Followers and leaders

One of the warnings that we began receiving when we were very young was to maintain control, no matter what the situation. We were told and have told our offspring to control instincts, desires, actions, and virtually everything else. Pondering this reality, I have begun to wonder exactly what advantages ensue from being in control.

My best guess is that I am thinking about this business of control because of some upcoming events. Beginning tomorrow, I am working in a teaching assignment where I function not as the teacher in charge of the class’s direction and teaching but as the co-worker who assists the class teacher. This is a teacher who is quite decisive and I have mixed feelings about being the second player in this situation.

Initially, this may seem to be a perfect environment for a substitute teacher. There are no lesson plans to follow, no need to supervise kids at recess or in the cafeteria. But I am feeling that this may be my challenge because of this anomalous imperative to be in control.

My reputation is not at stake, nor is my self-esteem. What I do see, however, is that there are times when the control that we have always sought is not really as important as it has always seemed. By accepting this assignment, I have tacitly subscribed to the protocols and situation that exists. My job is to make it right.

And so, I have an opportunity to learn something about assisting rather than directing, supporting rather than directing, and deferring to the one who is the designated leader. It sounds pretty simple; the only complication is the fact that it’s uncharted territory for me. We’ll just have to suck it up and let someone else be in charge. Doing that should be more than enough. Shalom.

Good and evil

If you spend a few minutes thinking about it, you have probably known a person or persons in your life who were purely good. My mom was one of those. I also remember an English teacher, colleague, and several family members who have left me with memories of only positive personalities and actions.

Now think of someone who was pure evil. Again, I can conjure a co-worker, a boss, a friend who turned out to be toxic, and several others who seemed to have dedicated their lives to dispensing ugly thoughts and deeds. What is the point of all of this, you ask?

My most recent revelation concerns some information I just secured from my current reading material. The author refers to the Kapos and Sonderkommandos in World War II, Jews who were responsible for directing the activities and/or deaths in of fellow Jews in ghettos and concentration camps. In many cases, these were ruthless and cruel people who indulged in much the same torture and brutality that was conducted by their Nazi counterparts. The author goes on to say that while these Kapos and Sonderkommandos did what they were told in order to survive, there is a very fine line between doing your job under duress and enjoying the power, however fleeting.

It all causes me to wonder about the capacity all of us have for both good and bad. It also drives home the point that when we speak of 6 million Jews, we unintentionally forget that each one was an individual life. Each one had family members, pasts and presents, hopes for the future, and accomplishments that they had accumulated. When we lump victims into groups (Kapos, Sonderkommandos, inmates, survivors, escapees, protestors, etc.,) we are incapable of seeing them as the women, men, and children that they were.

Some were good while some were pure evil. But the majority were a combination of everything human, such as kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and the litany of adjectives that could be correctly applied to the lost and those who survived the Holocaust. For my part, I am in awe of those who managed to escape and have told their heartbreaking stories. Each time I do, I remain touched by the memories of those whose lives ended never telling us who they were and what they wanted to be. Shalom.

Ribbon

What is it about a piece of ribbon that can entertain a first grader for an immeasurable amount of time? You can put it in your hair. You can decorate your artwork. Or you can attach it to a pipe cleaner and make a combination sword-baton-lightsaber and use it to duel with your neighbor. Better yet, I am told that they can be fishing rods or magic wands.

One of the best lessons I learn when I dispense, ribbon, paper, stickers, and pipe cleaners is that kids have more creativity than we ever imagine. Maybe we would be better equipped if we attempt the tasks that we assign to our students. More importantly, those tasks might be better taught if we learn them at the same time. The danger of this option is imitation; if the teacher does it, I’ll just copy hers and that way, I know that I’m okay.

It’s unlikely that most contemporary educators investigate the infinite possibilities of ribbon or colored paper. What I’m suggesting is that if I spend some time in that endeavor, I can make good suggestions. Instead of doing colored drawings, why not attempt origami? If you can make a necklace for mom, why not do what one of my first graders did – stick a collection of rubber shapes on the ribbon. Or you can weave ribbon colors. Or what else can you do?

We must be thorough about approving and complimenting all efforts. I’m forever telling students that there is no bad art and everything that they create is worthwhile and beautiful.

The message that we must always convey is that you have no limits in terms of what you are able to create. If you want to build your own Disneyland, let me know how I can help. If you want to devise a vessel to send yourself to Mars, tell me how you want it to look.

Kids hear more “no” in the course of a day than “yes.” My desire is to reverse that unfortunate reality and remove the limits, boundaries, ceilings, criticism, and any other restraints. Shalom.

Be patient

Most of us are quite sincere about living for as long as possible, in the styles to which we have become (or want to become) accustomed. Right now, those of us who have been paying attention to the news and the statistics are interested in the possibility of acquiring an immunity to the deadly Covid-19 virus. But as one who was recently promised a vaccine and wasn’t able to receive one, I am uniquely qualified to emphasize the need for patience.

We didn’t immediately begin watching hundreds and thousands of people dying every day. It’s taken some time, some stubborn refusal to adhere to safe practices, and a certain amount of time to reach the levels that this pandemic has reached. Likewise, it’s reasonable to realize that we won’t have an immediate solution and cure to the situation in which we find ourselves.

It’s not your neighbor, your doctor, or your healthcare provider’s fault that you haven’t been invited to come in for a vaccine. The kickoff for vaccines was clumsily handled and we have been playing catch-up ever since, trying to get the most amount of vaccine to the places and people who need it most. Too many have died and too many will die. But there has been incompetence from the top down, and we are now in a rush to compensate for that lack of reliable management.

According to Tuesday’s news, many millions of doses have been ordered and it is expected that all adults will receive shots by August. By this time, we hav already endured one year of Covid-19. A few more months and we should all be protected. Use your brain instead of your mouth and do whatever possible to make the time pass quickly, show our kids that we are survivors, and make it possible for this wonderful country to become healthy and wonderful as soon as we can.

Take a breath, observe the distancing guidelines, and wear your mask. We may not have much influence on how quickly we are vaccinated, but we do have complete control over how we behave in the interim. As an educator, I will be in the classroom when I am needed. The kids shouldn’t have to suffer from a lack of in-person, reliable education while all of us are waiting to receive a vaccine. Shalom.

Simplify

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. Henry David Thoreau

This morning I had some thoughts about the various ways by which we make our lives unnecessarily complicated. We do it in large and small ways. Instead of using one bar of soap for all of our needs, I find myself using an entire assortment of products that do the same job as a humble bar of soap. One could probably make a case for the food that we prepare and eat as well as the clothes we wear and the method of transportation that we select.

As I make sense out of the things that we do that could be simplified, I first have to understand why we made them complicated in the first place. Some of them are obvious. We use multiple cleaning products because we persuade ourselves that our faces need care that is different from what we deliver to our knees and feet. And if one spice is good for seasoning, twelve must be better. It’s variety, trying new things, aiming for the best possible consequences, and in the best case, to find methods that are easier and potentially less expensive.

But ultimately, I think that Mr. Thoreau is right. As we have fewer items from which to choose for any purpose, our decision time is reduced and ideally, we have spent less money. In another realm, we have minimized the number of things that surround us. There is less clutter, fewer areas to clean, more streamlined processes, and efficiency. The best outcome is reducing the amount of stuff we have in our lives. Eliminating junk promotes peace of mind that is otherwise less available.

The older I am fortunate to get, the fewer things are necessary to make me happy and fulfilled. Let me have my books, my laptop, my secure home, and most importantly, my indescribably terrific family. Clothes are shoes are nice to have, both for the purposes of being in public and for keeping comfortable. But at this point, I am thinking long and hard about what must be done to all of the things that I have acquired once I am gone. I’ll keep working on keeping only the things that matter, both for now and for tomorrow. Shalom.

Smile a little

One of the worst outcomes of the pandemic and obligatory wearing of masks is the inability to see the faces of one another. In some cases, it’s probably just as well. I continue to be amazed at the number of people who choose to walk around with perpetual scowls. But for the most part, the expressions of people I see are benign at worst, happy at best.

The good news is that eventually, we won’t need to wear any more masks and we can see each other. That furnishes the ideal opportunity to conduct an experiment that I have conducted, always with positive results. When you manage to create eye contact with a stranger, smile at that person and see what happens.

Most of the time, people will smile back. Other times, they will look at you quizzically, as if your elevator never gets to the top floor or you are somehow otherwise compromised. It’s very seldom that people will ask you what’s wrong with you or why you are smiling.

One of the consequences of doing this type of smiling is that it has the potential for spreading positive energy to those you meet. If someone elects not to receive it that way, it’s not your fault. Either they don’t need one more smile, they are content with being grumpy, or they have something more pressing on their minds.

It also feels good. Think about it. Are you better when you are stern-faced and serious or positive and cheerful? Creating good is an excellent place for us and those whom we contact. Smiling doesn’t you cost anything and it has the capacity for transmitting something excellent. In our current mask-wearing status, I still smile at people. I’m not at all persuaded that others know that I am smiling but it can’t hurt. If you really want to make certain that you are transmitting good stuff, quickly pull down your mask, smile and return it to the place over your nose. You’ll never know whom you have improved in addition to yourself. Shalom.

Center

A book that I was extremely fortunate to discover was Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it Ever Over for the Next Generation, by Ruth Rotkowitz. This is a powerful, brilliant book that makes numerous impactful statements. But one that remains with me and the protagonist is the need to find one’s center.

The first question to be asked (logically) was what the need was to find her center. What is my center? Is it truth? Is it my faith? Is it what defines me? Is it a unifying force, something potentially unique to me?

Determining the importance of finding a center is illustrated best in nature. Our bodies are centered around our spinal columns. Circulation emanates from our hearts and the brain sends out signals from the center of us that is the brain. Tree branches and leaves are as if spokes of the wheel that is the tree trunk.

As I thought more about the center, I realized that the best synonym I could identify for center is essence. While I see myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, author, writer, and friend, my essence is that of an educator. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to educate, regardless of the context in which I did so. The origins of educate are the concepts of leadership and nurturance, both of which are inherent to educating.

Defining that helps clarify whatever I do, including those activities that do not immediately include others. It’s easy to find examples of educating others. I do that as a parent and grandparent, occasionally as wife, and always as educator.

But with each book, each blog and each writing project I complete, I am improving others in some way as I am also growing. If I complete research, I acquire new information. When I examine a subject as I do here, the journey toward my conclusions is marked with discovery, analysis, data collection, and development of conclusions.

In my case, I feel confident that I have been true to myself and my center. As I influence others, I hope that they can also identify their centers and organize their lives accordingly. In some cases, this will easily be accomplished; other situations may present greater challenges.

We’ve all known those who have spent their lives working in a factory, delivering mail, or doing something else, without knowing why. If you can determine what makes you content or happy or elated, there is no need to feel that something is incomplete. Find out what is your center and let nothing stand in your way  of being, doing, or living exactly what that is. Shalom.

Hollow men

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T.S. Eliot  – The Hollow Men

For some reason, I fell asleep the other night with these lines in my head. It’s been quite a while since I studied this poem, a famous and highly reviewed one. Although Eliot wrote it during the late 20s, I find myself thinking how appropriate it is today.

Those of us who are Americans and fully understand the meaning of being an American citizen continue to be shocked and distressed at the events that took place last Wednesday in our nation’s capital. While the violence was finally put to an end, the dialogue and threats continue and most of us are looking apprehensively at the upcoming inauguration. Will we see more violence, in spite of the massive preparation and presence of thousands of troops and law officers who will attend?

As much as possible, I can separate myself from the politics of last Wednesday and focus only on the damage done to the building that is representative of our democracy and freedom. Except during wartime and in the preservation of freedom that is indigenous to war, I cannot condone violence of any type. Hundreds of millions of us revere the American flag and the buildings that populate our capitol. Seeing damage done to either hurts the core of us. Knowing that it was initiated and encouraged by one of our “leaders” exacerbates the pain and allows me to question the loyalties of those who chose to participate.

After all of the bravado, bullets, and breaking of treasured symbols, what was left? Was there a point of any significance that was transmitted? Surely not, other than that there was a contingent of bullies who didn’t care whom they hurt or what consequences ensued.

My most sincere hope is that we will not see any more violence, damage, or human suffering as this upcoming inauguration takes place. We all have the ability to encourage our lawmakers to do what they can to discourage rioters and encourage peace. I only hope that we will see the best of actions, eliminating both bangs and whimpers. Shalom.

Cues and queues

Having just spent two half-hour sessions in queue to reach a business entity, I can’t help but wonder if there are better options to the idiocy we are forced to hear on the wait to speak with a representative. In this case, I listened to the invitation for a call back at least fifteen times, my position in queue that began at 85, and reminders that most information can be found on the organization’s website.

The fact that this was a federal organization explains the redundancies and lack of creativity. But between all of these repetitive messages, there was also some equally ridiculous electronic music. My question becomes, what are the alternatives?

Can we improve the customer experience by reducing the number of messages to one or two per minute rather than an endless round of spoken comments? One alternative is to handle enough representatives to reduce the size of the queue. While I realize that some of these are time-sensitive sites that are driven by tax or enrollment deadlines, it would be easy enough to hire temporary staff to reduce the queues.

What else can be done? Should they insert some comedian who introduces a series of jokes that are inoffensive and clean? Should there be a minute of music, followed by a minute or thirty seconds of explanatory information? Maybe this would be a good project for a very clever group of high school or college students – to create new and incredibly clever ways to eliminate call center boredom.

Maybe we should find a way to bill the companies that we are calling for our time. If we are paying them in any way, we can reduce the payment proportionate to the time they keep us on ignore (hold). Having worked for a number of years in a call center, it was my goal to reduce the amount of time that anyone was on hold and I remember speaking with many clients who appreciated my diligence. I’m thinking that this organization would have many more happy customers if they deleted the half-hour queues.

While I realize that this is not an issue of monumental proportion, it does seem to me that we should take any opportunity we can find to improve the lives of others. Maybe someone will take this cue to delete the queue. Shalom.

A word

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”
― Emily Dickinson

A remarkable and memorable bit of wisdom that I received recently concerned my observation that in spite of my dedication and determination, my book – Two papas – a tale of Impossible Holocaust survival, is not receiving the commercial success that I would choose. The purpose of the book was never that type of recognition, i.e., making hordes of money. Its purpose was to remind those who need to know that we must never forget the Holocaust or we tacitly allow it to happen again. Indeed, seeing t-shirts with “6MWE” or Six Million Wasn’t Enough, referring to the Holocaust and extermination of 6 million Jews was a stark reminder that Nazis haven’t left our world.

The reminder that I received was that very few people who write books or anything else receive public acclaim or fame. My friend suggested that the reason to write is the pure joy of filling blank spaces with words and characters that never existed before that time. It’s a beautiful philosophy – one that made me very happy and understood.

We make a mistake when we believe that we are creating the Great American Novel or whatever and that we will be appreciated and celebrated accordingly. Worse than that, we make a greater mistake when we depend our happiness on receiving that acclaim. In no other ways do we hand off the responsibility of our happiness or fulfillment to others. Why do it with a published book, poem, essay, or treatise?

Ms. Dickinson clearly substantiated this approach. She looked at a word until it began to shine. My book is an achievement that is gratifying. It is also illuminating, well-intentioned, and developed from a sincere desire to honor all those affected by the Holocaust. Being on a bestseller list would not make any of those feelings better or more joyous.

And so, I recommend that those who have the soul to write do so. Fill your blank pages with words and people and events that mean something to you through their creation. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Shalom.