Friday, September 23, 2016

Why You're Surely Right

The goal of this blog is to create some moral indignation at the Shabbat table. Please share.

Why I'm rightYesterday someone said something truly remarkable to me.

But to underscore how remarkable it is, let's first turn to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie tells this fascinating story:

On May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, "Two Gun" Crowley - the killer, the gunman who didn't smoke or drink - was at bay, trapped in hi sweetheart's apartment on West End Avenue.

One Hundred and fifty policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof, they tried to smoke out Crowley, the "cop killer," with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York's fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Crowley, crouching behind an over-stuffed chair, fired incessantly at the police. Ten thousand excited people watched the battle. Nothing like it had ever been seen before on the sidewalks of New York.

When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. "He will kill," said the Commissioner, "at the drop of a feather."

But how did "Two Gun" Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed "To whom it may concern," And as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In this letter, Crowley said, "Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one - one that would do nobody any harm."

Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived at the death house in Sing Sing, did he say, "This is what I get for killing people?"

No, he said, "This is what I get for defending myself."

Carnegie points out that Crowley's self-image as an innocent victim is common among criminals.

Al Capone, for instance, infamously said,

I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.

That would almost be comical if not coming from Scarface himself, Public Enemy #1 who murdered his way to the top of America's biggest mob enterprise.

To understand the self-righteous criminal mind, let's turn to Lewis Lawes, warden at Sing Sing for 21 years. He wrote,

Few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.

It seems to me there are two take-aways from this observation. One I will make today, and the other next week.

I mentioned above that I heard something remarkable yesterday.

This person, after a long discussion about a problem he is having with a certain other person and the exasperation he is feeling due to the wrongness of the other person, asked, "Rabbi, do you think I'm being irrational? Am I way off base?"

It is so rare to ask this question. Most of us are so focused on the justness of our cause, on the injustice against us, that it never occurs to us that maybe we are off base.

The first question for your table is, Can you ever be fully honest with yourself? How do you find out if you are?

One way we know is learn ancient wisdom while examining your life (but choose your rabbi wisely!)

Or, make a pilgrimage to a far-away land where you can get some perspective on your life.

Or, at the very least, do some guided contemplation.

(For our Rosh Hashana self-assessment worksheet, shoot me an email.)

Second question for your table: Why is it so hard to say, "I'm wrong"?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Do you know how many days until Rosh Hashana?

"It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right." (Churchill)

Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

How to Tone it Up?

The goal of this blog is to create a different tone at the Shabbat table. Please share.

ToneDid you ever find that planning for the High Holidays can be stressful?

As if I needed a reminder, this morning I had a very trying exchange with someone with whom I'm coordinating a certain detail of Rosh Hashana programming.

It started when I asked about some women I had heard were uncomfortable with certain details, and had asked why they were uncomfortable, perhaps something could be changed to make them more comfortable. In my haste, I had typed "some woman" and he interpreted that as dismissive rather than sympathetic.

Even after I clarified the error in writing, and even after I spoke with him in person to try to communicate with a smile, I then received a curt message that began:

"I have been handling this aspect of the program since 1994, and honestly have never had this much trouble anyone. You might want to ask yourself whether getting what you want on the Days of Awe is more important than causing this much aggravation."


What I had done to cause any aggravation, let alone "this much"....? No clue.

First question for your table: What would you have advised me to do next?

Sure enough, I apologized for causing aggravation and explained (I think) that my concern wasn't for myself rather for the comfort of other people.

But this time, before I sent it, I showed it to a friend and asked him his opinion about my tone, and to confirm that my reply sounded friendly (and not aggravating).

With his approval, I sent it off, hoping for the best.

A few minutes later I received a short reply that said two things:

1. "No one else has ever been worried about this issue, so why should you?
2. "As I have spent more time on this topic than all other topics combined, I would appreciate it if we can just end the communication at this point."

My father used to say, "Beware of email, it is almost impossible to convey tone!"

Question #2 for your table - Was my father right? If so, whose responsibility is it, the writer to get the tone "right" or the reader not to jump to conclusions?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Some Rosh Hashana links....

1. Rosh Hashana countdown timer:
2. For my Rosh Hashana prep worksheet (appropriate for any age), reply to this email and ask!
3. Our four favorite honey dishes which make great gifts: Here's the link.

PPS - Just one hidden link this week - can you find it?

Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Satisfact or Fiction?

The goal of this email is to please even the maximizers at the dinner table. Please share.
Happy Birthday shout-out to Shelli in SF

Contented CatWhen I first used the word "saticficer" five years ago, at least one reader thought it was a typo.

The word is indeed a neolgism, coined in 1956 by the brilliant polymath Herbert Simon.

A satisficer is a person who chooses a product or service that is "good enough" (satisfied with what will suffice).

As opposed to a maximizer, who is always trying to get the "best".

According to Barry Schwartz (his book; his TED talk; his research), satisficers are usually far happier than maximizers.

To put it simply, maximizers take forever to make choices, then often regret their choices.

Question 1 for your table - Test yourself to see if you are a satisficer or maximizer:

Imagine having the task of sewing a patch onto a pair of jeans. The best needle to do the threading is a certain 4" needle with a 3mm eye. The problem is that this needle is hidden in a haystack along with 100 other needles of various sizes. Would you the use the first needle that can sew on the patch, or spend the time searching for that one specific needle in the haystack

Maybe that's too crazy an example. So let's make it more realistic: Think of a few non-food items you recently purchased. Did you go for "good enough" (satisficer) or pursue the elusive "best" (maximizer)?

(Still not sure? Try this 6-question quiz.)

Question 2 - It's a mitzvah to be happy. Therefore, it's a mitzvah (usually) to act as a satisficer. But how can a maximizer become a satisficer?

(I've seen many attempts to answer this question, such as this and this, but none are satisfying me.)

(But Gretchen Rubin's blog post - and her readers' comments - are worth a quick read.)

Question 3 - this may be the hardest one - Are there any times when even a satisficer ought to act like a maximizer?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Some Rosh Hashana links....

1. Rosh Hashana countdown timer:
2. For my Rosh Hashana prep worksheet (appropriate for any age), reply to this email and ask!
3. Our four favorite honey dishes which make great gifts: Here's the link.

PPS - Just one hidden link this week - can you find it?

Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Permission to Speed?

The goal of this blog is to slow everybody down for a few minutes. Please share.
Wishing Yisrael ben Sarah a speedy recovery from his surgery.

speed-limit-snailFollowing last week's story about the greatest Olympian (thanks for all of the positive feedback), here are four speed vignettes that all happened this week, leading to one vital question for your table.

1. A couple days ago, my wife is driving with our six-year-old on a city street where most drivers see the 30 MPH speed limit as a mere suggestion. If you drive 30, you will typically find someone tail-gating you, and everyone else racing past you as if you were standing still.

Maybe they like to get to the next red light quickly so they have more time to check their messages.

So out of the blue, our daughter says, "Mommy, you know you are allowed to speed here."

Oy, Mommy thinks, she's learning by example.

"How do you know that?"

"Because I saw a sign, it said, 'speed'!"

2. I myself was driving on a highway this week with someone who didn't like that I was going the speed limit, telling me that I am required to stay with the flow of traffic, even if it's over the speed limit.

(Not everyone agrees. The thrust of this discussion seems to conclude that it makes sense, but not sound legal advice. These guys all seem to agree that although many people do it, it's still illegal. But here we learn that the law varies by state.)

3. Somebody tells me yesterday that he has so little on his agenda, he doesn't know what to do. Not busy enough.

4. In the airport this week, we find ourselves sitting opposite a Tibetan monk. The kids are fascinated. One asks, "Why is he wearing a dress?"

His travel companion gives him a slice of pizza, which he places on his lap and meditates for a full five minutes before eating it.

That's pretty impressive. When we say a beracha, it might take us five seconds. Five minutes is major-league spirituality.

Now, after he finishes meditating, there is no outward indication that he is eating his pizza any differently than anyone else. Perhaps that's the point. Perhaps his meditation was all about not experiencing the pizza. Perhaps he's having an incredible experience of nothingness.

(It is interesting that many versions of Buddhist "mindful eating" do not seem to care about the taste of the food. See this Tibetan buddhist nun, this woman who attended a Triartna Buddhism retreat. According to this Theravadic monk, it is wrong to eat "for pleasure". Yet Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh demurs.

So now for this week's question:

Let's go back to the Jewish version of pre-eating meditation, the bracha. The Talmud says that saying a bracha is a way of "paying" for the food. I may own it legally, but I don't have an ethical right to consume it until I say, "Wow, thank you."

But is it enough to say, "Wow, thank you" before I eat? Even if I say it with tremendous feeling?

Hos should the wow-thanks affect how I eat?

What say you and your table-mates?

Shabbat Shalom
PS - Here's a secular book with some practical wisdom on mindful eating. Here's a Jewish-oriented book with the same.

PPS - If you are thinking about Rosh Hashana gifts for any teacher, try
our unique online resource for people like you.

Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.