Tag Archives: mental health

If You’re Wise You’ll Be Inconsistent

Recently I read Stephen Asma’s book Against Fairness. Intrigued by the title, I hoped to get some ideas for explaining to my seven-year-old why life is not fair. While this need went unsatisfied, it caused me ponder the nature of fairness and how it relates to wisdom.

If You’re Wise You’ll Be Inconsistent

Fairness seems to be part of the American character. But as Asma points out, other cultures, in particular, many in Asia, favor family ties above all. Abandoning nepotism in favor of a stranger is shameful.

But if we dig below the surface, fairness flies in the face of another cherished American societal value: individualism.

The rabbi of my community is admired by all as a wise, humane man. Beset by requests for guidance, he could spend 25 hours a day dispensing advice. While under his tutelage, one day I questioned him about a particular issue in the Jewish dietary laws. His answer astounded me. He told me it depended on several factors:

  1. Who is asking the question? Specifically, where on life’s journey was the person? How extensive were her knowledge and expertise?
  2. To what spiritual level is the person aspiring? Is the person seeking to stretch herself and increase her level of observance?
  3. What day of the week and time of day was it? Was it late on a Friday close to the start of the Sabbath?

There were others but you get the idea.

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This seemed consummately unfair. Essentially, as an aspiring rabbi, I would get a strict answer but someone less knowledgeable would be treated more leniently. The rules should be the rules. Of course, if everyone got the same answer, why do you need to speak to a human? A computer would be much more efficient and fair.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Each person is unique. So any question requires the context of that person’s specific situation in order to come up with the right answer. Similar to doing an act of kindness, insight into a person’s character and circumstances are necessary to find the proper solution to his challenges.

Such is the nature of wisdom. It requires knowledge and experience, but most importantly good judgment.

Inevitably, from the outside, it will appear inconsistent since when two people have the same issue, the solutions will in all likelihood be different.

I suspect you want to be dealt with in the context of your own life challenges, not those of society or other people. Not only is such a desire reasonable, it is the only way to support a realistic path of personal growth.

Would you rather be treated by a societal standard of fairness or as an individual

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Do You Actually Want What You’re After?

Not long after my family moved to Dallas, Texas, when I was about six years old, I became friends with an older kid who lived down the street. One afternoon when we were hanging out together he suggested we go throw rocks at the windows of a new house being built not too far away. Shrimp that I was, the rocks I threw often did not have sufficient force to break the windows. But that was okay with me. I felt awful the whole time.

Do You Actually Want What You’re After?

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Thank goodness as adults we are better equipped to resist peer pressure. Asked to participate in vandalism, we would decline.

Thinking about this idea over the last few weeks, I thought about how people respond to opportunities. Asked if they want to appear on television, I imagine most people would respond along the lines of, “Who wouldn’t!?”

Notice anything strange about this reply? Someone saying it is expressing a consensus desire, not his own.

Given how often average people are presented in a humiliating way on television, I am skeptical about the benefit of appearing on the small screen (can we still call it that now that large flat screens rival some of those at multiplexes?). And while this example may be too abstract, most of us feel more pressured by our peers than we like to acknowledge. Think about the pursuit of youth by the middle-aged, the desire for an image of prosperity by those who cannot afford it.

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As much as the conformity of the 1950s is derided, it may well have been a genuine expression of post World War II desires. The vast majority of men and women who fought and lived through the war did so while longing to return to their spouse, or get married, settle down and have a family.

As you head toward the end of the year and start evaluating your progress I encourage you to consider whether you genuinely desire what you are pursuing or have a case of “Who wouldn’t!?”

Where do you find yourself at variance with what people typically strive for and what you want?

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Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Being overwhelmed can be beneficial if it leads you to understand you cannot have it all. Steeped in this fallacious boosterism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, baby boomers, in particular, swallowed it hook, line, and sinker to their unending frustration. Only by contracting out such difficult responsibilities like child rearing have many been able to fool themselves into believing they can have it all.

While generally skeptical of the idea that I could have it all, only after years of slow business growth, lack of satisfaction in my interpersonal relationships, and spiritual emptiness was I convinced about its mendacity. When I narrowed my focus I made meaningful progress. My journey as an Intentionalist began.

So when one of my Facebook fans recommended Greg McKeown’s new book Essentialiam: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less I ordered a copy right away.

Highly readable, the book makes its case for becoming an Essentialist. McKeown sets forth a three-step process through which you explore what is essential in your life, eliminate the nonessential, and execute the vital few things you identified in the first step.

Steeped as I am in living intentionally, I have already integrated two new practices and identified a third to work on down the road. One of the practices is based on McKeown’s assertion when deciding whether to take an opportunity, “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” True enough. But the simple evaluative tool he presents on page 111 turns his stock phrase into an actionable habit.

He unmasks such unprofitable beliefs as sunk-cost bias whereby people continue to invest in a project long after knowing it is a losing proposition simply because they have invested so much already. This and other insights into human nature will help you identify and change behaviors that impede your becoming an Intentionalist.

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I have two criticisms. The first, though perhaps minor, comes from a book design issue. Several pages are highlighted through reverse printing: white text on black pages. While this technique is effective for sectional title pages, the regular text printed this way bleeds to almost illegibility.

The second is more substantial. McKeown seems to be advocating the minimalist perspective, popular among a subset of Gen Xers and Millennials. While I find nothing inherently wrong with this philosophy (it is a refreshing counterpoint to the ubiquity of marketing in today’s society) I see Essentialism more broadly as a methodology for pursuing Intentionalism, be it minimalistically or expansively.

This reservation aside, I recommend Essentialism as a valuable tool in your pursuit of being an Intentionalist.

How do you determine which opportunities to embrace

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Here’s the Gift Your Spouse Really Wants

Too long ago for me to recall precisely when I received some marriage advice. “You will have to give much more than you ever thought you could or would,” the person told me. I always thought this meant that I had to make a maximum physical effort. Only recently did I realize how wrong I have been.

Here’s the Gift Your Spouse Really Wants

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Like most married couples Melanie and I have struggled with certain issues our entire married life. Two cases in point: I am fastidious and my bride is not. We are not the Odd Couple. Well perhaps I am Felix but Melanie is not Oscar. As well, I was raised to complete a task I have begun, no matter how trivial or annoying the matter is. Despite confessing these “quirks” of character when we were dating and acknowledging they are my issues to deal with, to this day they cause friction.

Allow me to state categorically my conviction that my wife loves me and does not want to make me unhappy. Of course, if that were the case she would never leave off a task until it is done and she would consistently pick up after herself right? Notice the false equivalence here?

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Her unequivocal love for me has nothing to do with how her upbringing has manifested itself in her adult life. Melanie can focus deeply on a task. But she saves such intensity for those she considers important. Besides me, who would blame her if cleaning up the kitchen does not fall into this category?

Which brings me back to the subject of giving. Like Groucho Marx’s classic song, every year my sisters and I gave my father a tie for Father’s Day. And although he professed profound gratitude for these gifts, in retrospect I suspect he was underwhelmed, to say the least. Because he loved his children, he overlooked our lack of originality in Father’s Day presents, even though he had a knack for getting us the things we wanted. He did not judge us by his ability but rather by ours.

So I have come to learn that the tremendous giving for which I am responsible is the freedom of my wife, and for that matter daughter, mother, and friends, to be who they are. Perhaps more so, it is to desist from the martyrdom that permits me to think their love and respect is somehow deficient because it is not backed up by the action that makes me comfortable. Finally, I must give thanks for the unique gifts and perspective they offer on our lives and relationships.

Such is my new year's resolution for the Rosh Hashanah just passed.

What causes you to think your spouse’s love is not as deep as he/she professes

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Why You Need a Liver for Your Brain

Being married to a Registered Nurse exposes me to far more information about physiology than I ever want to know. Additionally, sitting through the Navy’s annual training on alcohol and drugs, I have become inordinately familiar with the liver’s function: Synthesizing proteins and storing glycogen, sure. But best known is its role in detoxification. (Children will be happy to know liver is not good for you.) Without this vital organ, seemingly benign lipophilic chemical compounds, let alone potentially harmful pharmaceuticals and liquor, would debilitate your body. No exaggeration, within months you would die.

Why You Need a Liver for Your Brain

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Axiomatic in the world of personal development is that you are better off having a positive attitude than a negative one. Put simply, you improve your relationships and chances of success by filling your mind with life affirming, upbeat material. While I have not seen any studies to back this up, I have never met a pessimist with a long and happy marriage or who built a successful business.

Contemporary culture’s pernicious effect on you is so pervasive yet subtle you may not realize its impact. But while your liver can process toxins you put in your body, no such filter exists for your brain or soul. You need to intentionally create one.

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I remember many years ago when profanity was a regular part of my speech.  I was unconscious of how, unbeknownst to me, it increased my negative perception of events. Something bad would happen and instead of it being a challenge it was a f*****g mess. The yearlong process of purging expletives from my vocabulary also moderated the unwarranted pessimism with which I viewed situations.

Here is a simple process for creating a liver for your brain:

  1. Identify the mental and spiritual toxins violating your mind and soul. These may come from television, music, groups to which you belong, or people with whom you associate.
  2. List them in order of impact: Least harmful to worst. It does not need to be scientific. Your opinion is all that counts.
  3. Create a strategy for filtering the least harmful one. The most benign one should be easiest to filter out so start there and give yourself the best chance for a victory.
  4. Proceed to the next least harmful. Once your first filter has worked take on each one on your list, modifying your filter as necessary.

Make your filter as simple to implement as possible. In the case of changing my language, I picked alternative words to use in place of swear words. To this day I still say jerk, gosh, and bloody (If I move to England I will have to give the last one up.)

Leading an optimistic, self-affirming life takes more than reading positive aphorisms. By creating a liver for your brain you purge toxins that can kill you mentally and spiritually. Take action on this today – and start living a holistically healthy life now.

What mental or spiritual toxin has the worst impact on you

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