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.


Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »
Figure 15 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...
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We live in a time that is dominated by fear.  A fear that is different and more pervasive than any living generation in our country has ever encountered. A fear that is characterized  by incongruence. Being both real and imagined, stemming from both emotion and intellect as well as being identifiable and unknown. It is nefarious, It is subtle. And it is surrounding us.

The systems and institutions that have formed the bedrock of our society appear to be collapsing all around us even as these same entities make every effort to keep themselves intact. In cities and towns across our nation, individuals that have followed the rules, lived their lives in moderation, paid attention during school, diligently showed up every day at work, missed some family events for the job, paid ever increasing taxes and participated in the political process by voting feel betrayed, used and discounted by the very political, corporate and economic systems that they have been taught to trust their entire lives.  And the fear spreads like a wildfire as these hard working men and women stand witness to the ineffectiveness of self-serving misguided policies such as  ”too big to fail“, even as the daily existence they have known, the future that they have been promised appears to be crumbling right in front of them.

This is what happens when you worship false gods. When you do things for the wrong reasons. When you give in to the ends justifying the means. When you stand idly by and accept something that you know in your heart to be not just untrue, but simply wrong.

Life, your life is not a series of endpoints, it is an ongoing process. It flows, without beginning and without an end. It is an evolving dynamic experience that provides one with the opportunity to engage a continuum of emotions. And despite what we are taught, despite what innuendos are propagated in popular culture and our modern day mythology, no one stands alone. We are all connected and collectively responsible. Life is not about amassing power and hording wealth but about loving others and the joy of sharing. Life is not about holding on and maintaining the status the quo but about letting go and seeking something more wonderful through a journey into the unknown. Fear breeds greater fear. Love inspires greater love.

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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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war: what is it good for? absolutely nothing.

Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Are we as a nation becoming desensitized to war? Desensitized to the physical and emotional damage, both immediate and delayed, that is  being sustained by our children, siblings and parents? Desensitized to what we are asking these men and women to do? To what we are asking them to endure day after day, month after month and year after year? Desensitized to the consequences of our actions as a nation as well as the consequences of our individual actions or inaction with regard to the events which are unfolding around us?

When will war become obsolete? When the thought of waging war becomes too horrendous to for nations, NGOs and individuals to contemplate. When the true effects of war are universally recognized and understood, both intellectually and emotionally. When we collectively and individually decide to look across the table, across the street, across town, across our country and across our borders and see people as people. As sons and daughters. As mothers and fathers. As husbands and wives. As people that love and are loved. As people without added labels, descriptions, qualifiers or other words tacked on that are designed to separate them from ourselves.

Unachievable? Utopian nonsense? Impossible? Perhaps today but who knows about tomorrow or the day after that. Someone has to be the first one. Perhaps that someone will be you?

I have a problem with God.

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I have a problem with God. Or more precisely, I have a problem with the word God. I believe it is a product of convenience: a word created by humans to describe the indescribable. An artificial semantic construct that subtly shifts the inconceivable into the realm of the near tangible. It is a word that allows us to apply convention to something that is not just far beyond our physical capability for understanding but something that is seemingly beyond our abilities of abstraction and imagination.

By assigning a linguistic, etymological or symbolic value to that which can not be described, we simultaneously limit its scope and define it in our own terms, dragging it into the world of matter and energy in which we reside. And I believe that is both supremely arrogant and more importantly, a disservice to ourselves as it inhibits our ability to connect with something that is paradoxical and life altering.

As previously mentioned, the universe that we all know, the universe in which we exist, the universe described by Newton, Einstein, Bohr and Hawking comprises less than 4% of what astrophysicists can currently measure. Physically, we have no choice but take up space and conform to the limitations of this tangible universe. However we are not just physical. Thoughts are not physical. Insights are not physical and love is certainly not physical. We just choose to define and relate to them exclusively in physical terms. And by doing that, we limit ourselves from truly being who we are and experiencing that which can not be described.

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.

die once.

Posted: April 15th, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Last summer, out of the blue,  my dad asked me to go coffin shopping with him. This seemed a little strange so I asked him why. He said that he wanted to make sure that he looked good in his coffin. I asked him if he was planning to try them out and if so, did he want me to take pictures. We never went to the funeral home but we did go to lunch.

A few weeks ago he experienced a health scare. He had a 2nd urinary tract infection in a 3 month period. He saw his Urologist and underwent various tests. He was convinced that he had bladder cancer and that it was quickly spreading. He was upset. He is a type A person who was losing control and he really believed that his was living his last days.

Before the test results came back, I called him up and asked how he was. He told me that he was fine but that he knew he had cancer and that he was going to die. I told him that he was right, he was going to die. It might be today, tomorrow or it might be 30 years from now. He may very well have cancer or he might get hit by a bus. I didn’t know why, when or how, but I assured him that he was right, he was going to die. My dad didn’t say anything. After a momentary pause I told him that my advice is to not focus on a possible hypothetical outcome but rather to live life now and just die once.

The tests came back a few days later and it was found to be a simple urinary infection; the most likely cause was that the original infection was not completely resolved. He apparently does not have cancer but he does have a happy and grateful family that enjoys his company, quirks and all. We love you dad. Live your life and die once!

Don't count on 2nd chances

Posted: March 2nd, 2009 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

You never know when this time will be the last time. Truly understanding that kind of permanence is very powerful and can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of those you encounter.

Simply treat each moment of each interaction as if it may be the last. You will become more cognizant and respectful of your time as well as the time of others. You will make sure that you take every opportunity to tell friends and loved ones how much you care. Your obligations will become conscious acts of kindness and respect. Insignificant confrontations will dwindle away. Grudges will vanish. Hatreds will fall aside. You will find yourself truly appreciating both your time alone and the time spent with others. Each and every moment will be a blessing. Each and every action, a willful gift to yourself and those around you.