Category Archives: Ethics & Values

Improve Your Motivation at Practically No Cost

Passionate as I am about classic movies, I could not miss the opportunity to see To Sir With Love on the big screen. An iconic film of the mid-1960s, it embodies the hope of its time.  New approaches to chronic societal challenges will make a better world. Powerful in its simplicity, it provides the most inspiring motivation.

Improve Your Motivation at Practically No Cost

If you have not seen this diamond, it stars arguably the greatest actor of the latter half of the 20th century, Sidney Poitier.  He plays a new teacher (Sir) at an East End London school attended by kids no other school would tolerate. Perhaps timeworn by today’s standards, such a topic was groundbreaking in 1967.

Okay Rabs, so it is great. But why should I care about a half-century old movie?

None One Is an Endless Well of Motivation & Self-Inspiration

While we do not need to be told about the qualities it takes to succeed, we all need to be reminded.

To Sir With Love kindles a fire of awareness as to why certain characteristics are crucial to success.  Especially as a human being, we need:

  • Integrity
  • Mutual Respect
  • Self-Discipline
  • Persistence
  • Humility

It vividly demonstrates:

  • The Difference One Person Can Make
  • The Importance of Mentorship
  • How to Handle Celebrity

And one more . . .

The most poignant moment in the movie occurs when the students refuse to personally deliver flowers to the funeral of their classmate’s mother because his father is black. They refuse to risk the social stigma. When the camera cuts to a close-up of Sir, he does not lash back at them. This despite their ridiculousness assertion he cannot understand what they would go through. Rather, he engages in a moment of quiet contemplation. Finally, he responds by thanking them for their explaining the situation to him.

Sidney Poitier vividly demonstrates the power of empathy over the desire for personal vindication.

Whether you have previously seen To Sir With Love before, rent, stream, or somehow see this movie. It will boost your motivation, propel you into action.

How do you remind yourself of the qualities you are grooming in yourself?

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Why You Should Cultivate a Positive No

My family, the U. S. Navy, my platform, working on a Masters of Library and Information Science, and self-care. I have a wonderful, full life. But in order to get it all done, I must be mindful of my priorities. Many people want to place demands on my time so I have numerous opportunities to cultivate my positive no.

 Cultivating a Positive No

For a long time, whenever someone asked for my time they got some. But if what the person wanted me to do did not fit with my life plan two things happened:

  1. The person got an inferior job
  2. I resented the time it took

Often the results did not benefit either one of us. The person would have been better off if I had said, “no.”

Yet surely his priorities were as important to him as mine were to me. So he might interpret my refusal of assistance as a personal rebuff. Too many of those can damage a relationship. I had to learn to say “no” in a way that felt like “yes.”

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Some requests do not warrant a response. They get the equivalent of a pocket veto, no reply. An assistant could politely decline but for now I have to let them go.

How to Say No in a Positive Way

When dealing with someone I know or with whom I am building a relationship, a response is required. As such, even if I cannot commit my time, I look for another way to help. Here is my process:

  1. Acknowledge the importance of what the person is asking. Almost everyone can understand being busy, but recognizing the significance of another’s priorities creates a mutual affinity.
  2. Briefly explain the conflict. Giving someone insight into my life will improve our relationship. If I think the person will be offended by my priorities, I take a moment to reconsider. Maybe what he needs me to do is more important than what I have going on.
  3. Offer an alternative to my help. Can I introduce the person to someone who can handle the matter, perhaps better than me? Is there some part of the task I can do with a minimal time outlay, and immediately so that it does not clog my mental to do list?
  4. No matter what, thank the person for asking and wish him luck. I learned this from working in real estate. The client that thanked me for telling him about an investment even though he turned it down got greater priority the next time I had something good. Most people find asking for help difficult, so when someone reaches out to me it's a compliment.

Not all my friends are sensitive to being turned down. So sometimes a simple no will suffice. Not long ago a colleague told me I have a way of telling people difficult things that makes them easier to hear. As someone who hates being told “no” I can think of no higher praise.

How do you say no without alienating people?

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Don’t Confuse Wisdom and Goodness

“From Asher, rich is his bread, and he will provide kingly delicacies.” (Bereshis/Genesis 49:20). Can you hear Asher’s thoughts? “Gee, thanks dad, I guess I get to be the king’s chef.” What kind of blessing is this from the soon to die Jacob?

Don’t Confuse Wisdom and Goodness

The parsha for this Sabbath is the last of the book of Bereishis, Vayechi. It begins with Jacob becoming ill. Realizing his death is imminent, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manassah and Ephraim, elevating them to the status of his sons. Then he blesses his sons, though some of the blessings sound more like rebukes. Jacob’s final request is that he not be buried in Egypt, but that he be taken back to Canaan and buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah in the cave of Machpelah.

All of Egypt mourns him, a testament to his greatness. His burial procession was so large it impressed and scared the Canaanites. After his father’s death, Joseph assures his brothers that all is forgiven. He lives to see his great-grandchildren. Before he dies, Joseph appeals to his brothers to bring his bones with them when G-d brings them out of Egypt.

The stage is now set for the enslavement of the Children of Israel and its redemption.

There is an interesting parallel between the blessings that Jacob gives and those that Moses gives to the Twelve Tribes at the end of the Torah.

Rashi, commenting on the Asher’s blessing that he will provide kingly delicacies, says that his land will be so rich in olive groves that olive oil will flow as if from a fountain. When Moses blesses Asher he says, “. . . he will dip his feet in oil.” Clearly, olive oil, especially an abundance of it, is something wonderful to have. Why?

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, points out from a spiritual perspective olive oil symbolizes wisdom. Thus both Jacob and Moses were blessing the tribe of Asher with abundant wisdom, keen development of the intellect.

But Moses adds another dimension to his blessing: the feet. The parts of the body that connect us to the ground have their own spiritual significance: feet represent the direction we take in life, and perhaps more importantly our commitment to strive toward that direction.

Many people believe that a life committed to obtaining wisdom means one is automatically headed in a good direction and that the accumulation of knowledge will make a person ipso facto righteous. But among the lessons of the Holocaust is that intelligence, even wisdom, do not necessarily lead to goodness. Many Nazis were highly intelligent and yet irredeemably evil.

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Less dramatically, Judaism holds that one of the highest values is humility. Yet you have probably met someone who is very intelligent and wise but is equally conceited. Surely a person whose wisdom leads to the abrogation of such an important value cannot be said to be going in a good direction.

The prayer recited on awakening is: “the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d,” meaning that your direction must be clear before you strive for wisdom.

Remembering the Chanukah lamps that so recently burned brightly, may you have the blessing of abundant olive oil, preceded by a deep, abiding commitment to learn G-d’s values, striving to embed them ever deeper in yourself.

Please take just a minute to share a blessing for our community…

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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.

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!


Riding the Submarine Rescue Chamber: On a Trapeze Without a Net

Did you ever play the game where you had to trust someone by falling backwards, counting on the person to catch you? Then you know a little about what it is like to journey to the ocean floor aboard the Submarine Rescue Chamber, know as the SRC.

Learn about Trust while Riding the Submarine Rescue Chamber:

Qualifications are the lifeblood of the navy. From the moment a sailor comes aboard a command he is under pressure to get checked out on his various duties so he can work on his own and train others. The submarine service has one of the original qualification awards, the Submarine Warfare Insignia. My father, zt"l, who was an anti-submarine warfare officer in the mid 1950s, had tremendous admiration for sailors who wore the “Dolphins.”

But chaplains are not allowed to earn warfare qualifications including the coveted submariners’ “Fish.” (I know, dolphins are not fish. But are you going to argue with a guy who runs a nuclear reactor?) The Marine Corps made special arrangements for chaplains to earn the Fleet Marine Force pin. The only other one I can get is the Parachute Badge. But do I really want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane just to win a fancy brass pin for my uniform?

Then I learned Submarine Squadron 11 staff members are eligible for the Deep Submergence Insignia rescue pin. It is not dolphins, but it has Neptune’s cool trident and a couple of fish too. What is more, I would be the first chaplain earn it.

Like most quals, it involves demonstrating an understanding of the history and purpose of this particular navy activity and getting signed off on a practicum. The deep submergence program was created to rescue submariners trapped in a disabled submarine. The most famous is the rescue of 33 sailors off the USS SQUALUS on the eve of World War II. Peter Maas’s book The Terrible Hours is a great recounting.

Fast-forward, you may recall my October 1 Facebook post of the SRC. Entering the chamber is like going through a time warp. If life were in black and white I would have expected John Wayne or maybe Cary Grant to welcome me aboard.

Do you like elevators? Me either, even when they have a glass wall. Imagine one that has really uncomfortable seats, lots of incomprehensible gauges and valves, and requires you to sit shoulder to shoulder with your shipmates. Oh, and it is very warm inside, even before the hatch is closed. We have been sitting inside for about 45 minutes when we are told via the umbilical cord that the oxygen supply system is not working quite right. Standby!

Fixing the ventilation consumes an hour. Now surface personnel release the safety and clear us to start our descent. Down we go. Twenty minutes later we are at the bottom of San Diego Bay. But the apparatus we had to link with is covered with silt. Divers scramble from the surface to clear it. After a while we call for a status report but the topside operator does not answer. We are vaguely disturbed.

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More than two hours into what I was told would be an hour and a half evolution, sitting in semi-darkness, completely useless, I am thinking, “What is a perfectly sane #NavyRabbi doing here?!” Oh, nature is calling and there are no facilities in this thing.

But hallelujah, we marry up with our link. We call the surface to advise them of our success and begin our ascent. After four hours in the pretzel position climbing out is a challenge. But the sun welcomes us to land. Knowing we would be hungry since the mission lasted almost three times longer than it should, our shipmates have ordered pizza. Too bad it was not kosher.

Saying thanks, my qual card signed, I head back to Point Loma to learn my orders have been cancelled. The government shut down while I sat on the sludge of the bay.

Reflecting on my latest adventure I was struck by how absolutely helpless we were. Aside from the discomfort, we were completely reliant on our shipmates on the surface for air, communications, and troubleshooting. The only thing we could do on our own was move up and down. I had not experienced this level of dependency in almost half a decade.

You know what? I trust anyone of my shipmates to catch me as I fall backwards. And I am going to build the same level of trust here in civilian life. Would you like to help?

How do you establish trust with friends and colleagues?

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You Can Sleep Better – Because They’re on Patrol

I miss being with the submarine squadron. Almost every sailor there pulsed with purpose. They were bright, hardworking, and committed. While I have written a couple of times about riding a submarine, I think you will find this story different.

You Can Sleep Better – Because They’re on Patrol

One of our boats was tasked with performing a burial at sea. Seven submariners were going on eternal patrol.

True to their calling, the boat’s leadership committed to doing an exemplary job. So I got a call, “Rabs, what do you know about burials at sea? Can you meet with us tomorrow?” They planned it out step-by-step in writing. We rehearsed it dockside. Special equipment was bought or borrowed. Rifles were cleaned and the bugle shined. Uniforms prepared. The captain sharpened up his video directing and editing skills so the next of kin would have a poignant memento.

Like my other adventures, it started on a Friday. The ocean is never so busy as when boaters see a submarine on the surface. But we could not perform the ceremony until they were a suitable distance away since rifles would be fired and shell casings retained to give to loved ones. The crew was not amused by my suggestion to launch a torpedo in the general direction of the intruders.

As I stood on the deck I noticed most of the hands were wearing their black work boots with their Service Dress Blues rather than the prescribed black oxfords. This puzzled me until the captain pointed out the sea state. Moments later a wave too big for the boat’s deck dampeners hit, filling my shoes with water. Challenged to maintain proper dignity with wet, squishy feet, the ceremony began.

The captain spoke movingly. Rifle shots sounded sharply as late afternoon drew on. Ashes were committed to the deep and blessedly the wind did not change direction. Decorously the flag was lowered and folded. To my surprise, I had a lump in my throat and felt tears begin to well.

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What a profound demonstration of excellence. Though witnessed only by G-d and a few sea birds, these sailors treated their deceased colleagues with magnificent stateliness. No wonder they are charged with handling among the most delicate aspects of our national security.

Question – How do you maintain peak performance when no one is keeping track?

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