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Book Recommendation: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I get a thrill every time I read a book that prods me to grow a bit, makes my day brighter or grants me a portal into a world different from mine. When a book does all three of those things it is a definite winner. It gets bonus point if I can share it with the young people in my life and watch it expand their horizons.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is such a book. Since it came out in 2012, many of you have probably read it already and/or seen the movie version. I was a late-comer to the fan club since I tend towards classics, but I came across it recently and I want to share my delight.

Wonder tells the story of fifth-grader Auggie Pullman, a boy born with a severe craniofacial deformity. Because of health concerns and repeated operations he has never been to school, and now that is about to change. The book is divided into sections that tell of his entrance to school through his own eyes and then through the eyes of his “normal” sister, her boyfriend and her estranged  childhood friend, as well as from the perspectives of some of Auggie’s classmates, whose behaviors range from kind to bullying.

This book is more powerful than a hundred anti-bullying slogans or lectures. Aside from humanizing a boy who looks different, it respectfully shows the challenges of children (and adults) dealing with something drastically different from what they usually meet. The various perspectives provide a  tremendous opportunity to realize that others see the world differently than we do.

This book and its sequels are recommended for ages 8-12. I disagree. I would suggest ages 8 through adult. Certainly, it can be invaluable for teenagers. This would make a great book to discuss as a family, especially if parents can do more listening than talking. It is one of those books that we can only hope stays with us long after we finish reading it. 

Ladies and Gentlemen

Something has been troubling me throughout the #MeToo movement’s ascendancy and I’m sure that I am not alone. That our modern society has a problem in relationships between the sexes is not in question. Neither is the fact that historically there has been a power imbalance that allowed bad men to harm women more easily and frequently than bad women could harm men. This isn’t only a question of social and economic mores but also deals with the reality that, in general, women are physically less strong than men and, of course, are the ones who get pregnant. Despite the attempts of ideologues to deny it, most of us also acknowledge a reality of psychological and, for want of a better word, soul differences between men and women that leave women more vulnerable.

The #MeToo movement has done a service by exposing the extent of despicable treatment towards women that many of us, male and female,  were truly unaware of or dismissed as an unfortunate but unchangeable part of life. I am not speaking here of unquestionable breaches of the law such as putting knock-out drugs in a woman’s drink and then raping her. I’m also not speaking of complaints that are ludicrous like a woman claiming sexual harassment because a co-worker compliments her haircut. When we include those types of extreme instances in a general discussion we miss the opportunity to actually improve society.

What I would like to do today is to react to calls I’ve seen for men to behave respectfully. I am all in favor of respect. However, I do think that addressing men alone misses the complete story. Unless we want to advance the idea that women are helpless, incompetent and passive creatures, we need to demand an accounting on the distaff side as well.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is to view the #MeToo movement as a male/female issue. In my mind, there are and always have been moral men and women who treat each other well and there are and always have been immoral men and women who look to take advantage of members of the opposite sex. (Of course, history up to the present shows that interactions between people of the same gender are frequently less than upright, but that is not today’s prominent issue.) There are both men and women who respect themselves and those who do not.

Anyone who thinks that all men should be accountable for each other (being male, particularly a white male means you are privileged and as such deserving of being punished even if it is an injustice) or that all women are accountable for each other (we must believe all female victims) has to be willing to talk about enablers and manipulators (for the purpose of this Musing, I’m leaving aside liars).

A few months back, I heard an episode of NPR’s This American Life that featured a female reporter interviewing young men in Australia. It seems that it is considered a “game” there for a young man to run into a group of young women near the beach and slap one woman’s backside. The reporter was appalled and tried desperately to explain to a one of these men in particular what was wrong with his behavior.

When he said that the women didn’t object she pointed out that perhaps they were afraid to respond negatively. That was a good point. However, he countered that about 20% of the time, he ended up with a hook-up for that night and that more frequently than that he heard the “chosen” female boast about her attractiveness to her mates.

I have never been to Australia and don’t know the culture there. But this doesn’t seem to me to be a situation for which men bear sole responsibility.  As long as there is a plus side that is delivered by a fair number of “victims,” the responsibility has to be shared. It is perfectly plausible to imagine a responsible male chastising this young man and being accused of being a prude by both the young man and a number of the girls in the vicinity. Perhaps the females sometimes saunter in certain locations to get exactly the response our callow youth is willing and eager to deliver? How is he to learn which women want to be treated like that and which do not?

Shortly after my husband and I were married, he was asked to deliver a speech to a group of women, (not obviously Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist or atheist) on Christmas Eve. Why one would ask a Rabbi to give a talk on Christmas is obvious if one is looking for an available religious leader. But why were these women available?

Their organization – and I kid you not – was composed of women having affairs with married men. They told my husband that Thanksgiving and Christmas were the hardest days of the year for them. Other days each woman might believe that her boyfriend was leaving his family; on holidays they knew that to be a lie. Now, exactly how many men would be having adulterous affairs if no woman allowed herself to get involved with a married man? If women truly cared about other women enough, adultery would just about disappear.

We navigate a complicated world. Women and men are both unique individuals as well as belonging to numerous groups, one of which is dictated by gender.  Each behavior we choose affects others associated with us. This does not mean we should be interchangeable in the eyes of the law (in other words reprisal attacks) nor in other people’s eyes. But it is ludicrous to pretend that in our day and age men and men alone are responsible for women being mistreated, let alone when that word is not clearly defined.

It is not blaming the victim to suggest that if more women acted like ladies, the upside of being a gentleman would be greater.   The responsibility for more respectful discourse and behavior between men and women falls on everyone. If close to 50 years after the debut of Ms. Magazine women feel so victimized, perhaps both genders need to rethink which “reforms” led to a better society and which took us in the opposite direction.

 

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The Thought Tools Set

Is it too late to flourish?

At age 65 and as a divorced man, is it too late to be the man God originally intended me to be?

I had a pretty successful career financially but never fulfilled the passion and purpose you speak about that men must have.  I think after 32 years my wife decided she had better strike out on her own because she didn’t feel I was the man who would provide and protect in the long haul. Together we had built what I thought was a good life and good family.  Sadly, I see where I fell short.  

I have just finished taking care of my ailing mom for two years prior to her recent death at 93. The challenge is now that my assignment is over, and having put my career on hold for 2 years, I am now 65 with the corporate world asking where have you been and why don’t you just retire?  I know retire is not in the bible and I still have full energy, capacity and drive to make a difference.

My question is at 65 is it too late to be a real man, and fulfill the destiny God has created me for?

Regards,

Rick E.

Dear Rick,

We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you! If you bring energy, capacity and drive to your work, then you can accomplish a great deal. My (Rabbi Daniel Lapin) own teacher and uncle, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, embarked on his most famed and productive work when he was in his seventies. 

We hope you already know that Colonel David Sanders built up the Kentucky Fried Chicken company between his seventieth birthday and the time he passed on, aged 90.  Samuel Walton didn’t get the Walmart company going until he was nearly 50 years old. Raymond Kroc only conceived of the McDonalds vision when he was well into his fifties.  And these are just a few of the more prominent examples of people who found their economic niche late in life.  There are millions of others who built up successful, if lesser known enterprises after a late, late start.

You didn’t provide much information so we don’t know your field or how you sustained yourself economically while caring for your mother. It seems that you have some regrets about not throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work at a younger age. The question to ask yourself now is, “How can I best contribute to the world?” with the awareness that you will have to strive a little harder to get others to recognize the contribution you can make.  You don’t have time for false starts or mistakes now. You may need to be more entrepreneurial, self-promoting and flexible than you might have had to have been when you were younger. Make sure that your skills and presentation reflect an active man rather than a relic.  Practicing in front of a mirror and before kind friends is the way to build up the correct image.

Keep in mind that although you do not match the pop-culture image of a young go-getter entrepreneur or job-seeker, you bring maturity, life and work experience as well as stability to the table. These are worth a great deal particularly to a young start-up which sometimes find it challenging to secure funding without an ‘adult’ in the mix.  It would be a great personal loss for you as well as a loss to the community were you to lower your sights and act as if the only thing in your future was decline.

If you get a chance, why don’t you watch Nancy Meyer’s 2015 movie, The Intern starring Robert De Niro as Ben Whittaker, an older widower getting back into the workforce.  While we don’t agree with all the moral messages of the movie, you might find it inspiring.

In thinking through your letter, we would add that a renewal of vigor and vitality as you embark on a dedicated path of economic creativity might just lead to new social connections that could dramatically enrich your life.

Onwards and only upwards,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

SALE: 3 books for the price of 2

Thought Tool Set

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Rabbi Lapin on Iranian TV

You may not have heard, but on Friday, September 14, 2018, Rabbi Daniel Lapin appeared on television throughout Iran.

“If a billion Muslims became Evangelical Christians tomorrow, would the world be a better place?”

This is the simple yes/no question that Rabbi Daniel Lapin has become famous for asking to large audiences. As a result, he was invited to tape three shows with Iran Alive Ministries under the direction of Dr. Hormoz Shariat. Iran Alive Ministries beams full time Christian programming to an estimated 2 million Christians in Iran as well as to a large secularized Muslim audience that is actively seeking a religious alternative to Islam.

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Who Are You Calling a Hebrew? October 8, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - The Mayflower’s historic 66 day voyage in 1620 from Plymouth, England to the New World was characterized by what was then typical hardship for both passengers and crew.  Arduous handling of the heavy canvas sails, coping with almost non-existent bathroom facilities, and barely surviving on non-refrigerated food were only a few of the challenges faced Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Is it too late to flourish? October 9, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - At age 65 and as a divorced man, is it too late to be the man God originally intended me to be? I had a pretty successful career financially but never fulfilled the passion and purpose you speak about that men must have.  I think after 32 years my wife decided she had better strike Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Ladies and Gentlemen October 11, 2018 by Susan Lapin - Something has been troubling me throughout the #MeToo movement’s ascendancy and I’m sure that I am not alone. That our modern society has a problem in relationships between the sexes is not in question. Neither is the fact that historically there has been a power imbalance that allowed bad men to harm women more easily Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Justice Kavanaugh October 6, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - I will extol thee, O Lord for You have raised me up and have not suffered my enemies to rejoice over me.  Psalms: 30.

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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