Which World Is Yours?

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

This week, at the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore, MD, according to people in the audience, a man interrupted the show by standing up and yelling ‘Heil, Hitler,’ “Heil Trump’. Understandably, the audience was shaken and at least one woman said she expected bullets to start flying. That didn’t happen and the man was escorted out but not arrested.

I added the words, “according to people in the audience,” for one reason only. When I read the reports, more than one person saw the Nazi salute and heard Heil Hitler, but one man was the source of the Heil Trump citation. While I’m not attacking that man’s veracity, the political climate is simply too venomous not tack on concepts like ‘allegedly’ on almost everything one reads or hears. The video from someone’s phone that I saw suggests that most people were unaware or unfazed by what was going on. It certainly isn’t a good thing, but is it an omen? 

Leaving the words ‘Heil Trump’ aside, because they are irrelevant for my thoughts in this Musing, I am seeing a trend in the media of focusing on incidents that promote a theory that there is a major resurgence in white-supremacy activity. Is something really going on or is this like the summer of the shark attacks, where there was no increase in the number of people attacked but a large increase in the coverage given to those attacks?

I would like to know the truth, but there is barely a pretense that this is about anything other than labeling President Trump, and by association anyone who supports him, as racist and anti-Semitic. Quite frankly, I treat anything I hear on TV or read in most popular publications the way I imagine that Russians treated Pravda. If I sift through the propaganda and lies I might get an inkling of what’s going on, but I am being given thought-direction rather than unbiased information.

What I am being told is so different from the world in which I live. My world is a world of lots of those who would be (by those knowing nothing of their individual stories) labeled as privileged white men. I see their friends, co-workers and fellow church-goers and pastors whose skins are black, brown and yellow and about half of whom are female. It is a world where every Christian high school student I know reads The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, who is presented to these students as a role model.  Corrie ten Boom’s father and sister lost their lives to the Nazis while she, herself, was incarcerated in a concentration camp. Her Christian faith motivated her and her relatives to voluntarily put themselves in danger to save Jews under Nazi domination.

In my world, there is a movement known as the “Walk-away movement” filled with accounts of former Democrats who became sickened by the increasing hate within the Democrat Party. Their liberal leanings made them rebel against the assault on free speech, attack on the presumption of innocence and other ideas that used to be venerated within that party. Some recoiled at the growing racism and anti-Semitism of this political group that they used to respect. They question why we are once again counting how many drops of blood people have inherited from diverse ancestors. Many tell tales of being ostracized by former friends for having an opinion that goes against their previous conformity.  If you haven’t heard of this campaign, or the peaceful march they recently held in Washington, D.C., it is because it is, for political rather than factual reasons, deemed not to be newsworthy, much like the Gosnell movie I wrote about a few weeks ago. While on many issues my value system and many of these individual’s value system differ, we share in common a desire to treat others with respect and humanity as well as an appreciation of America. 

The many Christians I know, the diverse membership of the Walk-away Movement, and the courtesy and kindness I see in the supermarket and on airplanes show me a very different America from the one being highlighted in our universities and in the media. All these things are cause for optimism. What I don’t know is how to share my world with those who truly mean well, are kind and loving people, but who exist in their own bubble, thinking that they are informed while they are actually being deliberately misled.

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Before Thanksgiving

November 15th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

My trusty computer didn’t come up with an answer when I asked it who H.W. Westermayer was. Perhaps someone reading this knows. I do know that when I read this quote of his, it resonated with me.

“The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts… nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

I have often wondered at the celebrations on V-E Day when the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender or the song the Israelites sang at the Red Sea. In both cases, immense suffering led up to the day of victory and there were still bloody battles ahead.

The triumph at hand did not bring back anyone who had been killed or restore the health of the wounded. It didn’t fill the holes in people’s hearts and more sorrow was imminent.

Yet, like the Pilgrims, the people of those generations expressed words and feelings of gratitude to God.  What is it about human nature that responds to ease and comfort with ingratitude, yet recognizes the need for thanks after passing through tough times? Each year, Thanksgiving gets erased a little more with revisionist history changing the meaning of the day and dreams of scoring low prices on wanted items pushing to the front of our consciousnesses. Let’s take a moment to picture those graves and the courage of those who came searching for a better life and willing to pay a dear, and often final,  price to acquire it.

 

My girlfriend’s earning potential is greater than mine.

November 13th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

I have listened to a few of your podcasts that talk about the perils of income disparity between spouses, where the wife earns more than the husband. I’m a guy, and frankly the topic terrifies me because I’d rather drive nails through my feet than face the prospect of divorce because of this kind of thing. 

I’m dating someone who does not earn more than me but she has high potential to do so later.Am I heading for disaster?

Justin

Dear Justin,

I (RDL) often speak about the connection between money and marriage on my podcast and I (Susan) frequently cover variations on the same theme in my Musings. In this forum you get the two of us together! 

A few years ago, we did a multi-day conference in Dallas on the topic and we are working on a book as well. Some of what we write below comes out of that manuscript. So, you have touched a hot-button subject for us and one in which, not surprisingly, much of what we have to say contradicts popular culture.

One of the sentences in your letter concerns us.  We hope we’re wrong but you sound passively resigned to being terrified.  Why isn’t that fear fueling your financial climb to a new level at which that fear would evaporate?  Part of being a male is developing and feeling ambition.

Here is the bottom line: There is no question that both men and women can provide financially for their families. However, doing so fills a spiritual need in a man that it doesn’t for a woman. In addition, failing to provide financially erodes the essence of masculinity for most men but it leaves the core of a woman’s identity intact.

When a man loses his job or cannot obtain one, it strikes a blow at the heart of his masculinity.  For this reason his body often reacts with sexual impotence.  This problem, with its capacity to damage the marriage, can intensify, rather than diminish, if his wife capably and expansively assumes the burden of supporting the family.

Your question relates to this concept. We wouldn’t phrase it as “heading for disaster,” but we do think that you are wise to think about this now.

Here are some of the questions we feel you ought to both be examining now.  Is your girlfriend’s work a ‘calling,’ or a job? Is she doing something that she feels defines her identity, or she is simply good at what she does?  Do you ever get the feeling that her job is the priority in her life?  If one of you was offered a career opportunity that required moving, meaning the other spouse would need to leave his or her current position, would your decision be based solely on who earns more? Do either or both of you see a commuter marriage where you only live together a few days a month as a viable option? What would inform that decision? Do you both mean the same thing when you use the words “marriage” and “family”?

When you and your girlfriend talk about raising a family, who do you see having primary responsibility for caring for children? Do you both understand why 50/50 is an unrealistic answer?

Additionally we think that there are some really important questions for you to ask yourself. Why are you, at what we presume is a relatively young age, deciding that your own earning potential is so limited? Are you willing to do whatever is necessary to carry the primary burden of providing for a wife and family or are you counting on your wife to share that burden equally? If you were married and your wife decided, after the arrival of her first baby, that she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother and wife, would that delight you or terrify you? Have you expressed your preference to her in this area?

If you have listened to our audio program, Madam, I’m Adam, you know that ancient Jewish wisdom places primary responsibility for marriage failure on the husband. Earning more than your wife doesn’t guarantee a successful marriage even though the opposite scenario is likely to pose problems. We encourage you to seek role models of enduring good marriages and openly ask for guidance from the husbands. Awareness of divorce is necessary in the world today, but if fear of divorce plays an outsized part in your thinking, we suggest that perhaps you need to develop your thinking and feelings before making a commitment to marriage.

Humming, “Here Comes the Groom,”

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Forged in Steel

November 13th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 27 comments

You may have heard of the possibly apocryphal tale of the Detroit manufacturer of buggy whips early in the twentieth century.  Although he heard rumors of a newfangled horseless carriage that some chap called Ford was building down the road, he made no changes to his profitable business.  Needless to say, he was soon out of business.

When steel eventually was discovered in the nineteenth century and began to replace cast iron, a vast part of American and British wealth that lay in the many old-fashioned foundries and iron-casting operations was tossed aside as these now obsolete operations were destroyed and replaced with early forms of steel-making furnaces.  Then Englishman Henry Bessemer invented the Bessemer converter and made possible the economical manufacture of steel, which quickly replaced cast iron as the building material of choice for bridges and other constructions.  All the earlier furnaces were scrapped and replaced with the faster and more efficient system. 

Later, the Bessemer converter itself was replaced with the Siemens Open Hearth Furnace, which in turn was replaced in the middle of the twentieth century with the Electric Arc Furnace.  Innovation, even in the mature steel industry, is not over.  Mini-mills are famously encroaching on larger and less flexible operations many of whom have scrapped their plant and replaced it with several mini-mills.

We all must recognize that change is an inevitable necessity in business.  Regardless of exactly how we serve our fellow humans, we need to wake up every weekday morning asking ourselves, “How has my world changed since yesterday?  What should I be doing differently today?”  In business, we look towards the future.  Tomorrow will be different; embrace it.   

In our spiritual lives, however, we embrace the past.  It is our past that sustains our journeys into tomorrow’s unknown.  As important as it is to face change in business, it is every bit as important to recognize that we must resist forces that try to change our spiritual realities.  Those unchangeable fixed points that anchor me during the turbulent changes of life need to be protected.

Abraham, who relished the new experiences to which God exposed him, knew his unchangeables.  He moved to a new land, he encountered powerful kings like Avimelech and Pharaoh, he nearly lost a son, and throughout it all, Abraham walked before God.  (Genesis 24:40 & 48:15)

Is there anything in Abraham’s background that reveals him as part of a chain rather than completely forging a new path himself?  Amazingly, his father, Terach, was the first person in Scripture to name a son after his own father.  Nachor gave birth to Terach and Terach gave birth to Abram, Nachor, and Haran. (Genesis 11:24-27)

Not only did Terach respect the connection between the past and the future when he named his son, but he impulsively took his family on an unprecedented journey, heading toward a destination he’d never seen—Canaan.  (Genesis 11:31)  They didn’t make it all the way, but a generation later, following in his father’s footsteps, Abraham did.  (Genesis 12:5)

Why did Terach try to reach Canaan?  It was known in ancient times that the land of Canaan possessed especially close connections with God.  It was where Jerusalem would be established and it would become the land of His people. Terach, perhaps in ways he didn’t even understand, wanted connection with God and his son actualized that desire.  Terach gave a springboard to Abraham by recognizing the value of the past and the spiritual wealth that had been forgotten over the generations since Adam.

In matters of the body, we look towards tomorrow.  Food production, medical procedures, transport, and other similar concerns are all better today than they were last year.  But in matters having to do with the soul, we look towards yesterday.  When it comes to how to marry and build a family, how to pray, how to raise boys and how to raise girls, yesterday’s approaches were more correct than today’s.

We find direction for all these areas in ancient Jewish wisdom. Susan and I love hosting our daily TV show on the TCT network. We have the time to delve into these topics – we hope with humor and insight.  Now that the weather is turning cold we invite you to sit back and share 12 of our favorite episodes with our Ancient Jewish Wisdom DVD Set, on sale right now.

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How Do You Homeschool?

November 12th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Veteran homeschoolers are frequently asked two questions. Those who tend to object to homeschooling ask, “What about socialization,” while those thinking of homeschooling want to know, “What curriculum do you use?”

I want to focus on the second question. I often hear it expressed in a yearning tone. Parents who are unhappy with their children’s schooling or reluctant to send their little one off to school seem to be saying, “I want to do this so please tell me what to do.” To quote Shakespeare, “Aye, there’s the rub.” Most of the time, homeschooling is a dance that each mother (it is usually, though not always, the mom) and individual child do. When it is done best, it isn’t a matter of memorizing and executing steps, but of being completely in touch with one’s partner and sensitive to the unique personalities, interests and styles of both mother and child.

Since most homeschooling families are teaching more than one child, that dance takes place on a crowded dance floor. Furthermore, much of the time, especially for young ones, one lone mother is everyone’s primary partner. No wonder people contemplating homeschooling wish that there was an off-the-shelf package that will set everyone elegantly twirling.

What happens if we turn the question around? Jewish tradition encourages teachers to see their responsibility to their students as if they were each one’s parent. Outstanding teachers do so even when they have twenty or more pupils in a class. From that perspective, loving and guiding four or six or even ten of your own children seems much simpler.

There are families I know who do base homeschooling around one curriculum and use that program for many children and many years. Invariably, those lessons form a solid base that then leaves hours of the day and week for each child to spend on developing his or her own interests. Many other families combine different options that may change yearly (or more frequently) depending on family and individual dynamics.

What curriculum do we or anyone else use? That question is largely irrelevant for anything other than the early steps of gathering information. You are not me; your children aren’t my children; your goals are not my goals. Homeschooling is the opposite of a finding a shortcut to education. The process of discovering what makes you and your family dance may look clumsy at times, but it can lead to a master performance.

Honor Our Veterans

November 9th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.   General Douglas MacArthur

You Are Not a Cow

November 8th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 41 comments

A short while ago, my husband and I answered an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question about whether deciding not to have children was acceptable. I was struck by the many reader comments we received that were variations of, “Better not to have children if you can’t be a good parent.”

At the same time, on the advice of someone I respect, I picked up a novel aimed at young teens which dealt with a boy overcoming an abusive home. You may remember that I recently wrote a book review recommending a historical fiction book for even slightly younger children that shared a similar premise.

While I saw how engaging this second book was, it troubled me.  There is something wrong in presenting a dysfunctional view of family and society as the norm even if the underlying message is that tribulation can be overcome.  When popular literature and entertainment repeatedly emphasize  a theme, much more than just the intended message can get absorbed.

While the Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best families are often derided for being unrepresentative of anything other than white, middle class homes of the 1950s and 1960s, they were also aspirational models of marriage and parenting. Even if your family didn’t look like theirs, millions of kids were being told that happy healthy and fulfilling family life does exist. Compare the list of more recent years of Newbery Medal winners with earlier decades. The emphasis has changed.

When people wrote to us saying that if you couldn’t be a good parent it would be better not to have children at all, I think their unspoken message was that so many people are so hopelessly flawed that it would be best for them not to have children at all.  Even more disturbingly, they are also saying  that there is no need, or perhaps no ability, to improve oneself. 

Obviously, neither my husband nor I encourage abusive parenting. And we recognize that most of us automatically tend to repeat the behavior we saw as children, even when our memories aren’t positive. In a vicious cycle, the bullied often become bullies and abused children often grow up to be abusers. We are already a number of generations down the road of youth in our society growing up with  parents (or a parent) who failed to provide them with a psychologically and spiritually healthy home. Not surprisingly, many fear replicating that scenario.

I don’t think there is a parent on this planet who hasn’t at one point or another stopped him or herself and said, “Oh my goodness, I sound just like my mother – or father.” Many times, that’s a positive thing as we belatedly recognize our parents’ wisdom. But, sometimes it is a scary realization as we find ourselves repeating behavior that we know is wrong.

In the latter case, there are two ways of breaking the cycle with future generations. One is by not having children. The other is putting in the hard and often grueling work of consciously changing.   I know that most people live lives filled with a struggle to earn a living. For many of us, the hard work of building and nurturing relationships seems to grow each day.  It certainly can be overwhelming to think of adding another area of life that will demand time, effort and money.

Yet, by avoiding the growth needed to become a great parent, either by not having children at all, or by blindly relying on so-called ‘experts’ or upon  the latest fads informing us how to raise them, we stunt our own growth. One of my husband’s favorite sentences is that a cow will always be a cow and a camel will always be a camel, but a human being has the ability to completely change his or her entire being. One of the bravest things anyone can do is to look in the mirror, recognize the need for change and commit to doing so.

God’s very first message to mankind is usually translated as, “Be fruitful and multiply,” a poetic repetition of one idea. That isn’t what the Hebrew says. The first word in the Hebrew phrase “P’ru u’rvu,” does mean being fruitful and in fact, since P and F are the same letter in Hebrew, the English word fruit derives from the Hebrew. What does that mean? Well, when you plant apple seeds you do not shockingly find orange trees growing. When you plant corn, you don’t wake up to a field of wheat. Being a parent means passing on the genetic material that is there.

But God didn’t stop with one word. R’vu (the U’ of u’rvu means ‘and’) has a deeper implication than just multiplying. The word shares a root with ‘rabbi,’ a word that implies teaching, leadership and greatness. The implication is not only that we must teach and lead the next generation, but that in giving that command to man, God is telling us that becoming a parent means teaching and leading ourselves to become great people. We have the ability to transform whatever genetic, social, psychological and spiritual input we received as children and reach for greatness. Amazingly, our evolving understanding of epigenetics suggests that we can even change our genes themselves! Making the commitment to have children of our own is a most powerful fuel to drive that transformation.

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I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch

November 7th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

Most book titles mean something only if you are familiar with the contents of the book. There is nothing particularly descriptive about the words, Little Women or Tom Sawyer. The titles evoke a reaction only because the books are well known. More intriguing names like The Red Badge of Courage or The Scarlet Letter are also only meaningful after reading the book. Even a short plot synopsis doesn’t automatically let you know that this book will be one of those that becomes a classic and which you might find yourself reading over and over. Four sisters during the Civil War years go about their daily lives, maturing from girlhood to womanhood. Not terribly gripping, is it?

The above doesn’t apply to one of my favorite reads, I Didn’t Plan to be a Witch. This mother’s lament at not always measuring up to her image of what she should be, grabbed me at the title. The author, Linda Eyre, had previously written a best-selling book with her husband, Teaching Your Children Values, which evolved into a series of books like Teaching Your Children Joy, etc. That information was enough for me to know that this book wasn’t going to be sordid tale of drugs or promiscuity. Indeed, I Didn’t Plan to be a Witch echoed my internal cry when I didn’t live up to my own standards. I enjoyed the book, but the title stayed my favorite part through the years. Just looking at it on the shelf could make me laugh and buoy my spirits especially on those days that I felt like a failure. The book still fills that purpose for one of my daughters who has “borrowed” it, finding it reassuring after a disappointing day. 

This is all to say that I truly appreciate a clever title. Especially after laboring over the chore of selecting titles for my husband and my books and audio CDs, I value the time, creativity and frequently the angst that accompanies naming a creation. So, rather than skipping over the name of a professor’s book, which was mentioned  as a means of establishing his credentials in an article I read, I took the extra second to read his book’s name. Unlike Linda Eyre’s book, where I paid for a copy just to have the title peeking out of my shelf with the contents being an added bonus, this book’s title persuaded me not to even order it from the library. Having not read it, perhaps I am misjudging it, but if that is the case then the author and publisher made a really big marketing mistake.

What would you think is the message of a book called, You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 25? To me it says that a fair number of my children, who are functioning perfectly well as adults, should still be treated as—and think of themselves— as adolescents. Why I would want to confer immaturity on them and added responsibility on me is beyond my comprehension.  In a tepid approximation of research (I have a rather limited time each week to devote to this blog), I did look the book up on the Amazon website . Guess what I found? This is a new and revised edition. The 1997 edition was titled, You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 20. I don’t know how to write sounds of me shrieking in the background, but if I could, I would. Perhaps the comic book rendition, “AAARGH!” says it best.

In a world where I feel increasingly out of step with what are considered mainstream ideas I want to take this opportunity to thank you for making  me feel less alone. To those of you who, like me, think that adolescence as a concept should be severely limited; who believe that ‘old-fashioned’ values never go out of fashion and who struggle to be not only better parents but also better spouses and citizens in a society which increasingly makes all of those undertakings difficult, here’s to making our voices heard.

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Combatting Small-Town Gossip

November 6th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

How do you appropriately defend against a false witness? Recently I have come across a situation where someone was falsely blamed in a situation. I did not witness the supposed misdeed but I know the nature of the person blamed and know them to be far removed from the type of behavior indicated from the “blamer”. I also know the nature of the finger pointers and what they have to gain from such false witness. Popularity and position.

It is not a criminal or illegal occurrence but it has tainted the individual in question to a degree within a small rural assembly. I feel like my hands are tied. Do you have any advice for this situation other than continued show of support?

I realize this may seem vague but I do not wish to create any more drama in an already ridiculous situation.  I do feel that this is a repetitive situation in small town communities. The circumstances change but the story is sadly the same. Many times over.

Karma M.

Dear Karma,

The problem you pose and the question you are raising is not confined in any way to small towns. Our society is awash in false accusations and the politics of personal destruction.

We are often in a bind. Years ago, in a more moral age, it was easier to believe the adage, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Now, it is meaningless.  The news media have become practiced experts at producing smoke with no fire; without even a naked flame.  Ancient Jewish wisdom is always uncompromising about not spreading or listening to slander or gossip.

However – and in our day and age this is a huge “however” –  an exception  can sometimes be made if there is possibility for harm by not sharing some potentially true negative information. For example, imagine being a new resident in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors are uncomfortable with their children sleeping  over at one family’s house.  They can’t substantiate their concerns, but there is general discomfort. Should they fill you in or not?

From your perspective, as a parent, you would probably appreciate the warning. At the same time, you would have no way of knowing if it was based on valid concerns or maybe the ‘accused’ neighbor simply votes, dresses, worships or looks different from everyone else.

In the situation you are describing, standing with the person accused based on his character as you know it, is the correct thing to do. We think that you should not underestimate the importance of doing so. In a small town, it is possible that you will be shunned and face difficulties for not following the crowd. Going out of your way to show that you do not believe the charges is actually an act of courage. You can make extra efforts to connect with that person and support him socially and, if he has a local business, economically.

We don’t see that you can do much more than publicly making clear that you don’t accept the charges. There is One who knows the truth and while that doesn’t necessarily make our day to day lives seem easier, it is, in the final analysis, all that matters.

Keep being a good neighbor,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

We grew up hearing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.”
Scripture says, “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue.”

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Get Back to Work

November 5th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 36 comments

What engineer or architect would describe flaws in a bridge or building he’d never seen?  What doctor would describe the fractures in the bones of a patient he’d never examined?  But some who make their living in the mental health industry feel no compunction describing the psychiatric problems suffered by people they’ve never met.

Here are some of their pronouncements.  The great scientist and Bible scholar, Isaac Newton was bipolar and suffered from autism and schizophrenia.  Winston Churchill suffered from clinical depression.  According to the Journal of Medical Biography, Michelangelo, the artist who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, was autistic. Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Charles Darwin and many other great achievers of history are similarly described.

I must confess to being very skeptical.  Considering Churchill, most of the cited evidence revolves around his self-described Black Dog. Having spent some of my childhood in the United Kingdom, I remember that the term meant being in a bad mood or getting out of bed on the wrong side. Churchill’s own daughter confirms that there were times during World War II that her famous father was in a bad mood. There were also times when he felt and expressed deep, inconsolable grief at the loss of Allied soldiers. Does that translate into clinical depression? Certainly not.

So why the current obsession with diagnosing famous and accomplished figures with various mental illnesses?  Follow the money.  Since the 1960s our culture has been trying to label moral shortcomings like gambling and marital infidelity as mental illness.  “Cheating is Genetic,” was the breathless headline in one weekly journal. Well, of course it is! Indeed, cheating is far more common in humans with an X and a Y chromosome than in people with two X chromosomes.

Since the 1960s mental health costs have been rising at a significantly higher rate than general health costs.  This can have only two possible causes.  Either Americans have been stricken with growing epidemics of mental problems or else the colossal money machine of governmental involvement in medicine is incentivizing the “right” diagnoses.  The cascade of articles highlighting the mental problems of prominent people who are dead and can thus no longer contradict spurious claims suggests that the latter explanation may be more correct.

Obviously I recognize the existence of serious mental disorder.  My meanderings on this topic concern whether all that is today thus diagnosed is in fact that. One way to diagnose more mental disorders is by expanding the criteria. Surely those who carried heavy weight upon their shoulders might have experienced symptoms of depressive disorder.  They must have felt, at times,  an inability to focus on long term projects, feelings of hopelessness and withdrawal from relationships and even possibly had suicidal thoughts.  Well, almost everyone passionately engaged in life’s challenges will have periods like that.  Why wouldn’t Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln have had terrible times of doubt and hopelessness? 

I don’t for a moment doubt that it has to be enormously comforting for any person who is not coping with life to receive a diagnosis that accounts for his problems.  It is just that I feel that prior to the 1960s, without these diagnoses available, many more people tended to cope.  Perhaps they dug deep into their reserves of grit and determination.  Perhaps they sought and received social and spiritual help.

Five Biblical personalities expressed a desire to die.  Without question they were experiencing a potent neurological cocktail of grief, disappointment, anger, and hopelessness.  They all recovered and resumed doing those things for which they were known.

The five who express a desire to end their existence (not counting actual suicides such as Samson and Ahitofel) are Moses, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Job.

If You would deal like this with me, rather kill me I beg You,
and let me not see my wretchedness.
(Numbers 11:11)

Please, Lord, take my life, for I would rather die than live. 
(Jonah 4:3)

And he went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a retem bush and sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “Enough!” he cried. “Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
( I Kings 19:4)

Accursed be the day I was born… Let not the day be blessed when my mother bore me…so that my mother might be my grave…
(Jeremiah 20:14-17)

Would that my request be granted, that God give me what I wish for; would that God consented to crush me, loosed His hand and cut me off. 
(Job 6:8-9)

Each of these extraordinary men is beset by disappointment, grief, and pain.  Their response, a hopeless throwing up of their hands and asking for it all to end, is a perfectly natural and perfectly normal feeling.

However, God neither indulges their whining nor expresses sympathy with a fatherly, “There, there, things will improve”.  Instead, God prescribes three medications: He reminds them that He never promised them that life would resemble a stroll through a rose garden.  He reminds them that the universe does not revolve around them and that unseen phenomena that they don’t understand are involved.  And, He demands that they get back to work.  And this is precisely what all five men do.

Everybody actively engaged in the fight we call life has bad days or even bad weeks and months.  Certainly there is sometimes a need for medical assistance and it must be sought. But,  just possibly, many diagnoses could perhaps be more safely treated spiritually rather than pharmacologically. Just like Michelangelo who had a ceiling to paint, and Isaac Newton who had to understand and explain gravity, and just like Churchill who had a war to win, we too can gain help during our more difficult times by remembering the three prescriptions. 

1) Whenever life happens to be easy and smooth, recognize those periods as highly abnormal and be grateful. 

2) Remember that this is a big world and we are not the center of it all. 

3) Finally, remember you are here for a purpose, so get on with it and get to work.

 *   *  *  *

Our actions and speech affect our psychology. It doesn’t surprise me at all that in the decades following the normalization of vulgarity, people are angrier, lonelier and less balanced. You may not be able to change the culture, but you can change you and influence those around you. Please take a good look at Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, which is on sale for a few more days.

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