Category Archives: Relationships

How Technology Seduces You and How to Stop It

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 

How Technology Seduces You and How to Stop It

Do you use Fitbit? As a runner, I find it amazing that I can track my distance and time, estimate my calorie consumption, receive periodic live progress reports, coordinate a playlist of songs, set goals, and more all for free. But it can't run for me.

While running recently using the this app on my iPhone, it struck me I was wearing on my bicep a computer more powerful than the mainframes my father worked with in the early 1970s. Think about it. You are carrying around more computational power than an engineer working on satellites had at his disposal 40 years ago. And his took up a large room.

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Yet as I write this the search for a lost Malaysian Airlines passenger jet continues. Despite advanced avionics, it disappeared without a trace. G-d willing it will be found and the passengers will be safe. If so technology will aid the recovery. But it did not prevent the mystery.

Technology Changes, People Don't

Technology does wonderful things. But often is seduces people into thinking that life has radically changed. Note:

1. Wonderful: You now have numerous means of communication including telephone, texting, social media, and VOIP. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that WhatsApp charges 99¢ per year for a service that on a cell phone costs multiple times that much per month. The means of international communication keep growing and the cost keeps declining.

But: Technology cannot tell you when to reach out to a friend or the right words to say. I had a friend leave me a phone message a couple of days ago. He intuited from something I posted on Facebook that I needed someone to reach out to me. No app can replace the human connection we share nor the feeling one of us gets that we need to initiate contact.

2. Wonderful: Advances in medical technology have lengthened the average human lifespan. Diseases that previously would have killed a baby now allow people to live into their teens and beyond. The quality of their physical life is superior to anything that a person with a debilitating condition would have experienced in past decades.

But: Technology has not improved doctors’ bedside manner. Many people, especially the elderly, continue to be engulfed by loneliness. Apps cannot replace the comfort of a robust spirituality. All of these require empathic human interaction and faith in the existence of something beyond the physical world.

Technology is the chocolate coating, delicious, making what it encases easier to swallow. But life cannot exist on chocolate alone. You have to learn to enjoy the bitter sweetness of the strawberry. The greater opportunity to express your humanity through technology comes at the price of potentially separating you from your loved ones. Technology can provide the means but does not replace the day in, day out work of improving your life.

Where else in your life does technology seem to have more of an impact than it actually does?

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Here’s How to Criticize Without Conflict

You can probably relate to this scenario. I had a touchy issue to address to my wife. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I had to find just the right approach. This week’s parsha, Shemini, explained to me how to criticize without conflict:

Here’s How to Criticize Without Conflict

Aaron spoke to Moses, ‘Did they offer their sin offering this day… If I to eat this day’s sin offering, would G-d approve? (Vayikra/Leviticus 10:19).

This week’s parsha discusses the performance of the priestly service.  Then it tells about the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. Next, it shows how Aaron handled a dispute with his brother, Moses. It ends with the laws of kosher animals, birds, fish and creeping crawling things.

How Not to Criticize

Moses and Aaron present a paradigm of how people should handle differences of opinion and misunderstandings. The difficulty arose because Moses thought Aaron’s two sons had completely burned the sin offering goat rather than eating it in a holy place.

Had they made a mistake and they would have ruined the opportunity for the Children of Israel to atone for their sins. Perturbed, Moses decided to criticize them.

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When he heard what happened, Aaron spoke gently to Moses rather than lashing out for needlessly chastising his sons. He assumed his brother had forgotten the law. Aaron asked questions so that Moses would remember what G-d had commanded. Upon realizing his mistake, Moses acknowledged his brother was right. He did not use his position as leader of the Israelites to justify his error. Nor did he let his ego get the better of him.

Calm Avoids Conflict

Sometimes a person makes a mistake. He may criticize you without cause, especially if he feels the matter is very important. If you react in kind all that happens is the dispute gets worse. Each person gets entrenched in his position. The truth gets lost. Better to look beyond the person’s initial behavior. Try to understand his concern. Respond calmly and preserve the person’s dignity.

Rather than confronting my wife, I decided to ask her questions to determine if we actually differed about the issue. Once it was clear we agreed on the principles, I proposed a solution to my concern and she readily agreed. Phew, no hurt feelings.

How do you prevent or de-escalate confrontation?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

2 Steps to Better Communication

When I have work to do it engrosses me. Yet, since I operate out of a home office my family has access to me most of the time. Inevitably we clash when they want my full attention and I need to stay focused and productive. One of the most common verses in the Torah and the name of this week’s parsha, Vayikra, demonstrates proper communication:

He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1).

2 Steps to Better Communication Image from iStockPhoto.com

This week’s parsha begins the third book of the Torah by the same name. Its other name, Leviticus, refers to its detailing the duties of the Kohanim or Priests, who are part of the tribe of Levi. The parsha gives the rules for the bringing of offerings on the altar. Notice in verse 2:13 that the offerings must be salted, hence the reason on the Sabbath the bread is dipped in salt.

As often as the verse quoted above appears in the Torah it would seem not worthy of contemplation.

While you might think that Moses was ever ready to hear from G-d, nonetheless the Almighty always took steps to prepare him. G-d called to him, not in a gruff way, but kindly saying “Moses, Moses.”  And Moses always answered “hineini,” meaning “here I am” or more loosely “I am ready.” By doing this G-d did not startle Moses but gave him time to prepare himself. And Moses having done so conveyed his state of openness and readiness.

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The repetition shows that no matter how often they interacted they extended this courtesy to each other every time. They were neither perfunctory about their communication nor casual in their dealings. G-d and Moses habituated the steps to connecting so the focus could be on their dialogue.

Treat Communication with Your Family Like G-d & Moses

When my communication with my spouse or daughter goes awry, I can almost always trace it back to one of us being unprepared for dialoguing. Sometimes, our initial approach lacked G-d’s kindly inquiry about the other’s readiness to engage. Or we did not respond openly and attentively.

Whether dealing with a family member, friend, or colleague begin by calling to him or her respectfully or affectionately. Call the person by name so as to convey the warmth underlying your wish to interact. Give the person a few moments to prepare. Wait for a reply so you can ascertain his or her frame of mind. Will what you say will be understood and appreciated?

Because we are busy, my wife and I try to skip the preliminaries. But we can't shortcut the process that G-d and Moses modeled throughout their relationship. Fortunately, we have numerous times each day to practice approaching each other gently and courteously. As we habituate setting the proper tone for communicating, our marriage improves immeasurably.

How do you create the proper conditions for good communication?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

What I Learned from a Bugler

Countless people castigate me for my taste in music. Yet until I finish mining the enjoyment and meaning from Nostalgia Music (a term the folks at Kings Radio in the California Central Valley minted for popular music from the 1930s to the 1950s) I feel no compulsion to listen to anything else. Case in point:

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B

So what can a bugler teach? Virtually every line of this song has a lesson for life and business:

  • Start the day off with a blast, like a bugle call.
  • “He was the top man at his craft, but his number came up and he was called to the draft.” – No matter what your place in life, the unexpected will happen. Always bring in the best to your life and business.
  • “They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam. It really brought him down because he could not jam” - Even when life or your business isn't working out the way you want it to, be upbeat.
  • “The captain seemed to understand, ‘cause the next day the cap went out and drafted a band” - Great entrepreneurs, leaders, and parents look for opportunities to support their customers, people, and children by supplying what they need to be successful.
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  • “He can’t blow a note unless a bass and guitar is playing with him” – Life and business are team sports.
  • “He makes the company jump when he plays reveille” - WQe all need to inspire others.
  • “And when he played boogie woogie bugle he was busy as a bzzz bee” – Occupy yourself pursuing your passion.
  • “He puts the boys to sleep with boogie every night and wakes them up the same way in the early bright” – The way you go to sleep determines the way you'll wake up the next morning.

Don Raye and Hughie Prince wprobably just wanted to write an upbeat, popular ditty to lift America’s spirits after the imposition of the draft during the lead up to World War II. But whether I'm running, cooking, or just listening. When Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B plays on my iPod or KCEA my life immediately perks up!

What song describes life as you think it should be lived?

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Why You Should Embrace the Struggle

Lately, my daughter has been very unhappy about going to school. One of the little boys in her class constantly teases her. You might think that because I loved school it would be easy for me to help her. But I am struggling. Comes the parsha for this Sabbath, Bo:

“And you will tell to your child on that day saying, on account of this that G-d did for me when I left Egypt.” [Emphasis added] (Shemos/Exodus 13:8).

Why You Should Embrace the Struggle

What is the “this” that G-d did? Made the Israelites eat matzah? Told them to get rid of their leaven? If my high school English teacher graded this sentence she'd marked it down for lack of clarity.

This week’s Parsha Nugget is set amidst the final three plagues that eventually led to Pharaoh telling the Israelites to leave Egypt. Nissan is made the first month of the year and the mitzvah of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given.

Then, G-d brings the Exodus.

The parsha ends with the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

Reb Yerucham Levovitz, in his work Daas Torah, discusses the ambiguous “this”. Rashi explains that G-d took the Children of Israel out of Egypt so that they would fulfill the Passover mitzvahs, pesach, matzah, and marror.  Consequently, Reb Yerucham writes, we do not perform those mitzvahs because of the Exodus.  Rather G-d created the whole scenario of Egypt so the Jews would receive these mitzvahs and perform them ever after!

Take the mitzvah to eat matzah. On a simple level you eat it to remember that, being in a rush, the Israelites didn;t have time to let their dough rise. But G-d could have told them to start baking it earlier! Clearly, the Children of Israel left in a rush so that future generations would eat matzah. But why would a benevolent G-d want His beloved children to eat baked cardboard?

After 210 years of brutal slavery, the Israelites are free. Naturally, they breathe a sigh of relief and anticipate an easier future. At this crucial moment, G-d has them eat matzah, thereby telling them, “I did not bring you to Egypt and take you out so you would have a relaxing life. You are leaving oppressive bondage under a selfish king for an incredibly rewarding struggle under The Heavenly King."

Struggle = Growth

Sometimes the Almighty's plan would make the environment comfortable and the service easy. Other times it would be difficult. Be from the outset, He wanted it understood His relationship with the Israelites would be forged through hardship. So the food of those first lightheaded moments of freedom had to be matzah: challenging but satisfying.

What does this have to do with my daughter hating school? I have come to realize that by requiring me to struggle to help her G-d has given me the opportunity for a much deeper relationship. I have a mitzvah to educate my daughter. If she had my love of school this mitzvah would be reduced to paying tuition bills. By creating this struggle, I have the chance to truly receive this mitzvah in a challenging but, hopefully, ultimately satisfying way.

When faced with a situation you are not equipped to handle, how do you reframe it to move forward?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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