Category Archives: Ethics & Values

How to Gain Influence with More People

2 minutes to read

While running earlier today, up ahead two women were exercising. One was dressed in what can only be described as practically nothing. So they couldn’t accuse me of leering I looked away as I ran past them. To my chagrin, the other made a disparaging remark about me. Evidently they wanted to be ogled. How’s a guy to know?

How to Gain Influence with More People

Immodesty Makes Cordiality Impossible

I believe modesty is a virtue. It applies to dress, language, and behavior. Having said this, I recognize many Americans don’t share this value. Case in point, I rendered military honors at four funerals last week. At all of them young women wore short sleeveless black dresses. I don’t make the club scene these days. So the last time I saw such dresses was at a navy Christmas party. There’s a difference between the festivity of a celebration and the solemnity of a funeral that necessitates different standards of dress. But such a distinction doesn’t exist today.

Nor do they for speech and public behavior. Those of us who embrace modesty have to accept many of our fellow citizens don’t. So be it.

But simple justice demands we not be denigrated for prizing modesty. How is a man to know when a scantily clad woman wants to be checked out? Why is someone who doesn’t use profanity a prude? What is gained by condemning someone who refuses to turn a discussion into a verbal brawl?

To Gain Influence Create a Relationship

Differing attitudes toward modesty have resulted in greater friction between people. And that makes maintaining relationships more difficult.

Recently I read a story about a pastor. Young women were coming to church services in thigh high stockings and short skirts. He felt they looked like prostitutes. He considered speaking against such behavior from the pulpit. Wisely he realized doing so would be counterproductive. The women would have rejected the label. And he would have destroyed any chance of creating relationships through which he could influence them.

Differences in values can be tolerated. But couple them with arrogance and the situation becomes intolerable.

There are three steps to gain influence with more people:

  1. Be clear about your values. That doesn’t mean flouting your beliefs in other people’s faces. Clarity comes from within.
  2. Live your values. If what you believe is worthwhile, make it evident from your behavior.
  3. Cherish relationships over self-righteousness. Until people know you care about them as individuals they won’t trust your opinions.

One of the most influential men I know prizes modesty. He never even shakes hands with women. The hundreds of people who attend his lectures do not share his value of modesty. But rather than avoiding him like the plague they seek him out. How has he built such a large and loyal following? He followed the three steps.

Whatever you want to accomplish will come from convincing people to help you. In your work, with your family, among your friends, build strong ties. Having set the foundation, you’ll be able to influence them. They will know you’ve invested in understanding them. Seeing the quality of your life will encourage them to seek out its roots. And you’ll be there to help them.

Where are you action turning good advice bad? Please comment below.

When Will You Stop Giving Your Kids Bad Advice?

2 minutes to read

Thank goodness school is out for the summer. My daughter had a spelling test every week. She also had tests on Scripture several times a month. She’s only in second grade. But she did two to three hours of homework most afternoons. And she complained. “Daddy, why do I have to do so much homework?” “Daddy, I hate taking tests!” Recently I realized how much bad advice I’ve been giving her on this topic.

When Will You Stop Giving Your Kids Bad Advice-

Words, Words, Words

I find my daughter’s complaints hard to understand. I loved school. Even tests were cool. They let me show my teacher how dedicated a student I was. Math was my specialty. I always found a second way to do a problem and verify the answer was right!

My advice to her fell into two categories:

  1. Exams help you understand what you know and what still needs work. It’s nice to get high marks. More important is identifying the questions that don’t make sense. In this way you build knowledge.
  2. The tests you’re taking now are easier than ones you’ll take later in life. Your studies only get more difficult. And unlike math, most of the time you won’t be able to check your work. Correct answers become illusive.

On their face, both are sound. Yet she never seemed to buy them. Relieved of the daily homework grind, I’ve had time to reflect. Here’s the thing. Just because we’re out of school doesn’t mean we don’t take tests anymore.

Truth is, I complain about tests more than she does.

Turning Good Advice Into Bad Advice

I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” ∞ Lewis Carroll

Aside from a couple I took while earning a Masters in Library and Information Science, I don’t take sit-down examinations. But life tests me everyday. When my wife gets home we talk about our days. She relates to me the challenging (read stupid) ways people handle their health issues. I tell her about the problems I face with my business and the navy. It’s the kind of harmless chitchat that goes on in most homes.

In reality it’s not so harmless. From my daughter’s perspective, the challenges my wife and I face are adult versions of the tests she takes in school. If we complain about ours why shouldn’t she do the same about hers? Nothing like mismatched words and actions for turning good into bad advice.

If my daughter understood the context it wouldn’t be so bad. We want her to get the most benefit from the tests she takes. In that light, if we’re just blowing off steam we need to make sure she knows that’s what’s going on. Otherwise, our conversations about work need to focus on how we can improve based on overcoming the challenges we mention.

Parents have to match words and deeds. But some behaviors are so ingrained you may not realize you’re acting incongruently. Look for where your kids aren’t taking your advice. You’ll find fertile ground for keeping your good advice from turning into bad advice.

Where are you action turning good advice bad? Please comment below.

Want to Be Happier? Limit Your Choices …

2 minutes to read

“How can you be bored when you have a room full of toys and games?”

I asked my daughter when she stayed home sick from school. Put all exaggeration about my childhood aside. She has a lot more things to play with than I did. Yet despite numerous choices, she’s dissatisfied. My daughter is not unique. Most of my friends’ children are the same. For generations we’ve been taught greater choice will make us happy. Turns out the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

Want to Be Happier- Limit Your Choices …

The Paradox of Choice

Convinced I was on to something, I researched the connection between happiness and number of choices. In a TED talk about 10 years ago, psychologist Barry Schwartz explained why the huge number of options we have makes us unhappy. He acknowledged there are benefits to having alternatives. But having an enormous number of choices often paralyzes decision-making. So people don’t take any action to improve their lives because they cannot decide which one is best.

Further, Schwartz identified four bad effects of a large number of choices:

  1. Regret or anticipation of regret. Your satisfaction in a good decision is reduced because with so many other options one of them must have been closer to perfect.
  2. Opportunity costs. No matter how good a choice is others must have had better features. So, you’re dissatisfied even when you know you made the right decision.
  3. Escalation of expectations. Because we’re so used to a huge number of options, the one we choose cannot live up to our expectations.
  4. Self-Blame. When we had limited choices we could accept discontent as the way things are. But when we have so many alternatives, if we choose a bad one we have only ourselves to blame.

Happiness requires striking a balance between too many and too few choices.

How to Effectively Limit Choices

Schwartz and I part company over how to solve this dilemma. He proposes having an outside entity constrain the choices of people in wealthy nations. The extra resources can then be used to increase the options for those living in poorer countries. The problem arises in assuming the optimal number of choices is the same for all people and for all aspects of life.

For myself, having a huge array of electronic gadgets to choose from does not make me happy. But I have a friend who LOVES comparing and deciding which one is best. (So I call him and he makes the choice for me.)

The best solution is for each of us to determine the amount of a choice that is optimal for our life and set constraints accordingly. Here’s how:

  1. Refuse to believe that more choices are necessarily good.
  2. Are you content with your choices in a particular area of your life? Don’t think you have to change them to find greater contentment. You may end up with less.
  3. Identify an aspect of life you think you’ll enjoy exploring. Test it out. Are you happier? I love trying new varieties of chocolate and ice cream. I go to great lengths to find them.

By choosing to limit your choices you will find greater happiness.

Where in your life are you overwhelmed by choices? Please comment below.

Now You Can Be a Top Philanthropist

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Behar – Leviticus 25:1- 26:2

Defining success challenges most people. I’ve asked hundreds what financial success looks like to them. Most can’t answer this question. Those that do usually give a general response like, “I want to be comfortable.” But they don’t give a specific income target. Still, almost everyone wants to give to other people. So, while the Torah is silent about how much money you should make, it’s exact about how to be a top philanthropist. Parshas Behar explains:

If your brother becomes impoverished… you will strengthen him… so that he can live with you. (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:35)

Now You Can Be a Top Philanthropist

This Sabbath’s parsha teaches about the shemitah or sabbatical year and the yovel or jubilee year. It also gives the laws about selling land, how to prevent poverty, and how to treat a Jewish servant.

How to Be Charitable

The great Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon describes eight levels of charity. From lowest to highest they are:

  1. Giving directly to a poor person unwillingly.
  2. Giving directly to a poor person inadequately but gladly and with a smile.
  3. Giving directly to a poor person after being asked.
  4. Giving directly to a poor person without being asked.
  5. Giving without knowing who the recipient(s) are but the recipient(s) know you.
  6. Giving when you know the recipient(s) but recipient(s) don’t know you.
  7. Giving without knowing who the recipient(s) are and the recipient(s) don’t know you.
  8. Finding someone a job, partnering with him, or giving him a loan so he can become self-sufficient.

Notice as the level of giving rises the donor and recipient become more separated. At levels 1 through 4 both parties know each other. From 4 to 7 they get more anonymous. Then a funny thing happens at the highest level. Donor and recipient not only know each other, they could even be partners.

When the Torah says to strengthen your impoverished brother, it’s referring to level 8. Help someone find a job or give him some work. Partner with someone in a business venture or lend him the money to start one. The top philanthropist helps another become self-sufficient.

The Benefit of Being a Top Philanthropist

I’ve written many times about the value of relationships. Married people live longer, healthier lives. Strong bonds with friends and colleagues provide similar benefits.

Add to the list being charitable. Giving to and helping people reduces mortality by lowering stress.

Now you can see the depth of G-d’s love. He created a world where when you’re a top philanthropist it helps you too. Giving lengthens your life. So do relationships. When someone profits through using your contacts you merit an even longer life.

It doesn’t matter how you define success. You can connect those less fortunate than you with people who can help them. You can train someone in a valuable skill or encourage him. Give a person a leg up and join the ranks of the top philanthropists of all time.

What do you do to be charitable? Please comment below.


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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Tell if Your Humility Is Self-Destructive

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Tzav – Leviticus 6:1-8:36

People acknowledge the value of humility. In particular, veterans are humble. But too often such modesty impedes their ability to get a good job. When challenged, they say promoting themselves is wrong. Parshas Tzav has a different perspective:

This is the law of the burnt offering: (Vayikra/Leviticus 6:2)

How to Tell if You Humility Is Self-Destructive

This Sabbath’s parsha continues the discussion of the korbanos (the offerings brought on the Altar) and details the anointing of Aaron and his sons as the Kohanim or Priests who will serve in the Temple.

Connecting Sacrifices and Humility

Farther into Leviticus we read an animal that is blind or broken or has a split eyelid or wart cannot be used as a burnt offering. As was made clear back in Genesis in the trouble between Cain and Abel, G-d wants offerings to be of the finest we have.

This holds true even though we no longer bring animal or meal sacrifices.

Today prayer has replaced the sacrificial service. When you pray, G-d wants you to open your heart. This requires humbly recognizing all you have comes from the Almighty. In humility you should acknowledge the many mistakes you’ve made and your gratitude that nonetheless G-d loves you. You offer your love in return.

If you are arrogant G-d will still listen to your prayer, but like a damaged animal, may reject your petition.

Humility verses Self-Promotion

People often equate self-promotion with arrogance. But you’re not conceited simply because you let people know about your skills and strengths. To the contrary, if you can add value to someone’s life you have a responsibility to do so. You’ll have to explain to him why you are the best person to help.

There are times when humility looks like a lack of self-confidence. People don’t trust a meek person to handle their problems.

By not clearly expressing the value you bring to the table, you’re forcing someone to figure it out on his own. He won’t. Instead he’ll hire someone who makes his life easier by showing him he has what it takes. You and your family lose out. The Almighty does not want you to impoverish yourself with such false humility.

If you’re not used to marketing yourself, use these guidelines:

  1. Always tell the truth. Implying you have skills that you don’t is worse than conceit. You’ll be exposed in the end.
  2. Talk about them at appropriate times. People will tell you when they want to know more about you.
  3. Be brief. Long-winded descriptions smell of conceit.

When you follow these three criteria, and thank G-d for the gifts He has given you, you’ll keep your humility in balance.

What prevents you from promoting yourself effectively? Please comment below.


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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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