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Walking down the same path at exactly the same speed, heading for all the same destinations can be a mistake for several reasons. When we use past conclusions to explain all of our realities, we can be doing ourselves a rather major disservice.

Here’s an example. One of these days, I plan to make a trip to Paris. After having studied French in various formats and within numerous disciplines, it’s a life fulfillment to see the Louvre and Versailles. Up until yesterday, I had formulated a number of “truths” about France.

For one, I believed that communicating would be a challenge that of considerable importance. Once upon a time, a pilot from Air France notified me that my French was that of an uneducated, poor French woman. Perhaps he had another agenda consisting of superiority. In any case, I continued to believe that my French was marginal.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to hear a French government official deliver a short speech with English subtitles. Amazingly, I could understand every word and would have been able to translate it as delivered. It’s probably a good message that I should re-evaluate my competence.

Another recollection was that France is hostile to Americans. Very recently, I discovered that in addition to the reality that such generalizations are inherently ridiculous, many French people are receptive to Americans, especially those who speak French.

We all have these comments, observations or reservations that make an unfortunate and often lasting imprint on our willingness to move forward. How many professional athletes were told at some time during childhood that they would never get to the bench, much less spend time on it? We’ve seen life stories of those who were told they would never walk and exceed all expectations by climbing serious cliffs.

All of this is to say that we all need to question our preconceptions and formulate new data. If you had an art teacher or classmate who advised that your stick figures stink, but you want to express yourself with charcoal or acrylic, take an art class. Likewise, if you’ve always wanted to play a music instrument but were advised that you were tone deaf, pick a guitar or piano and become proficient. If you have messages that you want to convey, write them somewhere.

While some dated information might be valuable, much of it is worthy of being sent to the landfill. Update your reference files and see what you can discover. Shalom.

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Magic wanding

If you exhaust all of your options for fun or challenging mental exercises, I have one that may be educational as well as entertaining. It occurred to me that it might be quite an experience to have one minute, no more and no less, with every person whom you have known. In order to make it more meaningful, the list would not include chance meetings on a train or bus. They would be people with whom you had spent a year or more.

The presentation can take at least two forms. First, you could do it alphabetically. Anderson would precede Brown and Brown would precede Carmichael, etc. The revisit mechanism that I am envisioning would present all of your contacts, in linear alphabetic order.

Another logical pattern would be chronological. We could begin at kindergarten and allow your minute with every adult whom you encountered from the age of five, to the present.

Now that the logistics are in place, here are a few thoughts to consider. With the advantage of years since you met and shared space with these people, what would you say? Would you want or need the interaction to be positive or illuminating? Or in some cases, would you want to tell this person how you really feel after many years of having considered those feelings?

From my standpoint, a number of outcomes materialize. This would be an opportunity to tell a high school English teacher that his passion and energy resulted in my most important life paths. It would also enable me to tell my first love that I understand why our relationship ended but my feelings never changed. And most profoundly, it would provide a means to tell my cherished mom how much strength I have derived from her wisdom.

Fill in your own blanks. What would you say to someone who wronged you and would it constitute forgiveness or one last epithet? And what expectations do you have of those who now have another minute with you?

Although the likelihood of this magic wand episode is non-existent, it’s a tantalizing thought. A critical component is the one-minute limit. For those who don’t believe in eternal life after death, one-time brief communication could be a golden gift. Shalom.

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Our country’s music

Growing up in Chicago, we had very little affection or appreciation for country music. At that time, peer pressure was enormous and no-one we knew or acknowledged had ever listened to country music, much less complimented it.

Since that time, tastes change, understandings change and only recently (five to ten years?) have I realized how important this genre is to music and our population in general. My appreciation always favors traditional values and doing the right thing. This practice not only generates maximum good to the universe; but also, it provides a center and foundation for everything in which I believe.

While we spent much of our listening time to Beatle adventures in musical experimentation, veneration of popular drugs or mindless repetitive lyrics, much of country music avoids all of these. As compared to other genres, country wants and expects you to listen to the lyrics, many of which espouse very basic (American) values.

For example, most of the songs I hear that reference love also allude to wedding rings, visiting the local preacher and changing the names of ladies who are the targets of that love. Clearly, we have an appreciation for the institution of marriage and living according to plan.

Occasionally, we have digressions that relate to broken hearts, beer bottles and beaches replete with margaritas and senoritas. But for the majority of music that I hear, we respect our mamas, our pasts and all of those lessons that we were taught.

If we are sincere about teaching the difference between right and wrong, it’s everywhere in country music. If we want to hear refrains of patriotism and serving our country, we can tune into Toby Keith, Willie Nelson or George Strait.

Those who are resolute about heavy metal, classical or anything in between, enjoy. But I’m happy that we have a place to visit that sounds like Mom, the flag and apple pie. Life feels pretty good there. Shalom.

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Baseball reality

There’s something about little league that brings out the best and worst in big and little people. For the most part, the kids who are playing in little league are usually supportive, forgiving and encouraging. They are not modeling this behavior from or for the adults in attendance. These are observers who are often rowdy, pouty and totally without softheartedness.

We teach the good lessons and the kids get them. Be good sports. Cheer for your team members. Overcome defeat with grace and class. It’s easy to see how they bolster each other and promise success at the next at bat.

Parents, on the other side of the plate, expect perfection. It was my misfortune to listen to one of them completely destroy his son’s composure. “Your fielding needs work, you’re not paying attention and your swing is pathetic.” In spite of being an absolutely non-violent person, I wanted to punch him.

It would be a promising idea to let kids be kids. He doesn’t bat like an MLB all-star because he’s only 14. And if you spend all that time correcting, where’s the fun for anyone? Don’t forget that it takes courage to get out there and give it your all in the first place.

Happily, the coaches are usually on the plus side of the baseball equation. They predict successes, promote individuals and rarely show disappointment. It’s difficult to believe that they are simultaneously parents and coaches to the little leaguers.

Can it be that this has been little league since the beginning of the sport? Have mothers always yelled at umpires to address their vision impairments? Most of this ancillary baseball behavior from years ago remains undocumented. We can only hope for not taking performance personally and for promoting partnership. Shalom.

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No matter what I recollect or reference, I can’t completely understand what has caused the relatively sudden popularity of tattoos. During my college years and thereafter, we found ways to express ourselves that had nothing to do with ink or skin. Right now, I need to spend quite a bit of time to identify people who have no tattoos.

This is not a position statement for or against tattoos, although there is no possibility of my investing in one. One reason is my dedication of many years to Holocaust studies. My people at Auschwitz had no choices about their tattooed numbers but I do.

The second reason concerns permanence. Most of my philosophies and ethics are constant and immutable. But other tastes change, and I would never color my skin with anything that could (thankfully) wind up in my past.

Finally, neither do I want all those who see me to see my beliefs, dreams and fantasies; nor do I want to know that much about others. To me, tattoos are the obvious displays of our feelings or passions, for all the world to inspect.

When I meet someone, I’m not interested in reading someone’s body in order to get to know them. And if I do, how much of the information is current? How much is obsolete? And ultimately, how much is none of my business?

In my distant past, tattoos were for sailors or women of ill-repute. That reference is in the category of archaic, with only the memory remaining. Very often, I see tattoos that are tasteful and sublime. But as a student and educator of life, I often find myself saying, “Did you really think this through before you did it?” It might be illuminating or picturesque to hear the responses. Shalom.

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Saving the world

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

For those who are familiar with the Talmud, this is a famous excerpt that is very much worth remembering and repeating. If you are not familiar with the Talmud, it is a collection of writings (the Mishnah and the Gemara) that cover the gamut of Jewish law and tradition. Regardless of its origin, the sentences have profound meaning, now as much as when the Talmud was written in 200 and 500 CE.

The quote occurred to me yesterday in conjunction with the death of Kate Spade. We are reminded that money, fame and achievements in the public eye do not necessitate mental well-being or happiness. From the outside, we would have believed that Kate had everything anyone would have wanted from life. But obviously, this was not the case.

In terms of one life saving the world, my hope is that her death has influence on those who are struggling with life and need counseling or support. We don’t know what other legacies she left. But if others benefit in some way, we can be certain that she showed us what alternatives are available to us.

The quote was often cited in terms of Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of 1200 Jews during World War II. In modern day terms, we all have the potential to save the world through thoughtful intervention. If we see someone around us who is struggling or fragile, it is our responsibility and privilege to guide that person toward help. Likewise, when we are at risk or without solution, it is our empowerment to identify agencies or professionals who can assist.

May the memory of Kate Spade be for a blessing. We can hope that those whom she left behind will be comforted by their memories and the accomplishments of her life. For those of us who didn’t know her, we can hope that her death saves portions of the world she left. Shalom.

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What’s the point?

While no-one will ever accuse me of being prudish or pristine, I admit to having limits to the amount of obscenity that I can or will tolerate in my world.  Just now, I observed a list of fifty people who were all preceded by an “f” epithet, with the qualification that if I didn’t like the message or the list, I could attach the same epithet to myself. The post was (again) on social media, posted by one of my high school classmates who tirades daily about conservatives.

If I had direct access to this person other than through social media messaging, I would be tempted to ask what purpose was served by this post. But somehow, doing so is not worth the effort required. Most likely, none of the fifty cursed in the post will ever see it. And if they did, what then?

My first objection is based on the fact that the post is visible to all those with social media accounts, some of whom are way below voting age. Most likely, we don’t want our younger viewers to use this word once, let alone fifty times.

After that, what did you accomplish outside the fact that you know how to spell an obscenity and the names of fifty people who are somehow associated with the president of this country? To my recollection, no-one has held you responsible for a minimum of hate posts per day, with a certain punishment associated with under-performance.

Now that we know all of the people for whom you have no trust or belief, in what do you believe? Is voting for Democrats your entire contribution to society, along with daily blasts of Republicans? Has it occurred to you that the lines in our society are not black/white, right/wrong, liberal/conservative or Democrat/Republican? Some Republicans sincerely dislike the POTUS. And many Democrats and Republicans voted for Hillary in order to keep him out of office.

Stop contaminating my space. Every now and then you add something to social media that’s worth my reading what you write. But junk like this is pure trash and does absolutely nothing to improve our world. Instead of spending time on this activity, spend it in a food bank or senior center. Shalom.

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Gathering rosebuds

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.  Robert Herrick

Mr. Herrick, although he was writing in the 17th century, had a message to which many of us can still positively respond. The symbolism for the ephemeral nature of roses and youth is far from obscure. But I believe that each of us has a method of interpretation by which this passage can take on significance.

To me, it’s a reminder about waste. Wasting time is more than squandering money. If I have misused my time and effort, I could have been using it on something useful or constructive or worthwhile. Ultimately, this is why I choose to invest my time in educating. When I focus my energy on disseminating knowledge and life lessons, I feel that my hours are spent on the most relevant recipients of any wisdom I possess.

The avoidance of time dissipation can and does apply to many of our ongoing activities. How useless is it to complain and screech about others who have wronged us in some way? Generally, they are unaware and unconcerned about our dismay, as in the case of road rage. And if they do become aware of our reactions, what good is derived from that knowledge?

When we model this behavior of timeliness to those who seek our guidance, we accomplish two major outcomes. One is to demonstrate the need for prioritizing all that we do for the sake of efficiency, effectiveness and depositing good into the universe. The second and less obvious is to maximize the enjoyment that we derive from our short voyages through the beauty and brilliance of life. All of the petty grievances and distractions deplete that journey instead of amplifying it. Shalom.

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What matters

Speaking with a special, highly valued friend the other day, we determined that we are at exactly opposite positions on what I will call a “social issue.” This friend is also a business associate, resulting in a proximity that is closer than those friends with whom we sporadically connect.

We spent some time on the issue, agreed to disagree and went on to other topics with which we are largely in accord. As always, we ended the conversation on a high note, promising to communicate again in the near future.

Since that time, it has occurred to me that many of us create either reasons not to be close to another person or to castigate that person simply because of a difference of opinion on a subject. Here’s how that looks:

I can’t be friends with Rupert Lunchbucket because he is a right-wing conservative and I am a liberal.

I can’t associate with Linda Lunchbucket because her daughter is dating an African American and I think that’s just wrong.

You have decided that the American Cancer Society is your designated charity of choice. Mine is the Parkinson’s Association so there’s no sense in our continuing this relationship.

It’s possible that time and the nature of a relationship dictate how important any single concern can become. If we are at the initial stages of getting to know each other, it’s possible (but not likely) that a political stance can make or break that collaboration. But I would suggest that many people prematurely decide to admit or exclude another person based on sincerely superficial reasons.

Formidable friendships such as the one I earlier referenced are extremely difficult to establish and nurture. Consequently, we defeat ourselves by creating artificial (and often absurd) conditions under which those liaisons can continue. As one who has had many acquaintances and comparatively few true and lasting friendships, I know how valuable friends can be and are to me.  If you find a person with the right heart and spirit, toss away any of his or her beliefs with which you may be at odds. When it has to do with a union of souls, all the rest is incidental. Shalom.

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The price for free speech

Those of us who watched the response of a TV network to the unfortunate and irresponsible remarks of Roseanne Barr probably had a wide assortment of feelings about the event. Should she have made the comments that she did? Does freedom of speech allow her to say whatever she feels at the expense of whomever she references?

We can all have our opinions about whether or not Rosanne’s remarks were appropriate or inappropriate. Ultimately, I submit that the accuracy of her statement is not the issue. Most of us learned from an early age, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

It’s interesting but not germane to the discussion that Rosanne apologized for her remarks. By the time she did and by the time that her show was canceled, many millions of people had read the tweet and she accomplished disseminating the information that she wanted to spread.

Is social media an excuse to distribute ugly remarks? It appears that there is no agency that monitors or censors anything and everything that goes out on social media. If I chose this medium to spout nastiness about someone or something, the chances are reasonably good that no-one would prevent its publication. My guess, however, is that my followers who are accustomed to my positive observations and conclusions would object or check out entirely.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? Let’s talk more about the golden rule than we do the right to free speech or any other constitutional guarantee. Someone recently mentioned to me that we can’t use the term, “golden rule” in the schools any more because of the need to keep religion out of the educational system. My feeling about this is that the mandate is garbage although I will follow the guidelines to the best of my ability while still teaching the concept of treating others as you want to be treated.

Before you suggest that someone resembles an ape, think about how you would feel if were said to you. We all know that opinions are like kidneys – everybody has at least one. Sometimes it’s better to keep opinions and kidney references to yourself. Shalom.