When the Worst Brings Out the Best: President’s Message November 2011

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Life is funny, when everything is “normal”, when the sun is shining and there are blue skies overhead, most people find it relatively easy to be kind, generous and patient. But when “normal”, either individually or collectively, is disrupted our ability to think, much less act, at our best is tested and challenged. And when we are placed under unexpected stress, how we respond can be either incredibly beautiful or ugly beyond words.

In the preceding 10 weeks we have experienced 2 “hundred year” storms that have impacted not only the daily routines but the lives of those in the path of these weather events. And while some of us have been affected to a greater extent than others, collectively these circumstances have touched each and every one of us as members of not only our community but as members of greater society. In the aftermath these two “anomalies” I’ve encountered both generosity and selfishness. On the one hand, the vast majority of people have responded wonderfully; I’ve witnessed concern and caring expressed in a multitude of ways, from people help each other clean up to opening up their homes and businesses to friends and strangers alike. On the other hand I’ve heard accounts of people bullying utility crews in an attempt to speed up the restoration of their own service as well as stories of people harassing elected officials because of what they perceived as an inadequate response to their own needs.

How we respond to the routine or extreme stresses that each of us encounter should not be left to happenstance; our responses should be purposeful. Our equanimity can be cultivated. To that end, our forefather Rabbi Hillel posed 3 core questions that remain as relevant today to all people, regardless of their faith, as they did to our ancestors 2000 years ago:

  • If I am not for myself then who will be for me?
  • If I am only for myself then who am I?
  • If not now, when?

Taken independently, each question poses an intriguing consideration. But it is when the 3 questions are considered together and applied without exception, without caveats and non-selectively that they present a path to peace and prosperity through mutuality, commonality and accountability.

Certainly some would argue that in 2011 it is impossible to do this at all, much less all the time, life is too complicated, issues are too diverse and we are, after all, only human. But that is precisely the point; being human and living in a world with 7 billion other humans is very hard, crowded and highly competitive. We can leave it at that and let fear and anxiety dictate our actions or we can choose the other path, the path that transforms each and every moment of each and every day of our lives into a test, a challenge and an opportunity to be better than we are at this moment. And if we truly desire a life defined by peace and prosperity then it is the purposefulness of our own actions that offer us the only chance of our actually achieving it.

With the greatest respect.

Ten Years Gone: what was found and then discarded

Posted: September 12th, 2011 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Ten years have gone and even with the passing of time, September 11 remains the one day each year that I actively dread. The slaughter of thousands by the hearts and hands of those who purport to serve the Source of all creation is in itself traumatic and obscene on many levels. But what we as a nation gained and then seemingly squandered may in fact be the greater and more enduring tragedy; for that one brief moment our inherent nobility was realized as we willingly cast all our differences and individual needs aside and our primary concern became the well being of all Americans, rich or poor, friend or stranger, pink skinned through every shade of brown. That spontaneous eruption of humanity elevated all humans and endowed profound meaning to the day’s senseless deaths.

In retrospect, the bigger loss may be the one that we have perpetrated on ourselves; as a nation, evidenced by what passes for political discourse, we are meaner spirited, smaller minded and far more selfish than I have ever seen. Our memorial to the loss of life on that crystal clear blue skied morning is unquestionably both majestic and beautiful but if that is the sole legacy of 9-11 then we are just a generation away from turning 9-11 into an empty slogan.

We must never forget the bravery and dignity of the first responders, their ultimate sacrifice as well as the lives of our family and friends. But more importantly, we must never forget how we responded. How we all elevated ourselves through caring and compassion. How without hesitation, we collectively embraced cooperation, empathy and selflessness. And when we reclaim that spirit, those qualities that define the best of humanity, September 11 will come to symbolize the day that we changed ourselves.

Greatest hits (or misses)

Posted: May 14th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »
7 train entering Vernon Boulevard / Jackson Av...
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When I started this blog in February of last year, I had no expectation that people would actually read it. At the very least it would provide a mechanism for me to record my thoughts, musings and opinions. Now 600+ people from over 70 countries read this blog. Frankly that blows me away. As there are both a lot of new readers, I decided to high-lite 5 of the more popular earlier posts that newer readers may have missed.

Once again, thank you to those that read this. Please feel free to comment, email me and recommend Consensual Delusion to your friends, colleagues, and family.

This entry on how my 1st son’s birth changed my perspective was picked up by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Tina Kelly and the New York Times “Local” blog last year.

This post, “Die Once”, is about my dad wrestling with his mortality.

After reading “Crisis and Opportunity”, a friend from high school asked me “when did you become so smart?” I’ll take the back-handed compliment.

I am actually grouping these 2 posts together as they both illustrate the very fuzzy boundaries that define science and mysticism. Both posts attempt to show the reader that we believe we know much more than we actually know. And that is both supremely arrogant and very dangerous; “master planned obsolescence” and  “Is your reality, really reality?”

Lastly, in my opinion, this may be one of my most useful posts from a day to day living perspective. If my kids take anything away from this blog, hopefully it will be this message, “Don’t count on 2nd chances.”

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Many Laws. Only One Simple Rule.

Posted: March 12th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

There is one simple rule that would make our lives would be so much brighter, so much richer and so much more meaningful, if we simply just lived it. In any language, in any faith, it reminds us of how truly wonderful we humans can be when our individual thoughts and actions are aligned in commonality of purpose, to the benefit of all.

One simple rule expressed in a multitude of ways. One simple rule that is both universally relevant yet as ancient as humanity itself. One simple rule that unites us in our past, guides us in our present and points us to our shared destiny.  Just one simple rule.

“Son, that which seems evil unto thee do not do to thy companion”

-Babylonian legend of Ahitar

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

-Confucius, The Analects

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; That is the whole Torah. while the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”

-Hillel, the Talmud -Shabbat 31a, the “Great Principle”

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

-Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 7:12

“Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you”

-The Prophet Muhammad, the Farewell Sermon

“One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.”

-BrihaspatiThe  Mahabharata

If your neighbor’s jackal escapes into your garden, you should return the animal to its owner; that is how you would want your neighbor to treat you.”

-African proverb

Advice from long ago on a day of remembrance.

Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Many years before September 11, 2001, I was given the most wonderful advice by the most unlikely source. It was simple and to the point: “Do not worry about the evil, just concentrate on doing the good.”  That moment was transformational and still lives with me today.

So when you remember the events of 8 years ago, please take an additional moment and acknowledge all those that have been touched by violence. No matter how large or how small the acts, whether perpetrated en masse or individually and those that are documented but especially those that have been forgotten, please extend empathy.

Despite the current state of the planet, despite our collective history, I know that our legacy is not cruelty, callousness and brutality. It is concern, compassion and forgiveness. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. Vengeance begets vengeance. And love begets love. “Do not worry about the evil, just concentrate on doing the good.”

Are we worth remembering.

Posted: August 19th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

How is a society ultimately judged by history? One criteria is by the art left behind and how its most helpless, most insignificant members were treated. Think about the massive monuments created by the Egyptians and the stories of oppressive slavery. Or consider the Romans with their great architectural and engineering triumphs created in parallel with the persecution of Christians, Jews and other “barbarian” slaves.

How will we be remembered? As I write today, I am less concerned about our art and literature, however I am deeply concerned about how we so casually, rationally and systematically marginalize or even worse, ignore the weakest among us.

In 2009 America, the richest, most powerful, most free nation in the history of history, how many kids, no how many people go to bed hungry? How many people go to bed afraid of violence perpetrated inside the family and how many go to bed scared of the violence from without? How many live with not just the fear of getting sick but with the fear of not being able to get help?

Will we be remembered as a society that could have been more? That could been better but chose to turn a blind eye to mercy, empathy and caring for our own? A society that allowed the larger broader concepts of real justice and righteousness to be  institutionally obfuscated until the issues could be lacquered over or just swept away with the election cycle rhetoric?

It is usually really hard to look inward and be honest. It is often painful and upsetting. And the thought of it may be foreign and scary. But looking inward with an unbiased eye is essential to grow and become better.  To become something worth remembering. To create a society in which it is truly worth living.

Happy Birthday #1. How your birth changed my perceptions forever.

Posted: August 17th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Today is #1’s birthday, so most importantly, Happy Birthday #1 -I love you very much and hope that you have a wonderful day!

Prior to his birth, being a parent was never real to me. Even though I watched my wife grow larger, saw the ultra-sounds, was with her when she went into premature labor and then sentenced to bed rest for 8 weeks, actually having a baby was more surrealistic than realistic. The entire concept was an abstraction, the scheduled Cesarean was a date marked on the calendar, a day when I would not go to work. A day with other events scheduled before and after. I was completely naive, selfish and simply unprepared for the remarkable ramifications that would unfold.

A little back story for those who don’t know me: growing up I could be characterized as difficult. I probably got into more trouble than the average kid. I could be mean, insensitive, aggressive and generally difficult. I gave my parents, my JHS teachers and peers a tough time. I was a bit more subdued while attending a private HS but some of the more wild traits re-emerged in college and beyond. By the time I met my wife and got married in late 80’s I was more “mature” but certainly still aggressive and prone to rage, especially when frustrated. My view of the world and overall philosophy could be characterized as zero sum or all or nothing. Your gain was my loss and my gain, well I didn’t really care about the ramifications of my gain. If you were not with me you were the enemy.

Back to August 17, 1994. While my wife was in the OR, I was outside, trying to get my scrubs on when the anesthesiologist burst out and rushed me inside. I saw my wife on the table and her insides were literally on a tray as the Ob/Gyn was extracting my son. He looked perfect, like a movie prop  (as all Cesarean babies are -they don’t get squeezed during delivery). My wife was fine and she held him. I was pretty scared to hold him, frankly more scared than each of the times when I was shot at, but I did it anyway. And I think that is when it hit me. That was when my life began to turn, when my anger, fear and aggression began to dissolve.

When I held my son I had an epiphany; I realized that everyone on this earth is some-one’s child. And that someone hopefully loves them as much as I loved this little boy. And further, they may even be some-one’s mother or father, they may be a person who loves their kids and is loved by their kids.

My perception was changed. I was changed. I was made more human by understanding our commonality. Black, White, Asian. Christian, Jew, Muslim. Male or female. It doesn’t matter, we were all born and we were all someone’s child. With that understanding, how can we not love and feel compassionate to each other?

Thank you #1, you and your brother have changed my life forever for the better. I do and will always love you both. I am forever grateful that you guys came into my life.

It is what it is.

Posted: June 8th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Have you ever been so wrapped up in how you think the world “sees” someone close to you that you were embarrassed by them? Hold that feeling and take the emphasis off of you. Now shift the emphasis on them. How do you think they felt or would have felt, had they perceived that you were embarrassed? Would they be hurt? Would they feel betrayed. Now you really have something to be embarrassed about.

To frustrate or be frustrated?

Posted: May 5th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Have you ever considered that when you find someone frustrating, they may be frustrated with you? Perhaps its root cause is a failure to articulate. Or possibly, a failure to understand. More than likely, it may just be a failure of actually listening, considering and extending empathy. As a culture, we place great value on our individuality and invest a lot of energy in being distinct, to the point that we may even delude ourselves. But in actuality, we are all more alike, both in form and function, than we are usually comfortable in admitting.

So the next time you feel frustration begin to build inside you, try asking yourself why you are frustrated. Is it an issue of articulation or comprehension? Or is it a polarization of thought, brought on by a lack of empathy. The truly honest and considered answer may surprise you.

thoughts and actions

Posted: March 17th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Some believe that right action advances us to right thought. Others hold that the opposite is true; right thought brings about right action. In either case, the desired end result is achieving a state of both right thought and right action. Or to live a life, where one is more compassionate, more empathetic and more outwardly focused. And perhaps a life, where one is not so invested in an opinion such as the right way or the wrong way to actually live consciously, compassionately and with empathy.