Category Archives: Ethics & Values

You’re Responsible But It’s Not Your Fault

“Some people find fault like there is a reward for it” ∞ Zig Ziglar

Remember when you were a kid and broke your mom’s favorite vase or your dad’s golf club? Fear of discovery ate at you. When the deed was uncovered, the search for the culprit started and you had two choices: confess or lie. Usually, the second one only added to the guilt you felt and the punishment you received when the truth finally came to light. To this day I dread being told, “IT’S YOUR FAULT!” Don’t you?

You’re Responsible But It’s Not Your Fault

The Fear of Being Blamed

The shame of reproach negatively impacts children’s self-perception. And the humiliation they feel encourages them to lie or try to shift the blame to someone or something else. (How many guilt-evading children have wrongfully condemned the family dog?) The stigma remains when they get older. Often, they develop an aversion to any kind of criticism. They’re robbed of input that forms the basis for growth.

Parents have rightly stopped blaming their children for making mistakes. But many have also stopped holding their children accountable. Coupled with praising them for the most mundane acts, children grow into immature adults.

The Benefits of Being Responsible

Rather than blaming children when they make mistakes or act out, it’s better to hold them responsible for their behavior. The benefits are twofold:

  1. Being held responsible sounds a lot like being blamed. But children also can be told they’re responsible for the good things they do. In this way, they learn there is a positive side to exercising responsibility. Maturity comes in part from understanding this duality.
  2. There is no stigma to being responsible. The person responsible for good things, such as scoring a winning goal or discovering something that will benefit the world, receives acclaim. The person who accepts responsibility when things go wrong is respected for being honest. No matter how you feel about his policies, most people like the sign President Harry Truman had on his desk: “The Buck Stops Here!”
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Even Mature Adults Hate Being Blamed

Do you point your finger at your spouse? The blame game in a marriage causes permanent damage. But when spouses hold each other mutually responsible they incentivize themselves to work together to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Next time you’re tempted to find fault, consider the long-term effects. Will your children mature into responsible adults if they learn to loathe criticism and shift blame to avoid being stigmatized? Are you strengthening your bond with your spouse?

Forget finger pointing. Instead act responsibly and expect responsible behavior in return. Your family and friends will love you for it.

How do you hold your children or spouse responsible?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below

Is It Ever Right Not to Tell the Truth?

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vezos Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

We teach our children to tell the truth. We decry the dishonesty of others. And yet in our heart of hearts, we know we don’t always live up to this standard. Are we being hypocritical? The reality is even G-d lied. Parshas Vezos Haberachah explains:

“And the sons of Israel bewailed Moses in the plains of Moab for 30 days…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 34:8)

Is It Ever Right Not to Tell the Truth?

This week’s parsha, read on Simchas Torah, completes the cycle of readings for the year. In it, Moses blesses each of the tribes individually then the Children of Israel as a group. It ends with his death and praise for the unique quality of his Prophecy.

Moses Always Told the Truth

Great as Moses was, at the time of his death we find that like most people he was not the best at everything. When his brother Aaron died, the Torah says, “When the entire assembly saw that Aaron had perished, they wept for Aaron 30 days, the entire house of Israel.”

Note the distinction. The Israelite men mourned Moses. Men, women, and children, Jews and non-Jews, all mourned Aaron. If greatness is measured by how many people grieve over you, clearly, Aaron was the superior of his brother. How?

Above all things Moses valued truth. Certainly, this is a noble characteristic. But his inability to move out of this frame left him deficient in another important life skill. Moses struggled to connect with people. He commanded their respect as their teacher. But when they needed understanding or a compassionate ear to bridge a dispute, Moses fell short.

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Aaron excelled at bringing peace between spouses. He went to extraordinary lengths to resolve conflicts between people. Sometimes he would bend the truth slightly by telling both disputants that the other wanted to reconcile but just couldn’t make the first move. Aaron never doubted that people wanted to live harmoniously. So he felt justified in “telling the truth in advance.”

When G-d Withheld the Truth

The Almighty set the example. When Sarah laughs upon hearing she’ll have a child in her old age, she calls her husband old. But when G-d related the incident to Abraham He chose not to mention this in order to prevent disharmony between wife and husband.

Moses could never bring himself to compromise his integrity, even for such a noble cause. Reflecting at the end of his life he was struck by Aaron’s deep love for people. He realized his brother connected in a way he could not.

Should You Be Blunt or Caring

While I’m not encouraging you to lie, think about your purpose and mission in life. Will being completely candid help you create the kind of relationships you want and need? Perhaps withholding criticism is better than being starkly honest. Maybe saying a kind work that you don’t necessarily believe will improve a relationship when silence won’t.

It turns out 100% candor isn’t the best policy. You’ll have to decide when to deviate from bluntness. Start by considering how you can improve your connection with your family.

When do you think it’s okay to stray from the truth?

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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!

How to Deal with Injustice

Periodically I find myself experiencing Don Quixote moments. If you’re not familiar with the title character of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, he inspired Man of La Mancha, the great 1965 musical in which The Impossible Dream is sung. Don Quixote, who jousts with windmills, longs to “right the unrightable wrong . . . no matter how hopeless.” He’d find innumerable opportunities for such futility in the navy’s bureaucracy.

How to Deal with Injustice

Hindsight often exposes the folly of many of my fights. When someone does something unjust or malicious my default is to expose the perpetrator and have him punished. After all, if he gets away with such behavior it will encourage him to do it again. But such battles take a great deal of physical and mental energy. The resulting frustration inevitably spills over into other areas of my life, impacting my spiritual wellbeing.

Reality check: Even if the person is held accountable, I’ve made an enemy for life, one who will revel in having justification for further odious acts.

Balance is key here.

My running partner and I discussed proportionality last week. Response to a provocation must be in line with the larger strategic goal not the individual incursion. So too in your life. Before you level the 16” guns, is the campaign on which you’re planning to expend so much energy worth it in light of your personal mission and goals?

I’m not going to change the stagnant and insidious nature of navy bureaucracy any more than I am going to transform human nature. There will always be people who play petty power games corrosive to morale that detract from meeting the mission. My best course of action is to navigate around them. I’ll leave it for G-d to decide the appropriate punishment.

How do you bring this type of balance into your life?

  1. Be crystal clear about your personal mission
  2. Be equally clear about the goals that support your mission
  3. When faced with an obstacle, only confront it if it serves your mission and goals

This may sound selfish, but if your mission is sound then undoubtedly you are serving humanity in your own way.

I can understand Don Quixote’s attraction to hopeless causes. Unexpected victory in such a fight powerfully supports the belief that justice will prevail. Occasionally it’s necessary to sharpen my lance and take the field against an unconquerable enemy, if only to preserve my peace of mind. I suspect you feel the same way. If so, fight a battle that even though you lose it, will give you a lesson you can use in more winnable fights.

In the meantime, save your physical, mental, and spiritual energy for those you love and who love and respect you. Your white charger won’t mind resting in his stall a while longer, unburdened by heavy armor.

What hopeless cause must you fight for? Please comment below.

Do You Do this Daily Act of Justice?

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Almost daily at my synagogue people are there asking for charity. On occasion, after receiving several contributions, someone will take a portion of what he’s been given and put it in the charity box. At first such behavior puzzled me. He’s so poor he begs for money. Although admirable, why give away what he clearly needs to survive? Parshas Korach, explains:

And to the Levites you will speak and you will say to them, “When you will take from the Children of Israel from the tithe that I give to you from them as your inheritance from it you will set aside a gift for G-d, a tithe from the tithe.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 18:26)

Do You Do this Daily Act of Justice? 

This Sabbath’s parsha takes us from the infamy of the spies to the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron. Unlike the previous complaints about food, water, and other things, Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, sought to depose them and assume their roles.  He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness over the decree that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As a result of their rebellion, the 250 insurgents were consumed by fire and the Earth swallowed up their households.  A harsh punishment indeed!

Seemingly unrelated to the topic of Korach’s rebellion, the Torah discusses the tithes the Levites will receive. Then, as noted above, it says that the Levites must give a tithe from their tithes to the Kohanim, the Priests.

You would think that a group supported by charity would be exempt from having to give charity. But this might lead them to consider themselves uniquely entitled. Everyone, no matter how rich or how poor and no matter what the source of one’s sustenance, is obligated to give charity.

Korach’s mistakenly felt entitled to more because of his familial connection. He lacked gratitude, and its cousin, humility. As a result, he sought to overthrow Moses and Aaron and trample on the Creator’s plan.

While you may think you earn your sustenance by working and paying for it, the ability to do so is a gift from the Almighty. The recession showed what a blessing it is to be employed. Undoubtedly you have friends who are highly qualified yet struggled to find a job. Why you and not them? There but for the grace of G-d . . .

While tzedakah is usually translated as charity, righteousness is a more accurate. Each person receives G-d’s blessing, even if only life for another day. It is only right that you demonstrate your gratitude each day by sharing this blessing with another who is less fortunate.

What is your plan for showing gratitude each day? 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!

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

Yesterday in the mail I received my copy of Germany at War and Russia at War. While they were released a few months ago, having them in my hands internalized my accomplishing a milestone goal: becoming a published writer. Will you indulge me for a couple of minutes? I’d like you to join my celebration of this success.

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

First, I need to thank Zac Arnold who told me about the need for writers of encyclopedia articles for Germany at War. Zac and I became friends when my air wing was embarked on the USS RONALD REAGAN and we have remained so since. At the time I set the milestone goal to have an academic article published I had no idea how I’d accomplish it. Part of the answer is: not alone. It wouldn’t have happened without Zac’s help.

Next, thank you Major General David Zabecki (Ret.) and Timothy Dowling, professor of history at Virginia Military Institute and Associate Editor of the Journal of Military History. Editors respectively of Germany at War and Russia at War, they provided leadership, encouragement, and professional guidance. What a great honor it was to work with these two fine historians and men. MajGen Zabecki convinced me that despite lacking a degree in history, I am an historian as well as a writer.

I first voiced my desire to write when I was 16. While driving my mother somewhere, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I want to be a writer but I don’t want to starve.” Ever sensible, my mom encouraged me to look for a more “practical” profession. Little did either of us know that when the writing bug bites the wound never heals.

There are two kinds of objectives:

  1. Goals. Markers you set for yourself because you need to make progress in an area of your life.
  2. Milestone Goals. Achievements that change who you are.

Ideally goals are intermediate steps toward milestone goals. They assist your transformation.

It is fashionable in some circles to self-proclaim your identity. From that perspective if you want to be a writer you call yourself one despite lacking accomplishments in the field. I think you have to achieve something: an academic credential, a significant success, or tenure in the area, to merit carrying the title.

So here it is almost four decades later. I am a writer.

I hope you have had the joy of achieving a milestone or two in your life. As important, what did you do to celebrate your accomplishment? Tonight my family and I will crack open a bottle of sparkling wine over some scrumptious Thai food.

Thank you for letting me share my victory with you. More so, thank you for allowing me to be a writer.

What victories have you gotten to celebrate? Please comment below.

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