Assumptions, Stereotypes and the Death of a President

So, having somewhat recovered from some nasty surgery inside my face, I was all set to write something loving and sweet about Chanukah; or something like that. But today changed all that.

What I read on facebook today in many instances were  posts or responses that were knee jerk awful.  That George H.W. Bush was a racist, elitist bad white man whose time was done and that his eulogizers were playing to the public, or the cameras. I was stunned by these comments. And I think they do a disservice to the commenters even more than they do the commented on.

I am an unashamed liberal, and I did not agree with much that President Bush believed in although I have to acknowledge he accomplished much good in bipartisan fashion. That being said, here goes. I listened to almost all of the service today and listened intently to those very eulogies. What I heard was the heartfelt admiration, love and grief that those who were speaking had for the late president. And I am old enough to know the truth when I hear it. Those breaking down were not acting, that is clear. And more, what I heard were people listing the same qualities over and over again, and telling stories that were exemplary of those qualities. They weren’t just blowing smoke, they meant everything they said.

And what they said was that George H.W. Bush was a man of great decency and humility who saw everyone from the janitor to the king and took time for them all. What they said was that he was a man of humor and a man who took the time to write personal notes to many with whom he had great differences. Now this is all aside from politics, this is about the man and how he left the office a place we could respect despite our differences. My impression of this president was never of someone whose “patrician” upbringing and status was an obvious characteristic, it was never of someone that placed his personal fortunes above what he perceived were the needs of the country. Maybe I was wrong, but I don’t think so.

It is true that one “side” loses every election. And it is true that we will always have differences of opinion. What was true and seems less so now is that many of our public servants really do put the interests of the many, of the country, above their own. In the currrent climate that seems an old fashioned and naive notion, but I believe. What matters is that everyone understands that win or lose your voice, your vote, counts. My son asked me when he was young why we recycled when everyone didn’t. I can only answer that if each of us did our part, many of our problems would be solved; but it always counts.

It is a terrible thing to think that civility, dignity, humility and humanity are outdated. What matters is how you treat people. What matters is respecting other’s views without ire or anger. What matters is that white, black, rich or poor at some point you know that the interests of the future, of the many, matter more than anything in the now. What matters is heart. And despite disagreeing with many of his political positions, I think George H.W. Bush had heart, in spades. And that I respect.

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Noah ~ where’s that ark when we really need it

This is one of those Torah portions that has so much in it that it is hard to know where to start, where to go, where to end.  It begins with that famous ark, goes through the genealogy of Noah all the way to Abraham, G-d makes promises, gives blessings, Noah falls off the wagon and the people are divided in language and the Tower of Babel is begun.  Yikes.

We seem to be living in an era of Babel/babble. Everyone is talking, everyone’s ego is at stake, we speak to each other in 140 characters, and nobody is really listening.  It is as if we are once again divided by language although now we are divided by a rigidity of ideas that is manifest in our inability to listen to or hear one another.

There are sublime moments in this portion, the first is G-Day’s promise never to disrupt the earth in the same way or to the same extent again; and the covenant is renewed with a rainbow. And G-d blesses Noah and his ancestors, as well as his sons (at least one).  In this there is hope for us I think.

But even as The portion has these blessings, we come back to drunk Noah and the Tower of Babel.   We are painfully reminded of our human shortcomings, we are blessed even as we fail.  We have that pesky free will and with that we are imperfect.  The nature of free will is that we will, from time to time, fail.  And with failure comes consequences.  As always, I do not believe in godly “tests” and so I think the gift of free will comes with the lesson of humility for our mortality.

In this time of great divisions, careless rigidity and thoughtless prejudices, the consequence of our “babble” is our failure to overcome our inability to listen.  The consequence of our failure to communicate is where we are, in a world that has forgotten to work for love and for shalom, for peace, and knows only the individual self.

Noach teaches us that we are, or should be, each other’s keepers.  Just listen. Put down your phones.  Shalom.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #25 ~ Live With Humility

You are entitled to nothing.  If you remember this, despite the face that it may seem radical in today’s world, it will be much easier to appreciate what you have.  As a parent I certainly want my child to have everything he wants, needs or wishes for.  As a human I know that it is likely that life will most likely not go just that way.

To live with humility is to live with gratitude.  To live with humility is to do service without expectation of reward.  To live with humility is to experience the joy of what you can do for others without worrying about what they can do for you.  To live with humility is to listen more than you talk.  To live with humility is to put the needs of others before your own; to delay gratification. Pleasures delayed are often that much more pleasurable.

To live with humility is to be underestimated.  This sounds bad, like something to be avoided but, in reality, it is something to be treasured.  When you are arrogant and full of yourself, you rarely end up living up to the expectations of others. The good news is that when you live with humility you often exceed the expectations of others, often surprising them to your advantage.

Remember that you are just a small part of a bigger plan, a bigger world, bigger events. There is freedom in humility; if you are not in charge, not the center of everything, your are free to just be in your life and relinquish control of everything you truly can’t control. You will be surprised to find that, after all, a life of humility will bring you rewards and recognition in ways that you cannot imagine, in ways that are different than what you may have expected or hoped for. To live with humility is to be available in your own life and the lives of others wtihout your ego blocking your eyes, your ears and your heart.

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Things Effie Wants You To Know #1 ~ Give Yourself A Break

Having empathy for others is a great thing; and you have it in abundance. Your heart is always hurting for someone else that has been hurt. Sympathy for other is also a good thing but not as good as empathy; feeling sorry for others is not as important as feeling for them.

Having sympathy or empathy for yourself is even better. And self-pity, self-indulgence and patting yourself on the back don’t count. What matters is that you not be too hard on yourself when you make a mistake, have sympathy for yourself; everyone makes mistakes. Have empathy for yourself when you are having misgivings, doubts or fears. It is important to be kind to yourself even when you are disappointed in what you have done or accomplished; when you feel you have failed.

If you do your best, then you have done your best. And if you have, give yourself a break because that is all anyone can ask of you, including you.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #14 ~ Learn From Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. You are a bit of a perfectionist; from the time you were very little you never wanted to do anything until or unless you could do it very well (dare I say perfectly). But everyone makes mistakes. I read an interesting article that talked about how we use mistakes ~ if we tell our children “oh never mind its ok” they won’t learn anything, if we chastise or humiliate our children, they won’t learn anything. The idea is that you should learn from a mistake.

So when you make a mistake, the response should be yes that was a mistake. An appropriate action might be an apology, if you hurt someone. Or you might correct a result, if you are at work. But first, take responsibility for your mistakes. They are yours and you are human, everybody makes mistakes.

Most important, learn from your mistakes. Just like reviewing the wrong answers on an exam in order to learn why they were wrong, the point is to do it right the next time around. Simply put, if you do what you’ve always done, you will get the result you’ve always gotten. The good news is a mistake will point your feet back to the path, or onto a new one, if you have the humility to recognize the mistake, acknowledge the mistake and find a way to do things differently.

So, this goes along with taking a little risk in life. If its okay to make mistakes, then it is okay to try new things. You won’t do them perfectly because, as you know, everything takes practice and committment. You may not even do them well at first, but that’s okay too. You weren’t born knowing how to read and walk, you had learn and you certainly weren’t good at them at first; but you really wanted to do them so you worked at it pretty hard. As we get older, our pride prevents us from trying for fear of the mistake. But just as Native American artisans weave an error into their work so as not to offend God with perfection; we know we are human by our mistakes.

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