Posts in Thought Tools

Crime Doesn’t Say

April 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

On news broadcasts and interviews I have noticed something scary.  Boys involved in violent crime are largely illiterate.  This chilling correlation has been confirmed to me by friends in criminal justice and law enforcement.  You’d think that just by the laws of probability, at least some assailants and murderers when caught would have more to say than just meaningless gesticulations and obscenities.  I have been looking for just one carjacker who, upon being apprehended, told the policeman, “It’s challenging to understand, officer, I know, but while taking my afternoon constitutional, I was seized by an irresistible desire to inflict physical harm on an innocent citizen and to transfer his motor vehicle to my possession.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that the desire to communicate is present from birth and that parents who neglect this most crucial of their responsibilities may be complicit in their children’s later lack of socialization skills.

A really interesting phase in raising a child occurs just before he begins to speak.  Many observant parents notice a period of apparent anger and frustration.  The child is ready to communicate with speech, desperately desires to communicate and cannot quite put the words together yet.  Some parents try to avoid this difficult time by teaching their infants baby sign language.  It fascinates me to watch pre-verbal toddlers moving their little fingers in purposeful and meaningful ways.

Clearly, we are created to communicate.  That toddler, not yet possessing even crude motor skills like catching a ball, can already recognize the complex distinctions between nouns and verbs.  Teaching the child the names of things, chatting with and reading to a child are indispensable steps in educating for communication.  There is a vast difference in the number of words to which small children are exposed in diligent homes and indifferent ones.  Studies at the University of Kansas and other institutions show that there is a direct correlation between the number of words a toddler hears and learns and her subsequent academic achievement.  By the age of three, children of diligent  parents hear  millions of words more than children of indifferent parents.   In America there is a disturbing correlation between rise in juvenile crime and the deterioration in English language education in the nation’s public schools.

Fluency in speech is closely connected to an ability to write. Employers, military induction officers and social workers confirm that increasing numbers of young adults are incapable of writing down their thoughts coherently.  Most of these also fail to comprehend simple written instructions.  This is obviously a huge social problem.  Whether creating a business plan, solving a family crisis or constructing an international treaty to avoid war, the first thing always is to express in words the problem you’re trying to solve.  It is almost impossible to find the solution if you haven’t transformed the problem from feelings to words.

Furthermore, communication and conversation lead to collaboration and cooperation which lead to creativity.  In other words, almost no major challenges are successfully overcome by any one person acting entirely alone.  Talk and conversation are the tools of this cooperation.  Depriving our children of the tools of communication is to sentence them to needlessly underachieving lives at best and perhaps to criminality and worse.

This is why ancient Jewish wisdom regularly refers to God having achieved all of Creation by means of statements, the first of which was, “Let there be light.”

King David elaborates on this when he says:

By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, and with the breath of His mouth, all their host. 
(Psalms 33:6)

The Bible does not record, “And God made light”.  It reports that God used words to create.  In the same way today, a budding entrepreneur doesn’t tell people, “I feel like creating a business.”  Instead he shows a written business plan in which words specify the story.

When a goal or ambition gets written down it starts coming to life.  Attaching times and deadlines then transforms a mere dream into a plan.  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that God gave man the power of words and speech in the seventh verse of chapter two in Genesis because He wants us to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create.  A few verses later, God creates another human with whom Adam could communicate and ultimately create.

People who have been handicapped by inadequate instruction in words very understandably feel frustration.  Maybe even you are not fulfilling your ultimate potential of communication and collaboration.  Once we are adults, it is our own responsibility to correct any deficiencies from our upbringing. Each of us can improve our ability to use words to connect and communicate by making a deliberate effort to improve fluency and vocabulary.

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We are tidying up our warehouse and have found a number of copies of Noah Alper’s book, Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today’s Entrepreneur that have damaged covers or crinkled insides. While they last, we are making them available for $5 each. Amortize the shipping cost by adding Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real-life Ask the Rabbi Questions, on sale now for only  $9.99. For an added bonus, use both books to spark conversation and articulate ideas, improving your own fluency in the process.

On Sale

Only $5 apiece while they last

Where Did I Hear That?

April 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)

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From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.

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Is There Food in Your Purse?

April 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.

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Did I Really Peek Into Your Closet?

March 28th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

I don’t mean to startle you by revealing a secret of yours, but here goes.  I know that in your closet, you have items of clothing you haven’t worn in a very long time.  There! I told you.  You have garments that have been hanging there for years that you just can’t bring yourself to discard.  Even without skulking creepily around your closet, I know this to be true.

This is not the place to provide you with guidance on how to sort your wardrobe and decide what should stay and what should go.  But this is just the place for me to offer ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation behind your reluctance to trash the old trousers.  The good news is that your sadness at slinging out that old suit reflects really well on you.

I am sure you are one of those well-organized souls whose home and work space are clean and neat.  You are quick to purge unneeded papers, books, tools, recipes, and kitschy family heirlooms.  You even threw out last Thursday’s perfectly delicious dinner leftovers with barely a twinge.  But you just cannot throw out clothing.  You’ll be relieved to know that there is a perfectly good reason.  Clothing is different.

Our clothing imparts identity and dignity to us and those are more important to us than even food.  We all remember stories of the down and out salesman who spent his last few dollars, not on a meal but on a new suit and a shoeshine, knowing they would buck him up for his next interview even more than hot food.

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Say Little and Lead Much

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Leaders enjoy many benefits.  People seen as leaders get promoted and opportunities come their way.  Parents whose children respect them as leaders have more functional families.   But how do you begin the process of getting others to see you as a leader?

We have all seen leadership in action.  Perhaps one participant at a meeting emerges as the clear leader of the group.  Or people listen more attentively to one person than to another.  Groups coalesce around the one individual who is regarded as more authoritative than anyone else.

I’m sure you’ve seen parents who enjoy such excellent rapport with their children that obedience is almost automatic.  It is clear that the children view the parents as leaders.  Authentic leadership skills that are effective in a work environment are also effective in a family or social environment.  We just need to know what these skills are.

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Snow Day; Grow Day

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A couple I knew, misunderstanding the meaning of being loving parents, raised their children with no rules and little restraint.  You won’t be shocked to hear that their two kids grew into demanding little monsters.

The parents blamed the children’s teachers for why their children were ‘difficult’.  They explained that their children ‘had issues’ because of preservatives in food. They blamed the tiny tyrants’ grandparents.  They never were able to see their poor parenting as the central problem.

It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.

Imagine someone waking up on a recent morning in Washington DC, to discover that forty inches of snow fell in the night.  Shivering with cold, he turns up the thermostat to no effect.  He tries to turn on the lights, but the electricity is out.

Listen to him saying, “I can’t believe this!  What bad luck!  On the same morning, no heat, no lights, and on top of that, there’s a load of snow all over my yard.”  He sees three separate, simultaneous but disconnected inconveniences, not comprehending that they are all linked.

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Intelligent Life in Outer Space

March 6th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 49 comments

While he was directing the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, Winston Churchill found time to write on topics millions of miles from Pearl Harbor, the siege of Leningrad and the fall of Bataan.  As a matter of fact, a week before General Douglas MacArthur fled the Philippines for Australia, Churchill penned an essay entitled, “Are There Men on the Moon?” which appeared in London’s Sunday Dispatch on March 8, 1942.

He wrote that he was not so conceited to think that our sun is, “the only one with a family of planets.”  Furthermore, he mused, with such an unthinkably large number of stars and planets out there, some must have the necessary conditions to sustain life and it would be a strange thing if some of those didn’t actually have living creatures. 

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Face Time

February 28th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

The defining question of our times: Are people no more than sophisticated baboons?  Are we the product only of random, materialistic evolution?  Why does it matter?  Because if the answer is ‘yes’ then whenever men do bad things, they do so only because of genetic imperative or imposed societal influences.  It would mean that humans have no more choice about their behavior than do baboons.  The political, social, criminal and economic consequences of how this question is answered are colossal.  The past fifty years of American cultural change substantiate this assertion.

The consequences to the personal and business lives of individuals are no less significant.  If I decide that, like bears, bunnies, and baboons, I too must act upon urges, appetites, and emotions, neither my wife, children nor my business partners can ever truly trust me.  As a business professional of this bent, I would mistakenly assume that my employees and customers have only materialistic desires, assumptions that would surely mislead my enterprise.

Yet to any genuinely curious person with no axe to grind, the evidence that humans are distinctively different from all other species of life on the planet is overwhelming.  We are the only species that will imperil our physical bodies in order to gain some spiritual solace.  We risk damage to our systems by absorbing alcohol, drugs and tobacco for non-physical benefit.  Some of us engage in risky sports for non-physical benefits like a rush or a thrill.

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Gender and Geography

February 22nd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 33 comments

As a child growing up in South Africa, National Geographic magazine was not just something to pick up idly in the dentist’s waiting room.  It was a monthly magic carpet ride that enchanted me so much that a subscription bringing that familiar yellow cover to our mailbox each month was one of my favorite birthday presents.

It wasn’t only the spectacular photography of faraway places, it was also the advertisements.  In my mind’s eye, I still clearly see that rapturous red 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air.  There were intoxicating ads for cameras carrying names like Leica and Haselblad that I could but dream about.  There were pictures of housewives in American kitchens that I gazed at in wonder.

Mostly, however, the magazine sparked my life-long love for travel and appreciation of scientific exploration.  It taught me that wherever in this big, colorful world they were, humans want pretty much the same things.  From icy landscapes to the Sahara Desert, from mountain top communities to valley villages, people try to build families and make it possible for their families to thrive.

I haven’t looked at the magazine for years now, so I was quite shocked by a recent issue of National Geographic.  Its cover carried a picture of a boy dressed to look like a girl and bellowed out GENDER REVOLUTION.  Huh? In National Geographic? Really?

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