Category Archives: Relationships

How to Achieve Self-Respect

Respect is the birthright of newborn babies, centenarians, and everyone in between. We must have due regard for the feelings, rights, and traditions of each other. Some people, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot come to mind, negate our need to respect them. These irredeemably evil villains are the exception that proves my point: to retain our claim on respect we need only refrain from depravity.

Honor, while often confused with respect, is not the same thing.

How to Achieve Self-Respect

Honor is earned. Prior to rapid, mass communication, it often took a lifetime to acquire bona fides that led to honor. Even then, sometimes the perspective of history was required to determine the level of reverence someone ought to be accorded.

Contemporary society has badly muddled this issue. Honor is conferred on people with no achievements, perhaps in an attempt to present them as honorable. Other times, absolutely ordinary accomplishments are given outsized acclaim.

Worst of all, many people refuse to respect someone unless that person has been honored first.

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All of these misconceptions impede development of healthy self-respect. Being prematurely honored often leads a person to become egotistical or to feel worthless since he perceives he is undeserving. According honor to someone of average performance creates an unjust equivalence with the extraordinary performer who then may question the value of any honor he has received.

Finally, when honor is the required antecedent of respect, people tend to act dismissively, even contemptuously, toward each other. It follows that a serious impediment toward self-respect is created.

Previously I have written about the loss of formality and language inflation in contemporary society. Children addressing adults as Mr. or Mrs., attiring oneself according to the demands of an occasion and being judicious in word usage all confer respect on people and boost self-respect.

Rather than pursuing honor, we should strive to raise our self-respect by conveying respect.

Question – What would you do to revitalize the proper place of respect and honor in our society?

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Discover the Foundation for Appreciating Everyone

At the risk of committing an intellectual mugging (This is when, say at a cocktail party, you happen to mention you were re-reading Kierkegaard (has anyone read it even once?)) I agree with Epictetus when he said, “All religions must be tolerated for every man must get to heaven in his own way.” Being a navy chaplain has given me the opportunity to learn about other faiths. While I have found there are many profound differences, I am heartened at the extent of common ground. Almost universal is what we know as the Golden Rule.

Discover the Foundation for Appreciating Everyone

Below is a sample of how the Golden Rule is expressed by just a handful out of dozens of faiths and ethical systems.

“You will not take revenge and you will not bear a grudge against the members of your people, and you will love your fellow as yourself: I am G-d.” Levitcus 19:18, circa 1300 B.C.E.

“Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: ‘Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?’ The Master replied: ‘How about 'shu' [reciprocity]: Do not do to others as you would not wish done to yourself?’” Confucius, Analects XV.24, circa the 5th century B.C.E.

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Buddha , Udanavarga 5:18, circa the 5th century B.C.E.

“That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” A papyrus from the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, circa the 4th or 5th century B.C.E.

“Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” Isocrates, the 4th century B.C.E.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Hillel, Talmud Shabbos 31a, the 1st century B.C.E.

“Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12, the 1st century B.C.E.

“The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.” Muhammad, the 6th century C.E.

As we strive to improve our mental fitness, it is worth meditating on the idea that the foundation exists for appreciating every human being. We need not burden our minds dwelling on unpleasant thoughts about others since surely we do not want others to harbor such notions about us.

Question – Does the universality of the Golden Rule render religion obsolete?

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Learn How to Create Better Relationships

Uva asher lo habayis vehigid lakohein leimor; kenega nirah li babayis. “And will come, that to him that is the house, and explain to the kohen saying, ‘something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.’” (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:35). Depressed areas of deep red or green appear in the walls of a house and the owner seeks guidance from a kohen.

Learn How to Create Better Relationships

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah Tazria-Metzora. They tell about how a woman becomes tahor after giving birth; how to verify when a person has a tzara’as, baheres or s’eis affliction on one’s body or tzara’as affliction of a garment; how a metzora and a house with tzara’as become tahor; and how a zav, zavah, and niddah become tahor. Wrongly translated as leprosy, tzara’as is a spiritual affliction that manifests itself physically but is not communicable like leprosy. Like tumah, it interrupts one’s connection with G-d.

Imagine one day you walk into your house and find a portion of a wall is sunken in with a dark red or green color (presumably not the color of the paint). Would there be any doubt in your mind that something was wrong? Indeed, having read this week's parsha that describes tzara’as of a house, is seems to me you could not come to any other conclusion than that your house was so afflicted. Why does the Torah require you to equivocate and say, “something like an affliction has appeared . . ?” What else could it be?

Rashi notes that even if you are a great Torah scholar and know with certainty what it is you must still use this language. Why?

According to Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, in Daas Torah: Vayikra, whatever words you were to use, the priest will come and inspect the house. Rather the Torah is giving a practical lesson on how to speak. In the Talmud, (Brochos 4a) our Sages tell us we should become accustomed to saying, “I do not know.” Likewise, instead of speaking with certainty, we should develop the habit of saying, “It appears to me,” or “I think perhaps that.”

So often we are sure we are correct. Only later do we find out we have perceived things incorrectly, drawn a mistaken inference, or received inaccurate information from someone else. If we are conscious of how often we are in error, we will see the necessity of qualifying ourselves with “it seems to me” and similar phrases. By doing so we will find it much easier to correct our mistakes, keep our relationships intact, and most importantly retain our bond to G-d.

Question – What downside do you think there might be in speaking less certainly?

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Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Do you stoop to pick up pennies? It hardly seems worth the effort. Proof of this attitude lays in the abundance of pennies I have seen in the parking lot of the Bachelor Officers Quarters in which I am staying while working at Naval Base Point Loma.

Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Probably the first coin minted in the United States, the penny has been around since the chain cent was issued in 1793, two hundred and twenty years ago. In 1990, 2001, and 2006 legislation was introduced to eliminate the penny. The debate continues. Since 2007 the cost of the raw materials for making the penny has exceeded its value. As of February 2011, they were 2.4¢. In comparison, it costs about 11¢ to make a nickel.

A survey conducted last year indicated that 67% of Americans favored keeping the penny. More than three-quarters of these respondents thought businesses would raise prices if the penny were gone.

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I have more transcendent reasons for keeping the penny:

• In an increasingly digital world, the penny is tactile. And while much of our world is tangible, the penny is an object that everyone in our country can afford to have.

• Pennies are beautiful: delicately engraved, bright and shiny when new, tarnishing as they get old.

• They prompt us to remember the past, those who have done great things for our country.

• Despite our differences and disagreements, the penny brings to mind that we are all Americans. Its depiction of our de facto national motto, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” reminds us to be authentic to our distinctiveness and to aspire to be united too.

• Finally, the penny reminds us that what we think about and how we treat the lowliest in our society is up to each of us as individuals. If we drop a penny on the ground it is up to us to retrieve it rather than letting it be run over and scarred. No one will come behind us to fulfill this responsibility. Also, when we find a discarded penny, even though we did not drop it, we can take a moment of our time to reach down, pick it up, put it in our pocket, and later return it to circulation where it rightly belongs.

While I am guilty of having passed by many a penny, I do not do so anymore. I stoop to pick up pennies. Do you?

Question – How would you feel if pennies were no longer minted?

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Why Few People are Actually Hypocrites

How often does a person have to fail to adhere to his professed goals or morals in order to be a hypocrite? Once, twice, tens times, more? Over what period of time do these lapses need to take place in order to qualify as hypocrisy? Does the standard vary based on a person’s position in an organization or a discipline: e.g. a layperson versus a clergyman or a laborer versus a CEO?

Why Few People are Actually Hypocrites

Over the last week in several unrelated situations, people complained to me about individuals who professed to be religious but did not live up to the values they espoused. The ensuing discussions revealed that in their view it is better to be consistent than to strive for a higher level if a person cannot meet such a standard. The implication was that authenticity excludes those who fall short of their mark because they are acting in a role rather than being genuine.

The problem with this attitude is that it discourages people from attempting to improve their lot: be it professionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. We grow and develop in different ways and there is nothing disingenuous in failing to reach the goals we set for ourselves. An essential aspect of personal development is called, “fake it to make,” recognizing that when a person acts as if the change has already been made it will be easier to accomplish.

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Whether the goal is professional success or religious observance, the hypocrite is the person who states an objective but does nothing to reach it. As long as a person is striving, effectively or not, a judgment of failure, which is what calling someone a hypocrite means, is not merited.

Also, by so labeling someone, we dis-incentivize ourselves by setting the bar at immediately actualized change rather than incremental development. Is it worth decreasing our own chances for success by diminishing that of others?

Question – What is your standard for deciding someone is a hypocrite?

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