watch out – you’re going to have to take responsibility for all of your actions.”

How should they react? We would hope with enthusiasm.

But what if they said this: “We want to send a couple representatives out into this world first, to check it out and come back to tell us the best way to go about it.”

We might think, Well what’s the point? You’re prepared to go, just go. But if they insist, there’s not much else to do.

What happens next? The best possible outcome: The scouts come back with a mixed report. One says: “It’s a big world out there, with tough people and challenging situations, we shouldn’t go.” The other says: ““It’s a big world out there, with tough people and challenging situations, let’s go!”

A mixed report is the best outcome because it forces the graduates to decide for themselves.

If they choose to stay at home, then they are denying the purpose of the entire education we’ve given them. Life is meant to be lived!

It seems like for most people there are two motives for good choices. Either fear of the painful consequences of the wrong choice or the great pleasure for making the right choice. If either consequence is delayed, a young person will tend to choose based on short-term pain and pleasure and more mature people choose based on long-term pain and pleasure.

The problem is that meaningful “right” choices by definition require effort. That is to say, if you are facing a choice between two paths and one requires more effort than the other, that one is likely the right one. Most of our wrong choices happen because we don’t want to make the effort required. That effort is as much emotional as physical.

Dan is a "good" Jewish kid who has made some poor choices. How do I know he is a good Jewish kid? Anyone who talks to him knows, he’s really sweet, caring and appreciative. And, his mother pointed out, he didn’t wait to get caught, he turned himself in. He has a good heart and is still learning to use his head.

Ultimately, if your heart is in the right place, you don’t need the scouts. All that they can do is confirm what is in your heart. If you have a good heart, the scouts will confirm what you believe. If your heart has even the slightest bit of negativity, the scouts will confirm that too, and then you’re stuck: you can either flip a coin or use your head....

Evidently a good heart won’t keep you out of jail, but a using your head always will.

Question for the table: Did you ever say no to something that sounded good because it sounded too hard or say yes when you weren’t sure you could? What happened?

Shabbat Shalom.

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