Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Tune In

February 28th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

We don’t issue instruction manuals to our guests. Nonetheless, over the years we’ve welcomed many visitors whose presence was instantly comfortable for our entire family. We’ve also suffered the ordeal of guests who couldn’t depart quickly enough for us.

There was nothing intrinsically objectionable about the unwelcome guests; they just seemed clueless about our family culture. They were insensitive to the refined tone and tranquil atmosphere we try to cultivate in our home. They missed the cues of mutual respect that shapes our family. Their presence was awkward; but our wonderful guests tuned in to our family’s soul music. This made us feel comfortable which, in turn, made them feel at home.

Smart job applicants study in advance and during their first interview reveal how effectively they resonate with their future employer’s culture.

Some men, hoping to form a serious relationship have no idea of how to tune into the woman they are seeing. By contrast, their more successful brethren achieve romantic rapture with women who feel ‘understood.’

Leonardo da Vinci was so attuned to the laws of nature that he designed an airplane four hundred years before the materials necessary for building one came into existence.

Clearly, being a welcome guest, a successful suitor, a happy employee, and yes, perhaps even an accomplished inventor depend upon becoming super sensitive to your surroundings. This is what Abraham so clearly did.

God regularly notified Abraham about important impending events in his life. For instance, God told Abraham that his descendants would one day serve foreign masters (Egypt) and that they would eventually leave bearing great wealth. (Genesis 15:13-15) God offered Abraham advance information about having a son. (Genesis 18:10) After musing about keeping Abraham informed, God lets him know that Sodom is marked for destruction. (Genesis 18:17)

However, in an astonishing omission, God neglects to tell Abraham about the climax of the Exodus, the seminal moment of Hebrew history-the Revelation at Mount Sinai. It is hard to imagine that after telling Abraham about a host of impending events of lesser importance, God would fail to notify the father of the Jewish people about his plan to provide them with the Torah, a constitution that would become the basis of all civilization. God told Abraham that his descendants would go into Egypt, that they’d come out of Egypt, and that they’d inherit the land of Israel. But not a murmur of the earthshattering day on which God revealed Himself and conveyed a message to mankind through Moses?

This only makes sense if Abraham independently already sensed God’s codex of reality and couldn’t imagine anyone needing a book to figure it out. Sure enough, that is exactly what ancient Jewish wisdom teaches. To Abraham, God’s world made perfect sense. His integrated vision of both spiritual and physical harmony revealed to him how the world really worked.

Which is why Abraham responded as he did when God, who had been silent for several generations, suddenly spoke and asked him to start a journey whose destination would be disclosed in the future (Genesis 12:1). Abraham did not call out in alarm, “Hey, who’s that?” No, he immediately complied because in the bigger picture of reality to which he was super sensitive, it all made sense. Similarly when God asked him to circumcise himself (Genesis 17:11) he didn’t blurt out, “Say what? You want me to cut myself where?” It all made perfect sense. The notion that his descendants would one day need an instruction manual called Torah would have been incomprehensible.

There are folks who train their memories and those who train their powers of observation. We can also train our sensitivity to the world God created and to the people and events shaping our lives. God gave us the Torah to guide us. What better first step in gaining a deeper appreciation of reality than delving into a part of Abraham’s life which took place before God ever spoke to him? My audio CD Tower of Power, on sale online, uncovers the underlying tension between Abraham and Nimrod’s views of the world; a friction which still exists today. Aligning yourself with Abraham’s understanding will add greatly to your success and joy of living.

Mitt’s Money Obstacle

February 28th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

Too much money. Could that be the core reason for Mitt Romney’s lack of success during this primary season? As strange as it sounds, I am becoming convinced that his ability to draw on his own millions may have hindered his campaign. While most of us chuckle at the idea of too much money causing problems and would welcome the opportunity to test the thesis, consider these cases.

A number of years ago I read a charming wedding announcement. The bride and groom met through an online dating program. As they connected and began to explore a relationship the young man found his match to be tremendously reticent about her employment. She wouldn’t even reveal her last name! He finally concluded that she worked for an intelligence agency and only hoped it was the CIA rather than the KGB. Once she trusted him, the truth came out. She was an heiress working for the family company and  worried that the wrong sort of man would be attracted by her bank account rather than by her essence.

I know another gentleman in his mid-thirties who has been singularly unsuccessful in establishing a career. The problem? As the recipient of an annual endowment from a trust set up by his late grandparents, he isn’t hungry enough to put in the necessary “grunt hours” needed to master skills. The idea of working diligently for significantly less than he gets for just breathing has become an obstacle in his life.  He’s a talented guy, but life has come just a little too easy for him.

Mitt Romney earned his money honestly and can use it as he wishes. But perhaps he should have initially assigned a certain amount of seed money to his campaign. Thereafter, he could have used his own money only to the extent it matched the donations he received. I think the benefits would have been two-fold. Firstly, market forces would have helped his campaign focus more on the values and arguments needed to win a presidential battle rather than on attacking his opponents. By making his supporters vital partners in his campaign he could have used his many aptitudes and abilities to build a more appealing platform.  Secondly, he would have more of an appreciation for the voters. When you depend upon an avalanche of $35 donations, you recognize that each person is important. In a country that believes in ‘one man, one vote’ that is a valuable lesson. Furthermore, anytime someone reaches into their pocket and gives you money that person has invested in you. That builds the grass roots troops necessary to beat President Obama.

Mitt Romney will not be able to outspend Barack Obama through his personal resources. Neither will he be able to run a negative campaign without alienating the people whose support he needs. He has wasted much of this lengthy and rather miserable primary season by relying on money rather than on developing a strong platform. Whether he wins or loses the nomination, his wealth may well have been one of his biggest drawbacks.

Cancel Cruise Control

February 21st, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you fallen into any fixed habits? I know I have. I have uttered some phrases so many times on my radio show that they are often the first expressions that come to mind. Not surprisingly, I occasionally overuse them. It is also why I tend to buy the same brand of toothpaste year after year. No, I do not know which brand nine-out-of-ten dentists prefer. My brain just prefers not to have to think about toothpaste brands.

Do you greet customers or clients exactly as you did four years ago? Do you respond with almost the same words no matter what question your child asks? Do you welcome friends with the tired cliché you’ve always used? Do you view a sunrise with habitual jaded indifference? I began by asking if you’ve fallen into any fixed habits, but I already knew the answer. I don’t know exactly what they are, but I do know that you’ve got them.

How do I know? Well, because we all do it. Over the last decade much research has been done on human habits. For instance, a Duke University study concluded that habit rather than deliberation shapes over 40% of the decisions you and I make every day. Both Columbia University and the University of Alberta recently measured the vital role that habit plays in exercising. Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified how our brains convert repeated behaviors into habits thus preserving our real brain power for unpredictable circumstances.

While converting frequent activities into automatic habits is quite natural, that doesn’t mean that it is always desirable. We engage in many regular activities that should certainly not be automated. Many of us are blessed to be able to say “good morning” and “good night” to our spouses every day. That should be personal, authentic and heartfelt every single time. Neither do we want autopilot switched on when we interact with children and friends. What about praying to God each day? Want that to be meaningless rote? And if you do feel that merely mouthing the words today just as you did yesterday is okay, would it be equally acceptable if God began treating you the same way?

Allowing our repeated prayers to become automatic routines is such a real danger that God explicitly warns against it. Regular Thought Tool readers will remember this rule of Ancient Jewish wisdom; any word repeated exactly seven times in a passage is the crucial word in that section.

Leviticus chapter 26 contains horrifying details of the consequences when God’s covenant with Israel is shattered. The word repeated exactly seven times is KERI. (Leviticus 26:21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 40, 41) It means casual, random and mindless. These verses indicate that of all the damaging results of relating to God with unthinking casualness, the worst is that He subsequently relates to us in exactly the same way. Obviously God intends us to exert effort to ensure that our relationship with Him remains forever fresh, vital, and genuine.

In exactly the same way, we should constantly struggle to relate authentically to God’s other children be they family or friends, customers or clients. It is fine to drive your regular commute on cruise control and it is fine to pick your toothpaste out of habit but it is really not so wonderful to relate to human beings in that way.

Instead, try to delight the people with whom you interact regularly with a fresh comment or a novel service. Look at the world around you with renewed appreciation. While we’re at it, praying deliberately and thoughtfully would also be an improvement. One of my pleasures is helping everyone study the Bible with deeper understanding. Many of us default to viewing God’s word as we did when we were children. I am particularly excited about my audio CD, The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life, on sale this week. Its shocking revelations will dramatically change how you relate both to God and to those around you. This CD converts familiar text into a magnificent manual for human connection. Don’t be surprised if the world responds back in kind, treating you with renewed appreciation as well.

Ideology Interrupts the Story

February 21st, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Certain rules of writing are easier to memorize than to obey. One of the most basic ones is the importance of staying on topic. As a writer, it is tremendously difficult to remove a phrase you love or edit out a point about which you are passionate. When the words are completely extraneous, adding nothing to the story you are telling or the point you are making, their inclusion might say more about the author than about the topic.

Maureen Dowd’s recent NY Times column on actress turned nun, Dolores Hart, is a case in point. Despite achieving promising success as a young and attractive actress, Ms. Hart left Hollywood, choosing instead to take the vows of a Benedictine nun. She is newsworthy right now because a documentary of her life has been nominated for an Oscar. The contrast between the beautiful 24 year old who appeared with Elvis Presley and the elderly 73 year old mother prioress planning to attend the coming award ceremony certainly makes for absorbing reading.

The narrative, however, provides less human intrigue to me than the completely gratuitous paragraph which Maureen Dowd included in her article on the subject. I’m going to present a few quotes and ideas from the column. Let’s see if you can spot the ones that have nothing at all to do with Dolores Hart.

  1. In 1958, a friend suggested to the actress that she spend a few quiet days at the Abbey.
  2. The church cares more about banning contraception than about investigating child abuse.
  3. The church has an “antediluvian male hierarchy”
  4. The actress was engaged to be married when she realized she wanted to be a nun.
  5. The tabloids couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a hidden reason for Dolores Hart’s choice and reported a (false) rumor that she was pregnant.

It wasn’t terribly hard to choose numbers 2 and 3, was it? With this column Maureen Dowd intended to reveal something about Dolores Hart’s history and religious epiphany, but she ended up revealing much more about herself.

Santorum’s Spotlight

February 14th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

 

And my nominee is….the first candidate who reads, absorbs and acts upon the excellent advice to candidates given over the past few months by conservative writers. While I am in the doldrums over the actual candidates, I have been inspired by so many writers. Whether it is Wall Street Journal editorials, bloggers or columnists I find myself shouting “yes” reading article after article while I groan listening to the candidates themselves.

Like so many others, I have spent much of this election primary cycle trying desperately to give the benefit of the doubt to Republican candidates. Perhaps candidate A has matured and developed his thinking; maybe candidate B has learned from his mistakes; is it possible that candidate C who was virtually unknown eight months ago can articulate what I believe? Unfortunately, disappointment follows on the heel of disappointment.

It is obviously easier to be a writer than a candidate. Seeing what is wrong is easier than rectifying it. Writing, which allows you to cogitate, revise, cogitate and revise is ten-fold easier than giving even a prepared speech, a thousand-fold easier than answering hostile questions and a million-fold easier than having every word you have ever uttered presented as front page news.  But even so, how can the candidates themselves, along with their managers and advisors, continually ignore a cascade of sage advice, displaying tin ears more frequently than wisdom?

A few weeks ago, I wrote at my dismay about Rick Santorum’s policy proposals. When I read about his ideas in the paper, I was tremendously upset. He was doling out teaspoons of water (and, in my opinion, murky water) to a parched nation; thinking on a small, outdated scale while huge problems needing bold solutions beset us.   I was distressed because there is so much about Rick Santorum which I admire.  I believe him to be a good man; what we need right now is greatness. Frequently, a position of responsibility seasons and matures an individual. We say that someone is “growing in office.” Right now, winning the nomination and getting into office demands that growth take place during the campaign. 

What would that specifically mean for Rick Santorum? It means holding tight to his core principles but also expanding them to encompass areas which aren’t his natural comfort zone. It means building a team which is not composed of ‘yes’ men and women, but which constantly challenges him to increase his areas of knowledge and improve his communication skills so that even those who disagree with him respect his arguments.  It means completely rejecting the Democratic strategy of pandering to specific interest groups, be they geographic, economic, racial, or otherwise and instead presenting a vision of an America which has potential to benefit all. It means retaining good character in a sordid nominating process.

I have read dozens of articles pleading with each of the Republican candidates to respond to the conservative base’s desire for principled, eloquent leadership in the economic, domestic and foreign arenas. Ignored at first, Rick Santorum has exhibited admirable persistence and temerity. There is no time to slowly ramp up to greatness. Citizens of a number of states have granted him the opportunity to be heard. Can he inspire confidence and be worthy of the approval of millions more? The window for him to achieve that is narrow; if he has it in him, the time is now.

Gift of the Gab

February 14th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever gone to a business meeting or party only to find that once you got there you clammed up and contributed nothing? Though women do this more than men, both often fail to find the right moment or the right words to start talking. They feel frustrated at not having expressed something significant, and the group misses out on valuable comments.

If this problem inhibits either your professional or social life, now is the time to overcome it.

Moses is the best model for learning how to overcome speaking disabilities. Despite describing himself as slow of speech and tongue, he eventually teaches and judges Israel for forty years in the desert. Once he started speaking he never stopped!

Ancient Jewish wisdom records that Moses spent a full seven days at the Burning Bush arguing with God about how to launch his speaking career.

Initially, God instructs Moses to start off by talking to Pharaoh.

Come now and I’ll send you to Pharaoh

to take out my people…

(Exodus 3:10)

Moses responds that he’d rather start off by talking to the Israelites.

…so I come to Israel and I’ll say,

‘The God of your fathers sent me to you…’

(Exodus 3:13)

God might well have said, “Moses what ARE you talking about? I said go to Pharaoh and you are babbling about going to the Children of Israel.”

Instead, God basically says to Moses, “Okay, fine, have it your way, go to the elders of Israel…” (Exodus 3:16-18)

Again, Moses argues:

…but they will not believe me…

(Exodus 4:1)

(The chapter breaks that printed Bibles show are not from ancient Jewish wisdom. The authentic separations can have great significance as I explain in The Gathering Storm. In our case, there is actually no conceptual break between chapters 3 and 4.)

The Almighty offers Moses an array of signs to help persuade everyone that he is indeed sent by God. (Exodus 4:2-9)

However, this unfortunately is still not enough for Moses. He explains to God how he is not an effective communicator. (Exodus 4:10)

God responds by telling Moses that He is the source of the ability to speak and also that Aaron will be sent along to help. (Exodus 4:11-16)

Moses still follows his own preferred approach and, taking Aaron, he gathers the Israelite leadership. (Exodus 4:29) Only then did they finally go and speak to Pharaoh who reacted horribly and escalated his oppression. The whole thing was a calamity. (Exodus 5:6-19)

Isn’t it amazing that Moses, God’s obedient servant, could be so insecure in his ability to speak that he simply isn’t able to follow God’s original command? My guess is that the huge number of people who list speaking in public as their greatest fear, understand completely.

Ultimately, of course, Moses grows in stature and his speech impediment disappears. But we can see that the struggle to express oneself effectively is a formidable one.

Three strategies, which we can employ in our own lives, transformed Moses into one of history’s most powerful and effective speakers.

1) Over the seven days cited above, Moses gained clarity about what his unique contribution was. This set the stage for overcoming his impediment. We all must get really clear about who we are and what our mission is.

2) Presentation matters. Prepare the necessary pyrotechnics-the equivalent of God’s signs, if you like. It’s not only what you say but how you say it.

3) Gain confidence. In Exodus 7:1 God gives Moses assurance that he will succeed. You can help yourself and others believe in you by speaking from the stomach rather than from the throat. This projects your voice loudly and effectively.

Implement these steps in your speaking and improve the quality of your life. We would be thrilled if you master these techniques along with many other powerful strategies found in the Torah. Understanding God’s word is a priceless avenue to a more successful life. We are making the Genesis Journeys Set available at a specially reduced sale price for a few more days. It will be a life-transforming investment for you and an unforgettable gift for someone you care about.

Worried or Not

February 7th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Imagine your son’s high school principal calling you with the news that your child was caught stealing test keys from his teacher’s desk and selling them. After your heart started beating regularly again, you confront your child. How would you react if he reassured you, “Don’t worry Dad. It was Trevor’s idea and he said he would take all the blame if we were caught.” Upon hearing this, you’d hardly sigh with relief. Instead you might ask, “What were you thinking?”

In Genesis 27 we encounter a similar situation. Isaac asked his elder son, Esau, to bring him food before receiving a blessing. Rebecca, overhearing her husband’s request, directed their younger son, Jacob, to take food to Isaac and receive the blessing while masquerading as Esau. Jacob demurs, warning that his father might discover the subterfuge and curse rather than bless him.

And his mother said to him, “Your curse will be on me, my son;

just listen to my voice…”

(Genesis 27:13)

Jacob should have said to Rebecca, “Mom, that’s not how the world works. It’s all very well for you to say, ‘Your curse will be on me!’ but at the end of the day, if my father curses me, it will be me who is cursed, not you.” Yet he seems to have been satisfied by his mother’s assurance. Why?

Rebecca was not telling her son that any curse that might flow from the trickery would be on her. That is manifestly impossible. If he was truly doing wrong, he would be culpable regardless of who else guided or encouraged him.

What Rebecca was telling her son, Jacob, was, “Look Jacob, I have prophetic insight and I know that in your entire life you will endure only three curses. Your brother Esau will hate you and try to kill you; your future father-in-law will cheat you; and you will lose your son Joseph for 22 years. These three and only these three lie ahead, therefore don’t worry about your father dealing out another curse to you. If he did, it would be a fourth and I know you are destined to suffer only the three I’ve mentioned.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the one Hebrew word ALAI usually translated by the phrase will be on me is a prophetic acronym in this case.

ע ל י

עשו לבן יוסף

Yosef Lavan Esav

Each of its three letters, reading from right to left, AYIN, LAMED, & YUD refer to the three curses in Jacob’s life, Esav (Esau), Laban (Lavan), and Joseph (Yosef).

Contrary to most translations, Rebecca is not claiming that any potential curse resulting from deceiving Isaac would mysteriously skip over Jacob and land upon her. Instead, she is reassuring Jacob by letting him know that his curse in total, for his entire life will comprise only the three indicated by the acronym ALAI.

Jacob understood that his mother possessed prophetic powers. He was reassured that she was correctly advising him and proceeded to institute her plan for receiving the blessing he had legitimately purchased from Esau so many years earlier.

Knowing this prophecy allowed Jacob to act decisively without the paralyzing fear that comes from imagined terrors.

Gaining increased understanding into how the world really works helps identify the real threats that lie in wait. Tower of Power, The Gathering Storm, Clash of Destiny, and Madam I’m Adam each shine a laser beam of clarity onto one peril jeopardizing your family, your community, your society and your world.

For many centuries, these dangers have mostly arrived sequentially. Almost without historic precedent we now face them at the same time. We fear the extinction of the traditional family, the erosion of communal cohesion, the collapse of the social contract, and a world threatened by frenzied fanatics. Understanding the true nature of these real threats liberates us to do what we must to fight them without the paralyzing dread of the unknown. Each of these 2 audio CD sets is available individually or you can save substantially by purchasing them as the Genesis Journeys Set, which is reduced even more this week.

What’s Right with the Teenage Mind and Wrong with Society

February 7th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Thinking “I told you so” is gratifying. Saying it might be crass, but thinking it  feels pretty good. Reading a Wall Street Journal article entitled, What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind? I definitely underwent an “I told you so” moment.  My husband and I tried as best we could to structure our children’s upbringing according to 3,000 year old Torah principles rather than to the latest issue of Psychology Today. After all, when the newest fad passes you don’t get a chance to press “rewind”. For instance, if you teach your children to call you by your first name when the currently reigning psychologist explains how that will foster closeness, you will struggle to regain lost authority five years later when the most recently crowned psychologist rejects that reasoning. 

One commonly accepted view that my husband and I disregarded was a prevalent concept of “adolescence.” We did not accept it as an inevitable stage during which our teenagers would automatically behave recklessly because their prefrontal cortex wouldn’t fully develop until a few years later.  We certainly expected their judgment to improve as they matured, but we were never tempted to excuse destructive, impulsive behavior by blaming it on biology. We anticipated their making proper choices and overwhelmingly, they delivered.

The author of the WSJ article cites the latest studies showing that real life experiences drive the maturation of the impulse controlling parts of the brain. She mentions how cultural psychologist Barbara Rogoff studied Guatemalan Indians and found that their children could handle machetes quite competently. Yet western teenagers basically sit in classrooms, an activity which often starts when they are toddlers and continues for years on end. They may very well be acquiring information; they are not acquiring wisdom. Wisdom means understanding how the world really works. It comes from interacting with people and things, slowly developing a variety of skills. This is best achieved with a mentor who gradually accords his or her disciple greater independence. Information has potential value, but activating its potential means applying, practicing, testing, reassessing and utilizing the raw data.

As our children grew, we helped them develop skills. At tender years they worked in the kitchen, using the stove and sharp knives at ages which would have made Child Protective Services uneasy.  They learned to read charts and check the gauges in a boat’s engine room, to care for infants and toddlers, to do their own laundry and to earn money in ways which probably didn’t meet child labor laws. In varying degrees they learned to sew and work with wood and how to use public transportation and navigate bureaucracies. They studied as well, but book learning and safe, cocooned adult-directed activities didn’t consume their entire time. As they proved themselves capable of shouldering responsibility we gave them more freedom, and for the most part their teenage years were a delight.

While discussing the later arrival of impulse-control in today’s times, the author of the above article also says, “…for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age.“ For those of you who don’t have time to wait for the next psychological revelation to explain the mysterious reasons for the earlier onset of puberty, let me suggest an important component.  I believe that just as our actions influence our brain development in the prefrontal cortex, they also influence our hormones.

As a society we now give our children less and less freedom to roam and ramble and to push their physical limits. We provide them with an increasing number of electronic gadgets keeping them entertained and isolated in the home rather than playing in the streets. We organize their sports, arts and learning rather than allowing them independence. We do this (in my opinion usually to a much greater degree than is necessary) in the name of protecting them from the dangers which lurk outside. But at the same time we expose them to levels of sexuality which would have ranked as pornography in earlier times. We dress five year old girls like tramps and think it’s cute when little boys learn to parrot lewd expressions. This past week I was in a hotel room and flipped through TV stations. Three minutes of a popular show aimed at pre-teenagers were so brazen that I couldn’t watch it.  We force our children to lose their innocence in sexual education classes and bombard them with too much information as mommy and daddy host a revolving door through which boyfriends and girlfriends pass. We force intimate, private actions onto a public stage and we push our children into front row seats.  Lacking a shared moral compass in our society we contribute to early puberty with premature and excessive exposure to sexuality.

There may be satisfaction in seeing the world come to accept something which I never doubted. But I would gladly give up that satisfaction and instead be part of a correct-thinking community. It is incredibly difficult to defy the downward gravity of a society bent on devolution. Those of us who believe in timeless truths rather than transitory trends have a hard path to hoe – preferably shoulder to shoulder with our children as we guide them along.