Category Archives: Ethics & Values

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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Are Conflicting Goals Preventing You from Succeeding?

“Life is series of missed opportunities.” One of my professors at architecture school used to tell me this when I had to miss a fun event in order to complete a project on time. As pessimistic as this view of life may be, nonetheless it embeds a valuable lesson. Life requires making choices. Inevitably we are going to miss out on something, at least temporarily. The key is to be intentional about it.

Are Conflicting Goals Preventing You from Succeeding?

As you develop your goals, in addition to considering the benefits of obtaining them also consider the costs:

  1. What expenditure of time, money, emotion, physical energy, and spiritual stamina is required to meet your objective?
  2. Who will have to make these outlays: you, your spouse, and/or your children?
  3. Are they prepared to do so?

By making sure everyone who is impacted has input, especially to your major goals, you increase your chance of success and decrease the likelihood that you will have to give up an opportunity.

Additionally, part of the process of setting goals is determining priorities. Just like when your attention is diverted from a task it takes time for you to deal with the distraction then refocus on what you were doing before, so too for achieving an objective. Take two major goals:

  1. Establish a close, resilient, relationship with your children
  2. Excel professionally

Accomplishing these at the same time will be difficult at best. Both require a great deal of time and attention. So-called “quality time” is a myth. If you cannot advance at work or build a business through quality time, why would it work with your children? It may seem that you are accomplishing both. Only later do you find the high-quality relationship it not actually there.

This is not to say that you cannot have both. Only that you decrease your chance of success when you make conflicting goals.

One of the reasons I strongly advocate entrepreneurship is the flexibility it allows for life planning. Your business does not have to be constantly on growth trajectory. Once it gets to a certain level you may choose to stay there for a while so you can focus on another stage of your life, such as parenting.

While it is true that “man plans and G-d laughs,” still determining that you will give up some goals in life and deconflict your plan to achieve those you choose to pursue will dramatically increase your chance of success.

Question – What conflicting goals do you need to resolve?

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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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Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

Vechol adam lo yiyeh be’ohel moed bevo’o lechapeir bakodesh ad tzeiso. “And any person will not be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to cause atonement in the Sanctuary until his going out.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:17). When the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies to perform the incense service he must be completely alone.

Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah, Acharei Mos and Kedoshim.  The first one tells about the confessional service (from which we get the expression “scapegoat”) and Yom Kippur, the prohibition against eating blood, forbidden relationships, and the holiness of the Land of Israel.

Kedoshim tells about a range of mitzvahs including gifts to the poor, honest business dealings, loving your fellow as yourself, forbidden mixtures, and the penalties for engaging in forbidden relationships.

Imagine: the Kohen Gadol was the one out of hundreds of thousands of Israelites chosen to perform the atonement service on the holiest day of the year. Undoubtedly people treated him with the utmost respect, perhaps even awe.

Despite being the personification of spirituality and discipline, the Torah tells him no one will be in the Tent of Meeting when he enters it. In order to properly perform the service and connect with G-d on this holiest of days he had to put aside all thoughts of honor. G-d calls on him to act as if no other people exist. By visualizing himself completely alone, he is free from seeking the approval of others.

This is a very important lesson for us. So often we get wrapped up in what other people think of us. Such endless worry or excessive self-consciousness can become debilitating. If, even for a short time, we can imagine a world in which other people do not exist we can free ourselves from this anxiety and enhance our self-respect.

Further, such concerns are illusory. In reality, people do not think about us nearly as often as we think they do. To the extent they are thinking about us it actually makes no real difference in our lives. For people who habitually judge us, in most cases, we cannot get their approval even if we tried.

Better to follow the Torah’s advice. When we feel unduly concerned about our public image, imagine a world devoid of other people and press forward with our spiritual growth, indeed all facets of our lives, free from the need to be honored. In this way, we build a firm foundation for our self-respect.

Question – What dangers do you see in being completely dissociated from public opinion?

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Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

History. Why bother with it? Is it merely to delight in and be inspired by true-to-life stories or be disgusted by past practices and ideas? Studying history for amusement is fine. But can or should it be more?

Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

Into my third decade as a lay historian, I am much better able to contextualize my life. Along with my values, when making a decision history gives me insight into the possible outcome of my choice.

Viewed in this way, learning about momentous events turns out to be less important. But understanding people and the way they lived their day-to-day lives becomes a valuable tool for self-improvement. An excellent resource is ABC-Clio/Greenwood’s series of books that examine daily life in many countries and time periods.

One of my goals with these posts is to discuss historic events or aspects of life and relate them to contemporary life. Knowing from where we came can only improve our choices of where we want to go.

Question – In what areas of your life would you like to know if history has some guidance?

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