Monthly Archives: June, 2010

Time for Literacy Tests

June 29th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

An air of confusion hangs over Alvin Greene’s victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary. The candidate for the U.S. Senate seemingly came out of nowhere to receive 59% of the vote. Allegations of dirty tricks have been made, but so far none have been substantiated.

 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many did indeed vote for him based on criteria which surely would make our founding fathers cringe. Some of those interviewed admitted that they knew nothing of Mr. Greene, his opponent or how either man stands on issues. It was enough that his name was first on the ballot and appealed to them. 

 

Truthfully, the farce presented by this election may be more blatant than in others, but the core problem is in no way unique to this particular race or state. Over the past decades Americans have been urged to vote for all sorts of individuals based on their gender, race or well-known family name. Even in Supreme Court nominations, all sorts of demographic issues trump ability.  I venture that even the majority of those who consider themselves well-informed base their knowledge on television commercials and marketing material rather than actually analyzing a candidate’s past actions and words.

 

Literacy tests received a bad name and were outlawed in this country because they were too often used as a means to achieve a racist or anti-immigrant result. But is there anything truly wrong with asking those who vote to reveal some knowledge of the vote they are casting? Jay Leno gets a lot of laughs with “man on the street” interviews that show how appallingly ignorant people are. During the last presidential election he showed clips of people explaining why Sarah Palin was a good running mate for Barack Obama, being unable to identify a picture or name of any of the Supreme Court Justices and having no idea whether Iran was part of the United States or not. (Full disclosure: I don’t actually remember the specific clips I saw, but my examples are perfectly plausible).

 

But considering how abhorrent the idea of an election literacy or knowledge test would be to most Americans, perhaps we could start by implementing what I think would be a less controversial idea. Other than those it targets, could anyone be opposed to having our legislators take a basic exam on any legislation for which they are casting a vote? It would be perfectly reasonable to say that a failing grade should mean not being allowed to vote – and no grading on the curve. For one thing, legislation running thousands of pages would cease to be offered if you just might get a question on an obscure paragraph from page 1,316. Secondly, we might have a clue that a law is poorly written if half the legislators answer one way and half the other way on questions such as: “According to this piece of legislation XYZ will be illegal. Circle Yes or No.” 

 

This idea could be expanded to require all candidates for public office to take a basic economics exam. And I think the public would very much enjoy if the first session of Congress each term featured a televised quiz show starring our representatives answering questions pertinent to our Constitution and history.

 

Alvin Greene’s nomination disturbs South Carolina Democrats. But their pain could be the nation’s gain if it highlights how increasingly ignorant the American electorate is and spurs us to reclaim voting as a privilege rather than a right.

 

 

 

All the Way to the Top

June 29th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 Women excel in many activities previously dominated by men.  Women are found in mathematics, physics, symphony orchestras, soccer, and yes, even NASCAR race cars. 

However, one area that appears to be conspicuously short of female talent is the field of stage magicians and illusionists.  While women predominate as magician assistants, it is hard to find women making tigers vanish or causing coins to pass through glass panes.

I have arrived at two explanations.  One, generally women relate better to reality than men.  Fraud is perpetrated more by men than by women.  Perhaps women don’t feel they can convincingly persuade someone of something that they themselves recognize as unreal.  This is partially why, once they overcome the unpleasantness of rejection, women do well in sales.

Therefore, getting up in front of an audience to perpetrate what is essentially a fraud, though for entertainment purposes, just doesn’t suit the nature of most women.  It would be like Einstein fooling around with model rockets. 

I was led to this explanation by my basic framework of reality.  It tells me that men and women are fundamentally different.  It guides me to reject unisex clothing, unisex bathrooms, and unisex sex.

In ancient Jewish wisdom, one word for a basic framework of reality is an OHEL, commonly translated as tent.

It seems a ghoulish and macabre ritual when Isaac brings his young bride into the tent of Sarah, his long-dead mother. 

And Isaac brought her (Rebecca) to the tent of Sarah his mother,
 and he took Rebecca as his wife and he loved her…

(Genesis 24:67)

Before marrying Rebecca, did Isaac really have to terrify this young girl by bringing her into a dark, gloomy, cobweb-strewn shrine to a dead lady?

Nothing of the sort. Isaac introduced his new bride to his late mother’s basic framework of reality.  He wanted her to understand the worldview he wanted in his own home and only when she absorbed that, did marry her.

Many mistakenly assume that in the Bible, tents are merely the primitive precursors to houses.  This is not so.  There are many references to houses previous to this chapter and many later references to tents.  One of ancient Jewish wisdom’s keys to understanding Scripture is recognizing that when HOUSE is used, we are talking about a fortress-like structure which nurtures people and ideas. TENT refers more to a particular worldview, a blueprint for how you relate to life. Possessing such a worldview is a prerequisite for growth and progress.
 
The Hebrew word for tent, OHEL, reveals this meaning.

  

It is made up of the 2-letter word EL,

   

meaning “toward,” with the letter “Hay” in the middle.  In Hebrew, words that comprise the EL word with another letter in the middle are usually words which lead towards something. The letter “Hay”” is one letter of God’s name and has a spiritual aura. Any successful journey “toward” a worthy goal needs to take God into account.

An OHEL or a tent represents a specific worldview with God in the center that radiates out to all aspects of life.  Such a basic framework of reality provides the vision and confidence necessary for the brave and bold steps that so often bring reward.

This Torah-based framework of reality has never let me down. I have failed only when I have abandoned it.  For me, ancient Jewish wisdom transforms stories and tales into tips and tools; it converts rules into life strategies.

Oh, and my second explanation for why so few female magicians?  Perhaps because men have larger hands making it easier to conceal cards and coins which is the starting point of sleight-of-hand.

The Child Equation

June 22nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

Reading an article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Case for More Kids,” gave me the impression its real headline should have been, “Having Kids Isn’t as Bad as You Might Think, but It’s Still Pretty Bad.” A sunny, optimistic view of family it was not.

Maybe I am overly sensitive but phrases such as, “every additional child makes parents just 1.3 percentage point less likely to be ‘very happy’,” and “child No. 1 does almost all the damage” didn’t leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

The piece would leave most readers wondering why in the world anyone has any children.  It did not have this effect on me.  My children have brought immeasurable joy to my life (despite occasional periods where I need to remind myself of the long term picture).   I was further inoculated from the article’s baleful proposition because I had spent the previous Sunday with parents who delight in their families.

That day, my husband and I both had the privilege of speaking at the second annual National Orthodox Jewish Homeschooling Conference in Baltimore, MD. This event brought together mothers and fathers from around the country who are a part of a growing group of religious Jewish homeschooling families.   My husband spoke about stepping outside convention by removing our daughter from the school we had ourselves founded.   For my part, I tried to give newer homeschoolers reassurance that down the road their children would be well-balanced and happy members of the larger community.

But we received more from the conference than we gave. Firstly, I delighted in meeting women whom I have known as members of an online support group, but never before had the opportunity to greet face to face.  Getting to know them was such fun.  Over the years, we have shared questions, suggestions, difficulties and triumphs and it was a thrill to actually talk in person. 

But more importantly, the day was an opportunity to be surrounded by folks who are passionate about parenting.  While this passion for parenting isn’t exclusive to homeschoolers, it is overwhelmingly present in the homeschooling community.  Rather than adding up the financial cost of having children as the author of Saturday’s newspaper article did, these parents count the blessings. Rather than seeing children as an emotional drain, these parents view their kids as a source of emotional pleasure. Most importantly, rather than asking, “What’s in it for me,” these parents see children as a gift from God to be treasured. 

There was a great deal of practical homeschooling advice offered over the course of the conference, which is no longer relevant to my daily life.  Nevertheless, the day provided an injection of fun and optimism along with a reminder that there are still young parents who view having children through a bright lens rather than with a jaundiced eye.

 

The Worst of Times

June 16th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

Three Jewish lads somehow survived the death camps that claimed all their family members.  They had spent a large part of their young lives witnessing unimaginable horrors and enduring nightmarish tortures. 

 

Soon after gazing at the Statue of Liberty their lives began to change.  William Konar opened a little drug store that grew into the giant CVS chain.  Nathan Shapell began building small homes for returning World War II veterans, eventually heading Shapell Industries.  Fred Kort sold bubble makers and baby bouncers and emerged as one of America’s biggest toy tycoons. 

 

Events far less momentous than the Holocaust can fill us with gloom.  Life’s challenges can easily overwhelm us with despondency that flows from a sense that the pain will never end.

 

Some business professionals facing the bleakness of bankruptcy sink into despair. Others rebound, succeeding spectacularly in subsequent years.

 

Every young mother has “those days”.  While trying to cater to the boundless appetite of her newborn, her toddler is preparing for a career as a trapeze artist. Meanwhile, mom is lonely and exhausted, and a shower is just a long-ago memory.  On days like this she can’t remember what good times feel like and suspects they’ll never return.

 

One week later, mom is singing while baking a birthday cake.  Her husband is home from that long business trip, her children are behaving angelically and the sun is shining in her life.

 

Whether you are a weary mother, a survivor of one of the world’s cataclysms, a patient facing a frightening medical condition, or perhaps the head of an international oil company dealing with an unparalleled disaster, it is easy to fall into a dangerous mental state believing that good times will never return. It is dangerous because the dark sense of hopelessness that pervades your soul makes it hard, sometimes impossible, to collaborate in your own deliverance.

 

If you haven’t already done so, make a commitment to read the Bible’s Book of Judges.  Steal some time away from television, allow yourself fifteen minutes for extra bedtime reading, or get up fifteen minutes earlier each morning for a quarter-hour with the Book of Judges.

 

You will make fascinating discoveries that will impact your life.  For instance, the book seems to be a veritable catalog of calamities.  It takes you on a tragic tour through Jewish history from defeat to disaster and from catastrophe to communal collapse, with brave judges like Deborah and Samson stepping in to save their people.

 

Does the Book of Judges really describe a period of non-stop problems?  Hardly.  In fact, the book spans over 350 years many of which were peaceful and productive.  In both chapters 17 and 21 we read:

 

“…there was no king in Israel;

each man will do that which was right in his eyes.”

 

Ancient Jewish wisdom views this comment as words of praise. Although there was no strong central authority, people nonetheless carefully thought through their actions and tried to conduct themselves with propriety and honor.  And there were numerous peaceful stretches of time. Yet reading Judges, one could easily be misled into thinking that only terrible times afflicted Israel.

 

We grow most and learn best from tough times.  Since Judges is intended to bear a moral message for mankind, it focuses on the challenges.  We wouldn’t learn much from a book, each of whose chapters opens with something like this: “It was another glorious day in ancient Israel with everyone behaving well and God smiling upon His people.”

 

While enduring tough times, keep your spirits up by reminding yourself that God discourages us from surrendering to depression and hopelessness.  Recognize that He is in control and keep an image alive of another world and time where things go well.

 

There are horrible times when we cannot extricate ourselves from terrible circumstances; we can only try to control our attitude. Other times, however, we have the ability to change our condition. It is for those times that I recorded my audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. We all face struggles, whether in our personal or business lives, and this CD supplies tools for meeting the challenge head-on so that you can indeed say, “It was another glorious day.”

 

 

 

 

Outrage!

June 16th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

 

.

 

“…it seems everybody is eager to pounce on my story now that something bad has happened.”

 

We spent a fair amount of time in the car last week, which included listening to more radio news than usual. At the time, newscasters were fixated on Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old sailor quoted above. She had encountered a violent but not uncommon Indian Ocean storm. Her sloop had been dismasted and her emergency beacons had been activated, but it was still unclear exactly what else had happened.

 

As I listened to the broadcasters purporting to be concerned for her safety, they sounded to me more like lions in a Roman arena, lusting for blood. I had the distinct impression that they would be disappointed if she was unharmed.  They seemed enraged by her parents’ confidence (based on actual knowledge of sailing, emergency equipment and Abby’s capabilities) that she was weather beaten but okay. In ominous tones the broadcasters announced that “experts” were raising questions about Abby’s parents’ culpability for encouraging and allowing their young daughter to set out.

 

I don’t know Abby or her family, but I do know something about sailing, about 16 year olds, about having a dream and pursuing it. I do wonder how many of those attacking the Sunderlands are being inconsistent and possibly hypocritical.

 

I doubt that those pundits who are appalled at Abby’s voyage are equally outraged with the parents of child actors for placing their offspring in danger. Considering the sad litany of damaged former child stars, it would seem to be a reasonable query for child safety proponents. How many of these “experts” are in favor of 16 year old girls getting abortions with or without parental consent? What is it about this particular case –assuming that the outrage is real and not generated solely by the opportunity of being widely interviewed and quoted by the media – that is provoking such indignation?

 

Could it be that Abby’s adventure is so traditional? There is something wholesome about a 16 year old testing her abilities by going to sea, There is something old-fashioned about a young girl throwing her heart and soul into an adventure and then not looking to blame anyone when things go wrong. There is something traditional about a family sharing a passion for sailing and recognizing when their daughter has the necessary skills by looking at the child rather than at an age chart.

 

A few years ago, around midnight, my husband and I, armed with binoculars, crouched in bushes on the shore of a bay. We were attempting to visually ascertain whether our thirteen son and his even younger crew had securely anchored their boat on the first night of their summer sailing outing. We couldn’t see in the dark and I slept uneasily that night. But the three boys returned home after their voyage more confident, more mature and more capable of growing up healthily because we supported them as they tested themselves.

 

For that venture, our son recruited his cousin and a friend. When the friend’s father questioned whether the boys had enough expertise to head out alone, my husband quoted from a favorite childhood book of his, Swallows and Amazons.  In that British classic, four siblings seek their parents’ permission to have a sailing holiday in the English Lake District. Their father, abroad serving in the Navy, telegrams his wife these words: “Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers won’t drown.” 

 

We don’t actually agree with the first part of that sentence and we are fully aware that life has dangers that no amount of preparation or planning can eliminate. But it is has become a family motto for us nonetheless.  We take seriously the responsibility to equip our children with the tools they need to become independent and strong, whether in sailing or any other aspect of life. At a certain point, we need to cast off the lines and let them set sail. We will answer to God as to how well we have done our job, not to the “experts.”

 

 

Persuasion Power

June 8th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

  • Note: Each week a number of you contact us to say, “Where is my Thought Tool?” Since Thought Tools started in January 2008, we have never missed a week. While you can always read the latest 3 issues on our home page, you can increase the likelihood of Thought Tool arriving in your mailbox by adding thoughttools@rabbidaniellapin.com to your safe sender list as well as white listing the following:   icpbounce.com, icontact.com and app.icontact.com

Have you ever emerged from a negotiation with the sinking feeling that you were out-negotiated and gave away the store?  Perhaps you asked for a raise or requested a specific work assignment but retreated in defeat.

 

In these situations and in hundreds of other life encounters both at home and at work, knowing how to persuade others to follow the course you wish them to take is of inestimable value. 

 

Few of the strategies found in ancient Jewish wisdom are more useful than knowing how to persuade others by means of our God-given gift of speech.

 

In the Book of Genesis we encounter three important principles of persuasion.

 

(i) Talk with not at.  

(ii)    Be 100% transparent.

(iii)   Timing is everything.

 

From Genesis chapter 35 through the end of the book we see that Jacob’s first born son Reuben’s influence fades while the fourth son, Judah, rises as the brothers’ leader. How does he do it? 

 

Judah influences people by utilizing the three permanent principles of persuasion that I listed above. Watch the drama unfold:

 

In Genesis 37:20-23, ten of Joseph’s brothers deeply resent him and plan to kill him.  The oldest son, Reuben, urges them to throw him alive into a pit where he’ll die on his own. Secretly, Reuben plans on returning to retrieve him and return him safely to their father. 

 

Meanwhile, Judah speaks to the brothers suggesting that rather than throwing Joseph into a pit to die they should sell him for a few dollars. Here is the crucial phrase—“and his brothers listened to him.”  (Genesis 37:26.)

 

Thus we see the first difference between Reuben’s ineffective and Judah’s effective leadership.  Though the brothers complied with Reuben’s suggestion of placing Joseph in the pit, the text never says they listened to Reuben.  They followed his suggestion because he was the oldest brother, not because he had persuaded them.  However, when Judah made his suggestion, they accepted his way of thinking.

 

Judah’s suggestion was a terrible one and one for which he and the brothers pay dearly. However, our focus is on what techniques he used that Reuben did not. Judah had what I call Persuasion Powerä.

 

(i)Judah engaged his brothers by including himself among them, “What profit is there in US killing OUR brother?”  Reuben addressed the brothers as a group separate from himself saying “YOU should not kill him…” (Genesis 37:22)

 

(ii) Reuben tried fooling his brothers by suggesting that they achieve their goal of executing Joseph by throwing him into a pit while secretly intending to save Joseph.  This contrasts with the second principle of Persuasion Powerä  — total transparency.  Duplicity in negotiation or persuasion is usually detected.  At the very least, it creates discomfort even if the other party doesn’t know exactly why he is uneasy.  Judah, while misguided, was direct and honest.

 

(iii) Finally, in chapter 42 while trying to persuade his father, Jacob, to let Benjamin accompany the brothers back to Egypt, Reuben fails again.  This time his failure was on account of bad timing.  After losing Simon, Jacob was in no hurry to risk another son.  When Reuben impetuously suggests taking Benjamin back to Egypt, Jacob quickly rebuffs him.

 

Judah, understanding the importance of timing, waits until the famine is severe and Jacob himself suggests the brothers return to Egypt (Genesis 43:1-2)  Now Jacob is receptive to Judah’s insistence upon taking Benjamin back.

 

One of the most fascinating characters in Scripture, these chapters reveal a Judah who errs, sins, accepts responsibility for his actions and grows into a leader among his brothers. In contrast, Reuben fades into the background.

 

But all along, Judah teaches us methods of effective verbal persuasion that we can all use in our lives. Identifying with those to whom we speak, having no hidden agendas, and being sensitive to timing are ways to successfully win others over to our way of thinking. May we all be blessed to use such power wisely and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Home in a ‘Gossip Girl’ World

June 8th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

 

Have you ever seen the TV show, Gossip Girl? Well, I haven’t, which means that I went out on a limb a bit by mentioning it in the title of a presentation I am giving in a few weeks, “Building a Little House on the Prairie Home in a Gossip Girl World.” I thought it was a safe bet that the two shows present contrasting views of family life and fortunately my college-aged neighbor confirmed this fact.

 

I have no desire to live back in the 1800’s. Among other things, I am immeasurably fond of indoor plumbing. But I don’t accept that technological advances must go hand in hand with the loss of strong families and values. After all, the world of Ma and Pa Ingalls was technologically advanced compared to a hundred years earlier and while technology has (with a few exceptions) pretty much marched on throughout history, adherence to standards and morals seems to wax and wane.

 

Most parents in what I think of as the Gossip Girl world have little of substance to convey to their children. The idea of their passing on sage wisdom and life guidance as the Ingalls or more recently the Cleavers or even the Munsters did, is ludicrous. When you aren’t sure yourself whether being honest, self-reliant and faithful is laudable, it becomes difficult to transmit that message.

 

What if you do have strong principles and beliefs which you wish to share with your children, but the educational, entertainment, political and general society around clash with you on every point? Barring moving to the middle of the prairie with a few oxen, what can one do? That is what I hope to explore in a few weeks and I am highly interested to hear your insights and suggestions on the topic. Do use the comment box below to let me know your thoughts. Thank you.

 

 

 

A Modest Proposal

June 2nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

Modest: Observing conventional proprieties in behavior, speech and dress

 

So says my Webster dictionary. But what in the world does it mean? In today’s world exactly what are the conventional proprieties? I believe a hat is necessary if you are a lady invited to join Queen Elizabeth for a garden party at Buckingham Palace, but few of us make that list. We are more likely to spend time at the supermarket and office than at royal teas. And while we may know that going to a corporate job interview in a mini skirt and a low-cut blouse will keep us unemployed, we probably associate that fact with presenting a business-like appearance rather than an old-fashioned word like modesty.

 

In a poignant article in June’s Oprah Magazine, author Krista Bremer discusses how unsettling it was when, at the age of nine, her daughter, Aliya, chose to wear the headscarf common to Krista’s husband’s Moslem heritage. She had assumed that a bi-cultural marriage would bring interesting customs and exotic foods into her life. Never had she contemplated that her born and bred in America child would opt for going to school in Moslem attire.

 

The author only dips a toe into recognizing that associating with Islam has more far-reaching implication than choice of dress. Instead she focuses on her own teenage forays into the world of bikinis and her internal discomfort at that young age when she simultaneously enjoyed and felt disturbed by the attention that exposing her body brought her. Even while she is embarrassed by Aliya’s chosen dress she is drawn to admire the way her pre-teen is defining herself as more than just a physical body.

 

A number of years ago, a young Catholic girl in the Northwest wrote a letter to Nordstrom’s explaining that she and her friends were unable to shop in their teenage boutique because the styles were too immodest. Executives at the store responded by asking her to join their teenage fashion board and even hosting a “modest clothing” show. In my own community, observant Jewish women and girls accept that during certain shopping seasons there will be nothing that meets the standards we prefer to follow. And a Protestant friend complained to me that while she and her husband attempt to establish certain modesty guidelines for their daughter, it is difficult to do so when a youth leader at their church dresses in a manner that they forbid their daughter to emulate.

 

A modern world view may reject the notion of conventional proprieties and scorn ideas like female modesty as old-fashioned and patriarchal. I think the opposite is true. When a woman shows cleavage she might as well acknowledge that her chest will be the focus of men’s attention. If she wants them to concentrate on her brilliant mind, sparkling wit and developed spirit, she would do well to avoid that distraction. Nothing short of redesigning the human body will change that. We handicap our teenage girls terribly by pretending that how they dress is solely a matter of comfort and personal choice.

 

Krista Bremer’s discovery that developing one’s soul and inner being is easier when not exposing too much flesh is true. It is unfortunate that she never knew that modesty is embraced by many in the modern world; the idea is not limited or original to Islam. It was a great loss to women in our society when treating one’s body with respect and dignity ceased to be conventional propriety.

I Hear You

June 2nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

I told him a joke the other day.  Before I finished my punch line he started telling me a better one.  Another time he sought my advice but as I was contemplating my response he burst out with his own answer.  In the time we’ve known one another I don’t suppose he has really heard seven sentences I have uttered. 

The CEO of a medium-sized company consulted me about his ineffective leadership.  “I don’t mind telling you, Rabbi, the board is getting ready to fire me!”  During interviews, his associates and employees complained to me that he never listened to anything they said.

Though it afflicts far more men than women, many people suffer from this problem.  It can be interesting to listen to them but it is also exhausting.  Communication is only exhilarating when it is two-way.  Just listening is grueling and can quickly become tiresome.  More importantly never listening erodes your relationships with others and hinders any real creativity.

 I was only ten years old when my rabbi (who also happened to be my father) taught me how important it was, not only to listen, but to make sure that the other person knows you are listening.  Here is what he told me: 

All nouns in Hebrew have a gender.  In general, most female nouns end in an aH sound.  For instance, YeLeD is a boy while YaLDaH is a girl and ISH is man, while woman is ISHaH. 

Verbs and adjectives match the gender of the nouns they accompany. So a big boy is a YeLeD GaDoL but a big girl would be YaLDaH GeDoLaH.  A smart man is ISH ChaCHaM while a smart woman is an ISHaH CHaCHaMaH.

Cardinal numbers like one, two, three etc. occur in both masculine and feminine forms to match the gender of the noun they are describing.  However, in an astonishing switch from convention, it is the masculine numbers that end with the feminine AH.

 

Thus three for boys is SHeLoShaH while for three girls we’d use SHaLoSH.  So it seems that in a funny way, when it comes to numbering, we attach a masculine-sounding number to a feminine noun and a feminine sounding number to a masculine noun.

“Remember,” my father stressed to me, “Hebrew grammar is just our way of trying to find the rules behind how God wrote the Torah.  Exceptions to the rules are one method that God uses to reveal to us how the world really works.”

My rabbi explained that counting expresses growth and expansion.  We count from $1 to $45.  We count miles from here to our destination as the odometer clicks its way upward. What we may not realize is that most growth and expansion requires male and female interaction.

Obviously for our most powerful and basic form of creative multiplication, both mother and father are necessary.  However, less obviously, most creativity comes about when male and female elements combine, regardless of the biological gender of the participants. Even engineers make electrical connections with male plugs and female sockets. 

Brainstorming and problem solving works best when two people alternate speaking and listening.  Listening or receiving is a vital feminine role while powerfully projecting a proposal outwards is more masculine. In other words, two individuals, even if both are men or both women, need to repeatedly switch gender roles.  When a man and woman communicate, he must be able to receive as well as project and she must project as well as receive.  Effective negotiation, collaboration, and communication depend upon the participants alternating roles.

That is why in Hebrew, “male” numbers are written in female form and “female” numbers   are written in male form. Growth involves both elements. My father could have just told me, “Daniel, I want you to remember to learn to listen.”  But teaching me through the magic and mystery of the Lord’s language and the secret of opposite gender numbers made sure I’d remember this timeless truth.

I Hear You

June 2nd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

I told him a joke the other day.  Before I finished my punch line he started telling me a better one.  Another time he sought my advice but as I was contemplating my response he burst out with his own answer.  In the time we’ve known one another I don’t suppose he has really heard seven sentences I have uttered. 

The CEO of a medium-sized company consulted me about his ineffective leadership.  “I don’t mind telling you, Rabbi, the board is getting ready to fire me!”  During interviews, his associates and employees complained to me that he never listened to anything they said.

Though it afflicts far more men than women, many people suffer from this problem.  It can be interesting to listen to them but it is also exhausting.  Communication is only exhilarating when it is two-way.  Just listening is grueling and can quickly become tiresome.  More importantly never listening erodes your relationships with others and hinders any real creativity.

 I was only ten years old when my rabbi (who also happened to be my father) taught me how important it was, not only to listen, but to make sure that the other person knows you are listening.  Here is what he told me: 

All nouns in Hebrew have a gender.  In general, most female nouns end in an aH sound.  For instance, YeLeD is a boy while YaLDaH is a girl and ISH is man, while woman is ISHaH. 

Verbs and adjectives match the gender of the nouns they accompany. So a big boy is a YeLeD GaDoL but a big girl would be YaLDaH GeDoLaH.  A smart man is ISH ChaCHaM while a smart woman is an ISHaH CHaCHaMaH.

Cardinal numbers like one, two, three etc. occur in both masculine and feminine forms to match the gender of the noun they are describing.  However, in an astonishing switch from convention, it is the masculine numbers that end with the feminine AH.

 

Thus three for boys is SHeLoShaH while for three girls we’d use SHaLoSH.  So it seems that in a funny way, when it comes to numbering, we attach a masculine-sounding number to a feminine noun and a feminine sounding number to a masculine noun.

“Remember,” my father stressed to me, “Hebrew grammar is just our way of trying to find the rules behind how God wrote the Torah.  Exceptions to the rules are one method that God uses to reveal to us how the world really works.”

My rabbi explained that counting expresses growth and expansion.  We count from $1 to $45.  We count miles from here to our destination as the odometer clicks its way upward. What we may not realize is that most growth and expansion requires male and female interaction.

Obviously for our most powerful and basic form of creative multiplication, both mother and father are necessary.  However, less obviously, most creativity comes about when male and female elements combine, regardless of the biological gender of the participants. Even engineers make electrical connections with male plugs and female sockets. 

Brainstorming and problem solving works best when two people alternate speaking and listening.  Listening or receiving is a vital feminine role while powerfully projecting a proposal outwards is more masculine. In other words, two individuals, even if both are men or both women, need to repeatedly switch gender roles.  When a man and woman communicate, he must be able to receive as well as project and she must project as well as receive.  Effective negotiation, collaboration, and communication depend upon the participants alternating roles.

That is why in Hebrew, “male” numbers are written in female form and “female” numbers   are written in male form. Growth involves both elements. My father could have just told me, “Daniel, I want you to remember to learn to listen.”  But teaching me through the magic and mystery of the Lord’s language and the secret of opposite gender numbers made sure I’d remember this timeless truth.