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Turnips and beets

Here’s another story from Jewish folklore that I like and that rings some loud bells for me. The Emperor of a country was sadly watching the balances in the empire’s treasury shrinking and shrinking. He had called in all of the greatest authorities on treasury management, to no avail.

The Emperor sent a message to a wise rabbi, telling him of the situation. He then sent a messenger to visit the rabbi, trying to solicit a response. The rabbi said nothing but began to pull his large turnips out of the ground, replacing them with small turnips. This was followed by removing large beets and putting small ones in their places.

When the messenger returned to the palace, the Emperor asked if the rabbi had sent a note with him. The messenger replied that there was no note and reported how the rabbi had filled his garden with the undeveloped plants. With that, the Emperor realized his mistake, dismissed his high-ranking officials and tax collectors, replacing them with less famous but more honest representatives. Suddenly the Imperial Treasury began growing and flourishing.

Because the message here is straightforward, there is no need to explain. But the down-home, raised in a community, simple life part of me responds positively to simplification and operating on the basis of integrity. The only glitch in this formula has to do with finding “honest” officials but the idealist that survives in me suggests that they still exist.

It’s a very appealing way of looking at the methods by which we can improve our world. Whether we grow from the ground, the schools or our own commitments toward improving the greater good, we will inevitably succeed. The next time I’m in a classroom, I hope to make this a lesson worth discussing and illustrating. In the interim, planting seeds, symbolic or otherwise, feels like an excellent path to follow. Shalom.

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A wealth of goodness

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered for a least a short moment how it would feel to be disgustingly wealthy. Please don’t confuse this with envy or jealousy. At the moment, I have enough resources to purchase whatever I need or want without going hungry. But I can’t help but wonder, especially in the strangest of circumstances, how my life would change if I had millions stashed somewhere.

Let’s imagine the most routine domestic issues. If you have zillions, do you use a bar of soap and then toss it? Or do you do what most of us do and use it until it’s microscopic? When you have more food on your plate than you can consume, do you take home leftovers? This presumes that you have your own chef and you can feast on whatever you want, whenever you want it. How many rooms do you need in your home if you can only live in one room at a time? This question always conjures the picture of Warren Buffett who lives in the same house he’s always had in Omaha.

This analysis leads me to a question of what truly defines wealth. We all know who the fabulously wealthy people are – they are the geniuses such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other business giants. Then there are the sports figures and actors who are handsomely paid and are pretty obvious about their lush lifestyles.

Because I’ll never have too much money to count or manage, my personal definition of wealth has very little to do with dollars. The wealthy in my estimation are those who work in soup kitchens, volunteer in hospitals on Christmas so that others can have the day off and those who anonymously pay all off the layaway items at a Walmart store.

Inevitably, those who are wealthy with kindness, charity and humility may or may not have equivalent accumulations of assets. Because I aspire to that status, I can confirm that my desire to deposit immeasurable good into the universe will have nothing to do with my financial status. On this eve of a meaningful holiday to so many, let us celebrate those who are truly blessed with the spirit of selfless giving. Shalom.

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Veneer

Scanning my library, I discovered a book that I purchased long ago and have treasured each time I’ve opened it. It’s an anthology of Jewish folklore that has a vast collection of anecdotes, parables, riddles, songs and countless other gems. As I remembered some of the wisdom gained while perusing it, I thought it might be a good resource for this medium.

One story I savor is that of the rich but stingy man and the rabbi. The man approached his rabbi to ask for a blessing, at which moment the rabbi rose, took the man by the hand and led him to a window. Looking out the window, the rabbi asked the stingy man what he saw, to which he replied, “People.”

The rabbi then took the man to a mirror and asked the same question. This time, the man said, “I see myself.” Now the rabbi proceeded to explain the meaning of his two questions.

“When you see only through the glass, you see the rest of the world around you. Looking at the mirror, although it is also made of glass, there is a silver veneer to it. And so it is with your life. As soon as you cover your images of life with silver, you see only you.”

There is no date or source attributed to this charming story and I cherish it for its simplicity and timelessness. When we measure others or ourselves in terms of wealth, possessions or other attributes, we ensure superficiality and a lack of wisdom.

When, however, we are able to see images without the facades or window dressings, we are best equipped to encounter such attributes as character or moral value. Our stingy rich man typified measuring others on the basis of their wealth rather than an unembellished and innate goodness.

The moral is joyously uncomplicated and whether the tale is factual or not, we can only wonder if the rabbi’s point is received and internalized, then and now. Shalom.

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Can I help you?

In an age where motives may be questioned, attitudes may be suspect and actions may be misinterpreted, it seems that the four words, “Can I help you” are probably seldom heard. As I reflect on them, I find that they are probably the most powerful words that anyone can utter to another person.

For the grammarians and detail-obsessed, if you are inclined to wonder if I meant, “May I help you,” I did not. While “may” requests permission, my usage of “can” is another way of asking, “Is there any area where I may be able to assist you?”

Your first reaction to my statement may be that either the words are rarely issued, or they usually have secondary motives. But I’ve spent considerable time thinking about help. When is it the most valuable and to whom are the questions most appropriately asked?

My experience suggests that many people are reluctant to ask for help, whether out of concern for their images or because they simply don’t know how to ask. In response to that trait, I humbly offer an alternative.

If and when you need help on a task or a thought, large or small, ask for help from someone you trust. While many people in your vicinity may be eager to offer opinion, conjecture or suggestion, very often that offer is misguided or self-serving. Instead, be judicious in your choice and ask for assistance.

By doing so, you accomplish two important deeds. Your comrade, friend, confidante is enriched by the effort you have made to enlist their involvement. And clearly, you will be the recipient of information or action that is dedicated specifically to your needs.

If in the future, you can reciprocate, both parties benefit. And if there had been any question about the willingness to put forth effort on behalf of the other person, that potential reluctance is dispelled. You are available to help another while that other is amenable to helping you.

From my standpoint, someone asking me to assist is a compliment and an invitation for me to contribute something positive, to them and to the world around me. You will probably find that others share that feeling – when you ask something of them, you give them something that has meaning. If all that weren’t wonderful enough, a new and fresh insight may be the key to solving something previously insoluble. Shalom.

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All the questions

Moving to a new place provides an interesting assortment of advantages. One of these is to find notes or comments from the past. Today I found some notes that I made while traveling in a car and thought it might be fun to share.

My first question suggested that I was called upon or asked myself, “all the questions of the universe.” This was evidently done in the launching of a new program. The first reaction I had was that this was presumptuous in its absurdity. Going further, my conclusion was that to stop asking questions was not the way to live life and was an unacceptable path. Moderation is the answer.

Launching any program carries with it as much reliability as a one-size-fits-all financial portfolio or diet regime. Considered from that perspective, all of the truths of life that are valid and relevant to that program can be reduced to very few. Any more than the most basic must be individually designed to have any possibility for success.

The Golden Rule is an excellent place to begin. We all know it: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But the interpretation can be elusive.

For instance, if you’re sitting in an airport terminal and you notice someone who has mobility challenges, your response will be determined by how you would prefer that others respond to you.

Leave me alone. I don’t want help from strangers.

How very nice of you to offer help! It’s so rare these days that anyone would offer to do anything unrequested for someone else.

Or, in a very tragic example: what do you want from me in return for your gesture of kindness? Are you hoping to get a tip or some other reciprocal action?

It may be that the purest of basic human realities are more complex or convoluted than they seem. So it goes with the idea of finding answers to everything. But I would submit that most of us would prefer to under-analyze than over-analyze the meaning or interpretation of this statement/precept.

For some reason, my notes ended there. A reasonable conclusion is that while we can’t answer most of the questions that plague us, not answering any of them is the worst alternative. Shalom.

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Sharing and holidays

Sitting in my recliner and pondering the events of the day, our doorbell rang. We have been besieged with deliveries from somewhere or another, so I assumed that it was yet another courier. But to my joy and surprise, it was a neighbor delivering a collection of holiday cookies. We had seen this neighbor before when he approached us in our driveway, introduced himself and welcomed us to the neighborhood.

The cookies were festive, tasty and decorated in glittery tissue paper with red acorns that were painted to look like trees. Reflecting on the gesture, I was touched and enchanted.

Isn’t it sad that a neighbor who shares holiday cookies comes as a remarkable surprise? Have we become so isolated and unfriendly that seeing someone going to the trouble of bringing a treat is shocking? When we were a society of small towns, people sharing the lives of their community members and generally living as villagers, this gift would be customary, not surprising.

With further reflection, I confirmed my intent to reciprocate although the gift was clearly offered with no expectation of anything in return. Both for the sake of extending good cheer and for telling neighbors how much I treasure their spirits, cookie baking is in my near future.

Thankfully, I have no intention of dismissing cordial treatment from those around me. The store personnel will receive thank you and holiday greetings as they are dispensed, I will open doors, relinquish parking spaces and tell as many veterans as possible that we appreciate their service. My most sincere hope is that I will never become too old or cynical not to value gestures of kindness and sincerity.

Many signs of neighborhood geniality suggest to me that our society is not in decline.  A promise that I will fulfill is to continue finding methods by which I can cherish and salute my fellow man. Shalom.

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When you take the time

If you’ve been in the customer service or sales business for any amount of time, you know that it can be gratifying, frustrating or a host of other adverbs. This has been the majority category of my career and I have always seen customer interaction as a method of delivering best care to benefit everyone involved.

Not so long ago, we received extraordinary care and service from a wait person. The young man who attended to us was kind, attentive, polite and interested in any and all methods of making us comfortable. At the end of the meal, I asked to speak to the manager so that I could compliment him on the hiring decision and extraordinary characteristics of our server.

The manager appeared grateful for the input and appeared to pass the compliments along to our young man who returned to express his thanks. Because this wasn’t the first or last time that I have elected to compliment management on a particular person, I find it surprising to hear how infrequently it happens.

Just as it is our responsibility to report problems with food or wait staff to management, isn’t it as much an imperative to deliver accolades? Chances are pretty good that this young man won’t experience a promotion or additional income because of my appreciation. But who’s to say how it will translate into improving his day, enhancing the care for future diners or generally benefit the atmosphere?

My suggestion is to take any opportunity to celebrate someone else. Leaving a tip is great but tell that person how much they contributed to your enjoyment of a meal. Tell your dental hygienist that he or she made your trip to the dentist much less stressful or painful. Advise your babysitter that her kindness to your kids cheers and improves you. Along the same lines, take a moment to help someone who appears to need that help. Several days ago, I paused to help a lady put her walker into her car and she was quite grateful for the small action.

The results of a few minutes of commendation or consideration are indescribable. Just as you want to hear that your life improves that of another in some way, people around you generally want to know the same. Shalom.

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Put me in, coach

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to live your life as a pro football player? Watching a game, it occurred to me that although the duration of a football player’s career is relatively short and contingent on staying healthy and productive, it’s truly a charmed life.

From here, they have all possible advantages. If you’re making big bucks and you’re recognizable, both to your local fans and on a national level, you can be, do, say and look whatever way you want. It allows you to wear your hair in any of a collection of outrageous fashions, wear clothing that would be considered ridiculous by other people and make comments about subjects that have nothing to do with your profession.

On the up side, you have the cash resources to support a variety of exceptional and wonderful causes, ranging from cancer research to children’s diseases, to combating hunger and homelessness. The money is often far beyond what any of us will ever imagine earning and if the athletes are smart, they refrain from buying multi-million-dollar mansions in order not to wind up forty years old and destitute. And it seems to me that very few of pro football players have ego issues.

If you’re looking for a partner, what better credential for attracting partners than an NFL contract? The high-profile players are seen with gorgeous models, singing professionals and frequently, celebrities with as much notoriety as theirs.

On the downside, in addition to a relatively short career, you’re also subjecting yourself to some serious bruises and knocks to your body. We’ve all heard of the frequency of permanent brain injuries due to concussions and other hits to the head. In other cases, it’s common to see athletes having to end their careers due to torn ligaments, fractures, damaged rotator cuffs, etc.

If I could take the pro football job for a while and reap the numerous benefits, I think it would be worthwhile taking the risk of damaging my body. Yes, putting up with the press, punches to the face and perennial public appearances might get tiresome, but it looks like a fun life. Shalom.

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Moral fiber

When you do everything that you are expected to do, need to do, want to do or should do, it’s reasonable to expect that your life will follow a reasonable, uneventful path. This includes such responsibilities as paying taxes, showing up on time for appointments, keeping promises and operating a business on a high integrity basis.

This has been the approach that I have chosen for my life and I have come to expect the same type of behavior from those with whom I do business. Unfortunately, my disappointments continue with respect to people who should be held accountable for their actions and fail to show that level of responsibility or moral fiber.

For example, I have a “client” for whom I edited two short books in June of 2014. While I normally require new clients to pay in advance for work, in this case the need was urgent, and the client was a church minister. Here we are, four- and one-half years later and I am still waiting for payment. Most folks would suggest that I should attribute it to bad debt and forget about it. But I am saddened and disappointed that he doesn’t have the motivation to make things right. Does this mean that I should always require payment before completing any work? My accounts receivable would say yes but my heart says no.

So it goes with the purchase of our new home. As I wait for the completion of the new hot water heater installation, I am aware that this is the most recent correction to a house that was initially considered to be in compliance. We have also replaced a deficient furnace, clothes dryer and refrigerator that the previous owner assured us were perfect. Especially ironic is the fact that we were the ones who paid for this inspection. Since then, I have strongly recommended to our realtor that they find a new inspector.

If we believe in karma, these incidents/situations would indicate that I was somehow entitled to being stiffed on work done or ripped off on the purchase of a home. Because I can’t make that make sense, are we simply receiving negative outcomes as part of life? No matter the reason, if there is any reason involved, my methods of living life will not change. Your lack of moral fiber won’t impact me at all. Shalom.

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U.S. History

We who live in New Mexico got one of those chuckles that is tinged with irony after watching the news recently. It seems that a New Mexican resident was attempting to secure a marriage license in Washington, DC but was prohibited from doing so without his passport.

The reasoning was that they couldn’t issue licenses to those who weren’t native Americans and this gentleman was deemed to be foreign because of his New Mexican citizenship. Apparently, someone forgot to tell this employee (and her supervisor) that New Mexico is America’s 47th state. Our statehood was granted in 1912, shortly before Arizona’s.

My gut feeling about this misunderstanding is that while it may not be new news for the residents of New Mexico, our recent press coverage and political controversies have made this situation worse. Where was this employee’s history lesson that discussed our fifty states, with the last two added as far back as 1959?

A resident of Albuquerque told me recently that our license plates say, “New Mexico USA” in order to alleviate any doubt about our legitimacy as Americans. While I find most of this amusing, as an educator I also find it disturbing. We should be teaching all of America’s development, not merely the 13 colonies, the presumed secession of California and the efforts to add Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

New Mexico is a lovely place, full of mountains, a highly diverse population,  history, desert and a galaxy of beautiful greenery. Our tagline is “Land of Enchantment,” a legend that was first placed on New Mexican license plates in 1941 and became our official state nickname in 1999.  This is a memorable designation and one with which I fully agree.

It shouldn’t be so difficult to remember that we’re a state. It makes me wonder if residents of New Hampshire or New Jersey are asked for their passports. Let’s make an effort to give us the legitimacy to which we’re entitled. What we’re asking for is a little respect. Shalom.