Tag Archives: character traits

4 Reasons My Dog Is a Better Person Than Me

In case you missed the announcement on my Facebook page (never miss another by liking my page), my family got a dog a few weeks ago. It has been over two years since our dogs Sasha and Jiggers died within a month of each. My wife dearly wanted the bump of a wet nose on her calves. So it was time to live the philosophy I espouse: Happy wife, happy life.

Bordeaux

Image from Melanie Bemel

I drove three and a half hours from Naval Base Ventura County to the San Bernardino Animal Shelter to adopt a one-year-old Jack Russell Terrier that had recently been picked up. When I met her, at double the size, she obviously was not a pure breed, but she was sweet and calm (Unbeknownst to me she was still partially sedated from surgery the day before). On the ride home she laid her head on my lap and looked up at me the whole time with eyes that acknowledged I had saved her life.

After 24 hours to confirm her character I named her LT Kelly Post, call sign Bordeaux, Bordie for short. (Not the wine, Bordeaux is the best variety of See’s Candy)

The ensuing week showed us she had the energy and destructive ability of a puppy, which indeed the vet informed us she was. Housetraining began. Fortunately she learned quickly. Still to be resolved is her penchant for jumping on my daughter almost knocking her down and her fondness for slobberingly chewing on stuffed animals.

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While frustrating, in the short time she has been with my family, Bordeaux has put to shame my efforts at personal development. Here is how:

  1. She lives in the moment. Bordeaux never frets about the past or is worried about the future. She focuses intently on whatever she is doing at the moment: eating, chewing on her bone, finagling pets. Toys do not stand up long to her relentless pursuit of oral pleasure.
  2. She enthusiastically greets each person. Whether she has been alone all day or for just a few minutes, Bordeaux welcomes each person into our home with a headlong race to the door and furious tail wagging. No half measures, if you come to visit us you will know she is ecstatic to see you, every time.
  3. She has unshakable faith. Whereas my dog Jiggers begged to let me know what he wanted lest I would forget to give it to him, in her dog way Bordeaux conveys to me she has complete confidence I will take care of her needs. If there is something she wants that I am not giving her I get the sense she is perfectly happy to bide her time, secure in the knowledge that when I am ready I will provide it to her.
  4. She sacrifices some of her comfort for our relationship. Her preferred place to sleep is tucked close to my pillow on my side of the bed. Needless to say, given her size, we do not fit there together. It is not a problem from her perspective. She is delighted to move somewhere more convenient for me (Jiggers typically got huffy and left if I moved him from where he was sleeping). Often, she will come give me a kiss after I move her then go back to her place, letting me know there are no hard feelings. Our relationship remains undamaged.

Forgive my anthropomorphizing. Undoubtedly these behaviors are typical of dogs, though her personality is distinct from Jiggers’s. But whether intentional in a human way or merely instinctual, Bordeaux exemplifies traits that you and I should be proud to master.

What have you learned from your pet

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The Devil is Not in The Details, God Is

Parsha Nugget Ki Savo – Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

While out running one day, I came to a stretch of sidewalk that was being traversed by ants.  I imagine I looked pretty funny dodging, what were to other people, these unseen hurdles.  Was it worth the humiliation and potential injury?  Parshas Ki Savo has some insight:

“You have distinguished G-d today, to be for you a G-d, and to walk in His ways . . .” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 26:17)

The Devil is Not in The Details, God Is

Image from iStockPhoto.com

This week’s parsha continues preparing the Children of Israel to enter the Land of Israel by discussing the mitzvah (usually translated commandment) of the first fruits offering, reiterating the inseparability of G-d and Israel, and detailing the blessings and curses that will befall them depending on how well they heed the Torah.  At the end of the parsha Moses begins his final exhortation to the Israelites.

After I had run past the ants I was struck by the thought that perhaps G-d did not want me to avoid stepping on them.  Maybe they were going to invade someone’s house or do something that was destructive and I had been chosen to eradicate them.  Had I done right or wrong?

Are you thinking, “Ants? Rabbi! Are you kidding me?”

The famous motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, says:

It Is the Little Things in Life that Make a Difference

If your watch is off by an hour surely you will notice it and correct it before you miss an airplane.  But if it is off by four or five minutes, that small discrepancy could cause you to miss your flight.

The same is true in your daily interaction with G-d’s creation.  Do you need to be reminded it is wrong to punch somebody unless you are defending yourself or another person?  Of course not.  But are you aware of the nuance of expression on your face at any given time and how other people are affected?  You may see something that puzzles you and get a quizzical look.  Someone may see your expression and think you are mad at him.  For an instant, you were unaware of your demeanor and the person misread you.

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During this month of Elul, it is particularly important to heighten your awareness of how you interact with others.  Try to always have a pleasant welcoming expression on your face and in the tone of your voice.  As an added bonus you will feel more positive as a result.

Oh, and what about the ants?  I decided that I should not try to guess G-d’s plan.  Since the Torah prohibits gratuitous killing I will continue to avoid stepping on insects when I run, even if I look silly doing so.

What little thing do you do to make a difference in other’s lives?

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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 Rectify an Insult

There once was a man who felt sorry for insulting his friend.  Not knowing how to assuage his guilt, he decided to speak with the local rabbi.

How to Rectify an Insult

Image from iStockPhoto.com

After listening carefully to the man’s story the rabbi told him he would help. But only if the man did exactly what the rabbi told him to do without question.  The man readily agreed.

So the rabbi told the man to go to a housewares store and buy a feather pillow.  The man started to ask why but the rabbi quickly reminded him not to ask questions.  Off the man went to buy the pillow.  Not knowing what the pillow was for, the man bought the most expensive one he could find.

Hurriedly he returned to the rabbi and showed him the pillow.  He pointed out the high thread count, the durability of the ticking, and the density of the goose down and feathers that made up the stuffing.  He even invited the rabbi to rest his head on the pillow to test out it softness and comfort.

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Convinced, the rabbi agreed with his assessment of the supreme quality of the pillow. So he could barely contain his surprise and anger when the rabbi told him to go to the bluffs above the ocean and tear open the pillow.  Protesting the crime of destroying such a fine piece of workmanship, the rabbi again reminded him not to ask questions.

Resigned, the man did as he was told.  He struggled to tear the ticking, having to use a knife to make a hole.  Finally he was able to get a hand on each side of the slit and just as he pulled with all his strength a huge gust of wind blew all of the feathers over the cliff, dispersing them across a vast area.  Satisfied he had done as bidden, he went back to see the rabbi.

“All right,” the man said confronting the rabbi, “I have done as you asked.  My beautiful pillow is just a piece of torn fabric now.  All its feathers have been blown to the four corners of the globe.  And I don’t feel the least bit better about having insulted my friend.”  Calmly, the rabbi replied, “you will, as soon as you collect up every feather.”

You Can Control Only Two Things in Life: What You Say and What You Do.

No matter how young he is, you cannot control another person.  Though you can develop proficiency in altering your thoughts, your brain is too complex and outside stimulus too unpredictable to gain complete mastery over every thought that comes to mind.

Recovery from an ill-considered word or deed can be virtually unattainable, especially in these days of ubiquitous video and social media.  Next time you are tempted to lash out, do you really think the person will benefit?  Or will you have given up yet another piece of your mind to no purpose?

When did exercising restraint worsen a situation? 

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Why It’s a Blessing to Feel Another’s Suffering

Parsha Nugget Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Have you noticed how much easier it is to handle a crisis when it affects someone else?  I have always thought levelheadedness in such cases was good.  Parshas Re’eh shows why I am wrong:

“See, I place before you today, a blessing and a curse.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:26)

Why It’s a Blessing to Feel Another’s Suffering

Image from iStockPhoto.com

In this week’s parsha we learn about G-d’s blessing and curse and the holiness of the Land of Israel. Then it covers how the Israelites must conduct themselves there including how to respond to a false prophet and a person who entices another to go astray. Next, it defines G-d’s treasured people and tithes. It ends with how to forgive loans, be generous with another person, treat a slave, and the three pilgrimage festivals.

The verse says to “see” a blessing or a curse.  "Experience” makes more sense.  The Torah doesn't wax poetic. An idea awaits discovery.

Consider, whether you've received a blessing or curse depends primarily on how you see it.  If you decide a particular event is a bad you've made it so.  You worry about it. Rather than viewing it as an opportunity for repenting, changing direction, and searching for a creative solution, you freeze.

The concept of seeing relates to another section of this week’s parsha.  In Deuteronomy 14:11-21, Moses repeats the list of birds that are not fit as food.  One commentator suggests they're not kosher because they tend toward cruelty.  But among these non-kosher birds is the chasidah or stork.  Its name means “kind one” because it gives food to its companions.

But how can the stork have a tendency toward cruelty yet be called kind one?

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It turns out the stork only concerns itself with its immediate companions.  It can't see beyond the parochial needs of family and friends.

The 20th century maggid or storyteller R. Sholom Schwadron has a relevant parable:  One afternoon, while he was sitting in his home he heard a piercing scream.  His wife ran in calling that a neighbor’s child had fallen. He was bleeding terribly from a gash over his eye.  Instantly, R. Sholom went to help his wife treat the boy’s wound. Then he carried him as fast as possible to the doctor.

As he was rushing up the hill with the bleeding boy, he came upon the boy’s own grandmother. Seeing he was carrying a child, she called out, “there’s nothing to worry about; G-d will help.”  However, when she came closer and realized the child was her own grandson, her self-possession disappeared. She began shrieking, struggling to grab him.  At first, when she saw a wounded child, thinking him to be someone else's, she was very calm.  Realizing it was her own grandson, she lost her composure.

Nothing had changed.  A child got hurt. R. Shlomo had given prompt aid.  Like a stork, the grandmother only expressed alarm upon seeing her beloved grandson wounded.

You have the ability to bring blessing or curse into the lives of all of G-d’s children

Calm in the face of tragedy is admirable.  But in the midst of catastrophe empathy for the victims brings them blessing.  Whether related to you or not, feel their suffering.  You'll get the blessing of giving comfort.  When the distress of strangers disturbs you as much as that of your own flesh and blood, you will re’eh bracha, see blessing.

How do you work to see blessing in the face of a cursed situation?

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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!

4 Reasons You’ll Go Farther with Baby Steps

Patience, I have been told, increases as you get older.  If that is the case I guess I never got much beyond 13.

4 Reasons You’ll Go Farther with Baby Steps

Image from iStockPhoto.com

I became an Eagle Scout in the minimum time possible.  But after that, having held the top scout leadership position, I got bored.  As a result, I lost out on many more lessons I could have learned from the scouts.

I became an entrepreneur at 25.  Looking every bit my age while working to convince people to let me handle their multimillion-dollar assets, I tried every short-cut to success.  None worked.  Not until I began the slow climb to mastery in my profession and in business skills such as sales did I succeed.

You would have thought that when I decided to join the Navy as a chaplain I would have been more composed.  The two years it took me to qualify were punctuated by angst at how long it was taking.

But while planning to leave active duty and go back into business, I realized I had much to catch up on from the previous six years.  My progress would not come rapidly, and if it did was unlikely to be either permanent or desirable.  The Navy taught me this crucial lesson.

For enlisted sailors bent on making a career in the Navy, their biggest milestone is becoming a Chief Petty Officer.  As the saying goes, chiefs run the Navy. It remains true today. They teach and lead enlisted sailors but also they train junior commissioned officers.

In past times chiefs had ten to twelve years or more of service, making them at least 30 years old, often older.  Not only did this give them plenty of time to become technically proficient and to develop leadership skill, they matured.  Many chiefs made significant mistakes early in their careers from which they had to recover, gaining wisdom along the way.  As a result, young enlisted sailors looked up to them.  As important, recent college graduates joining the officer corps respected these grizzled fonts of all things Navy.

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Today, when sailors become Chief Petty Officers after as little as seven years, meaning they are typically in their mid 20s, they have had insufficient time to learn the numerous small lessons along the way that make them unparalleled technicians and wise leaders capable of commanding respect.

The result is more wrongdoing.  And since accountability among leaders must be more rigorous to set the example to junior sailors, they are less likely to recover.  As a result, the reputation of Chief Petty Officers, in general, has declined.

Distilling the lessons of my time in the Navy, I have concluded:

Baby Steps are Better Than Leaps

Because:

  1. You have the chance to adjust to the new situation.
  2. You can build a firmer foundation.
  3. You can recover more easily from a small mistake than a huge error.
  4. You develop maturity commensurate with growing responsibility.

Wine is not the only thing that gets better with age.  Shortcuts do not lead to greatness.  We human beings need to slowly ripen to achieve and maintain our greatest potential.

Can you recount a situation in which you made rapid, sustained progress and maintained it?

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