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Doing justice

The other day, I asked a friend if my blog reference to him did him justice. Happily, he said that it did, and I began thinking about the word justice. None of the curricula that I have taught have included any reference, direct or oblique, to justice. We talk about the judicial system, especially when we are adding a Supreme Court justice. But beyond that, how often do the majority of world citizens think about justice?

Many of us often think about the need for justice when we see someone or a group of people doing something that is clearly and absolutely wrong. A good example is the cretin who was taunting bison at Yellowstone, one of my most treasured places. He was eventually apprehended and placed in the Yellowstone jail. Justice was served.

Likewise, when the pedophile who abused hundreds of young Olympic gymnasts was arrested, we cheered at the delivery of justice. There were no gray areas or chances for mitigation. My opinion is that society hasn’t yet identified a punishment that is harsh enough for him.

My goal as an educator is to deliver justice to rule-breakers as often and consistently as possible. We need to give them choices. If they fail to uphold promises, they understand that they will experience appropriate consequences. To my mind, this is how we teach our children about justice.

If you steal a classmate’s food, you get no snack. If you can’t manage to work cooperatively, you work alone. If you keep blurting out information during class participation, I will not call on you.

One way or another, we must teach that we always have choices. Making wrong ones will result in justice. When you’re driving 65 in a 40 mile per hour zone, I will cheer at your speeding ticket.

Likewise, justice can be positive. Pay your taxes, abide by the laws that are in place and you’re entitled to help mold your world by voting. Violate that with gymnastic students or bison and you deserve the worst that we can orchestrate. Shalom.

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There is something about being part of a team that makes it a uniquely demanding and often gratifying experience. While I’m not referring specifically to sports teams, they may and often do share some of the qualities that non-athletic teams derive from group experiences.

From the top, I’m not referring to all of the “Hoorah” or knuckle-bumping that you may associate with many collaborations. It’s not about paying dues, wearing the right hoodie or doing the team mantra. More importantly, it’s about being with and around people who care about your success and personal growth.

This all occurs to me as one who has recently rejoined a business organization. The experience of doing so has been quite a surprise. People whom I had forgotten were remembering me. Those whom I had not met were interested in knowing more about me and what goes on in my brain.

Clearly, none of that puts money in the bank, cleans my garage or gets me better gas mileage. But I’m beginning to believe that folks of all flavors are enriched by belonging to something. It creates camaraderie, stimulating human interaction and often, the sense of community predicated on shared priorities.

For those who seek becoming enhanced by the emotional or psychological benefits of being part of an association, do whatever is necessary to move forward. The only true requirement is that you believe in the philosophy or objectives of that collection of participants.

Tutor some kids. Teach financial literacy to elementary school youngsters. Spend some time serving meals at a homeless shelter. Work for your political party. Dedicate volunteer hours to a local nursing home. These have all been in my past and provided more gratification than any paycheck. No matter what you choose to do, the process of proceeding toward something with others will be worthwhile. Your presence will inevitably and definitively improve that ensemble while you are benefitting yourself. Shalom.

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A dream is a prophecy in miniature.  Talmud

Dreams are funny, often nebulous commodities. Because I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, I don’t have the professional training to analyze or interpret dreams, mine or those of others. But what we do with our dreams makes a giant difference in what we can achieve.

Some people don’t remember the dreams that they have while sleeping; the rest of us can rarely translate the ones we remember into anything useful. My guess is that the quotation from Jewish scholars of the Talmud refers to those dreams that we have when we are awake. Perhaps the distinction needs to be made between dreaming and day-dreaming. But for the purposes of my observations, I refer only to dreaming of that which we hope to visualize or accomplish.

One of my newfound realizations is that too many of us dwell in the past rather than imagining a better future. Reliving events already completed equates to revisiting something that is incapable of change. Along those lines, Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

And so, you might wonder about the subjects of your dreams. There are no limits, no rules and no standards to follow. If you dream of climbing the world’s highest peaks, imagining the view at the top is only the first step. Find out what it takes to get there, jump into your training and set a date for it to take place.

If your dreams are more at sea-level, act upon those in the same manner. If you want to/need to lose weight, don’t be influenced by the number of pounds – simply approach it as one pound at a time. Celebrate each loss as the next step on the journey that you’ve dreamed.

Our world’s greatest endeavors have been completed by those who had the initiative to dream – these include the remarkable successes of people such as Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Owens, Vincent Van Gogh and Carl Jung who said, “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” Grasping your dreams and transforming them into power will enable you to accomplish everything that you can envision. Shalom.

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What we say

One of the things I love most about the English language is its precision. Maybe the fact that I have been working in, around and with English for some time contributes to my awareness of the specificity of my language. But whenever I wander into certain words, I am in awe of the vastness of our vocabulary.

Driving down the highway, I was busily searching for antelope. Two of them appeared, hiding in a recessed patch of ground. They were in a gully, a word I may never have used before. It could have been a ditch, a valley or who knows what. But having gully available was simply a good time.

Think about the word “persnickety.” You may have only heard it used once or twice. If so, I’ll bet you picture a grouchy, temperamental old guy who can also be a curmudgeon. That’s a double winner. Isn’t it glorious that someone, somewhere thought to put the right letters together in order to create a euphonious treasure such as persnickety?

Our language also has words such as mellifluous, cacophony, hyperbole, aristocracy and pusillanimous. These are words that have nothing to do with each other. They are all entertaining to say, have quite explicit meanings and are seldom heard in ordinary conversations. But now and then I admit to the habit of dropping in one of these more obscure words, simply because they are so inherently illuminating.

Have fun with this: We toured a home and discovered the interior to be gawdy and anachronistic. Replace the last word with old-fashioned, outdated, passé, unfashionable or common and you would achieve essentially the same effect. But why not enjoy a four-syllable, delicious word when you have the opportunity? It’s salubrious! And if you’re inclined to suggest that using these terms is being a showoff – I’ll tell you what I often say. Word are like muscles; if you don’t use them, they atrophy. Shalom.

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Proud of you

One of those commodities that is impossible to measure, difficult to anticipate and powerfully valuable is that of pride. Try as I might, I can’t remember hearing the expression, “I’m so proud of you” from my dad. There’s a good possibility that I did hear it from my mom but far too many years have elapsed since it would have been stated.

When we overlook or underemphasize the importance of saying this to our children, grandchildren or students, we miss extraordinary opportunities to enrich their lives. Pride is one of those unusual emotions that have positive impact on both parties who are involved. When you feel pride, you are enhanced by having some part of the pride-recipient’s accomplishment. Hearing, “I am proud of you” from someone important leaves an indelible positive impression.

Some religious doctrine would suggest that it’s sinful or inappropriate to be prideful. The downside of pride includes definitions such as a conflict with the truth, self-idolatry or vanity. In fact, Proverbs 11:2 of the Bible states,

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.”

Clearly, it seems that pride can be a negative in excess or when it comes at the expense of a higher form of accomplishment that is intrinsic to learning or intellectual growth.

Returning to the positive side of pride (delivery and receipt), psychologists and philosophers indicate that having pride is crucial to the development of self and is virtuous. Perhaps this is one of those social phenomena that is good in small quantities but toxic when excessive.

When we contemplate delivering a sense of pride in the excellence of another, all it takes is to think about what it meant or would mean to hear, “I am proud of you” from someone you love. My soul and spirit dictate that we can never say these words too often, both to encourage self-esteem and to trigger new achievements. Shalom.

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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.