Posts in Thought Tools

Male Highs and Lows

April 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

“No questions are out of bounds,” I explained to the awkward-looking young man who approached me.  “Nothing in the entire spectrum of human experience falls outside the purview of ancient Jewish wisdom or beyond the Torah upon which it is based.  Go ahead and tell me what is worrying you,” I assured him.

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and with his face betraying inner embarrassment, he finally blurted out his question.  “Why did God create men to both urinate and reproduce through the same bodily orifice whereas with women it’s different?”  I had to stop myself from smiling.  Having finally got this conundrum off his chest, he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to feel relief or a desire to flee.

“That is a wonderful question and a very important one,” I told him.  At this point, all panic vanished from his face.  I then told him the answer and added that I would be writing about it in a future Thought Tool for everyone else who had thought of the question but lacked his courage to ask it.  Trent, this one is for you!

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Inherit the Land

April 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Thought Tools are meant as practical, real-world application of specific principles in Ancient Jewish wisdom.  Before submitting them for publication we ask ourselves whether they would have made sense to our grandparents and if they will make sense to our grandchildren. In other words, are they ‘evergreen’?  Little gets stale more quickly than political columns, while God’s Biblical blueprint is always current.

Occasionally we make an exception and when we do, it’s because politics is nothing more than the practical application of someone’s deeply held moral beliefs.  The World Health Organization (WHO) began in 1948 because of some people’s belief that it would be good for this United Nations agency to exist.  Advocating for universal health care as one of its mandates was someone’s idea of morality. It isn’t mine, but it was someone’s. 

WHO issues a list of the countries with the best healthcare systems. The United States ranks at number 37.  France and Italy occupy positions 1 and 2 respectively. The list of 36 countries with supposedly superior health care than the United States includes Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Cypress, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Dominica. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it would be better to need urgent medical care in Columbia or Cypress or even France than in Wichita, KS.  WHO’s chief criterion for ‘best’ healthcare is actually ‘most equal’ healthcare. Poor or even appalling healthcare delivered equally to all puts you up high on the WHO list.

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Lots of Hope

April 6th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

Imagine a desperate man making his way on foot through a desert.  Exhausted and thirsty beyond endurance he keeps driving himself forward, day by day, in the hope of reaching an oasis.  Eventually, he can go no further and drops hopelessly to the hot sand.  Rescuers discover his body only a half day’s walk from a large oasis. 

Let’s rewind and replay the story with the same man.   Except in this version, he knows exactly where the oasis is located.  In this account, when he reaches the place where he gave up and died in the first story, he is exactly as exhausted and just as madly thirsty.  Yet he does not give up and die.  Why?  Because he knows that redemption lies just over the next sand dune, a half-day away.  Knowing—not hoping or believing, but knowing—that redemption is near endows us with superhuman powers.  The mere knowledge that the oasis is near endowed this man with the power to overcome the heat and thirst.

It is hard to build a business.  Urgent need for capital can entirely wear down even the hardiest entrepreneur.  Gnawing worry morphs into fear that he won’t find the funds, diminishing the effectiveness of most business professionals in this unenviable position.

Compare that situation with an entrepreneur who is grappling with precisely the same pressures except that he knows that his next round of financing is happening in three weeks’ time.  The knowledge that redemption is round the corner endows this human with astonishing powers.

Then there is the married couple struggling to hold their marriage together. One day he is doing his best while she feels it all to be futile; another day she is willing to move mountains in the hope of saving her marriage while he has emotionally checked out. As any counselor knows, the odds of a successful salvage are slim.

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The Mysterious Traveller

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

In 2004, a beautiful blonde dropped out of Stanford University to start a biotech company she called Theranos. Before she was 21-years-old, she had raised hundreds of millions of dollars from some of America’s smartest and most sophisticated investors. These included ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch; and the Walton family, founders and owners of Walmart. Even then-vice-president, Joe Biden, toured Theranos and announced, “Talk about inspirational, this is inspirational.”

These investors weren’t deterred by articles questioning the technology of the company and the secretiveness of its founder. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association was hardly reticent in expressing concern that Theranos was operating in “stealth mode”  and never published research in peer-reviewed medical journals. Their concerns were valid. Within a short space of time, Theranos was revealed as a scam and stupendous sums of money were lost.

How do smart people make such big mistakes?  This same question could be asked about all of us who have ever made bad mistakes with money, relationships or politics. It could be asked about every bright and intelligent person who carries regret for dreadful decisions.  Now, imagine if we possessed a foolproof ‘mistake monitor’ that could prevent us from making those egregious errors in life that end up being so costly.  Well, we do, but like all effective solutions, it is not a magic wand.  It takes hard work to deploy it in your life. Let’s begin.

Exodus 23:5, as usually translated, seems to be a straightforward verse:

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under his burden,
you would refrain from helping him?— you shall surely help with him.

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The Corona Cascade of Calamities

March 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people. 

Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life.  Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.

This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.

What is stress?  Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control.  You lack time to do what you think must be done.  Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources.  Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue. 

Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.

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Music, Marriage and Eternal Life

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat among a capacity crowd in a darkened auditorium.  I sat on the edge of my seat as, upon the stage, about a hundred young people between the ages of ten and seventeen played complex classical musical masterpieces with stunning perfection. The music by Beethoven, Bruch, and Mahler was being played by members of a city youth orchestra. It was the youth orchestra of one of America’s most deeply troubled cities.  Violent crime, high school drop-out rates, rampant drug use and the virtual abolition of normal family life plague this city.  Surviving somehow, in this desert of doom and destruction, were these children who devoted hours to honing their musical talents and their parents who made music lessons a priority despite competing pulls on their time and finances. There I sat in open-mouthed astonishment in a virtual oasis, surrounded by the parents and siblings as these young virtuosos played their hearts out on stage.

But wait! Was my sense of wonder really well placed?  In many parks and fields around that same city were plenty of other groups of young people.  They were playing football, soccer or basketball. Of those, quite a few were on teams playing proficiently.  Is there really any difference between being on a football team and playing in a youth orchestra?  Don’t they both require discipline, dedication, and teamwork?  Why be more amazed at music than basketball?  I asked myself whether there really is any true and objective reason to value participating in a youth orchestra more than participating in athletics and sports?

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Esther and Sarah vs. Viruses and Villains

March 9th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

In our  constant struggle to build successful lives, it is all too easy to be pulled down by hardship, dark recollections, terrifying fears, and sad thoughts. Dealing with the hysteria, as well as the reality, surrounding the coronavirus is only one example of the negativity that abounds. Nonetheless, we can confidently focus on moving forward by treating each day as its own opportunity to achieve success and happiness.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Purim on which we read the Book of Esther. Like all “stories” in the Bible that we first meet as children, we often neglect to elevate our study of Esther to a more mature level. The book opens:

And it was in the days of Ahasuerosh, he was Ahasuerosh who reigned from Hodu to Kush, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.
(Esther 1:1)

The number 127 occurs only one other time in all of Scripture—at the end of Sarah’s life.

And Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old…
(Genesis 23:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom links the two occurrences. In Scripture, numbers have great meaning. If a number only appears twice, we need to note the connection between the two occasions.

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Into the Valley of Equality

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

It’s truly terrifying that more young males are being brought up without a father than ever before. Terrifying?  Yes, terrifying! You want to know why?  Because boys need dads to help them acquire self-discipline and become men of honor. Because those with real-life experience of the criminal justice system will tell you that the one factor most shared by incarcerated men is not economic status, race, or gang-affiliation, but the absence of a father in the home.  Thus, the more boys without dads, the more frightened we should be. It’s sad but simple.

It’s truly terrifying that there is more income inequality in America than ever before. Terrifying? Huh? Why?  I’m trying to find out, honest I am.  One thing is for sure and that is that there is more talk of income inequality than ever before.  Pundits and politicians pontificate about how dangerous it is, but I like to figure things out for myself and I cannot see the problem.

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Thirty is the New…You?

February 25th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

Soon after earning my Private Pilot’s License, I was sitting in the left seat of a Piper Cherokee single-engine airplane flying at 5,000 feet over the Mozambique jungle on a course for Lourenco Marques.  I had no idea that soon thereafter the beautiful landscape beneath me would be transformed into a bloody battlefield of a civil war, resulting in the mass exodus of about a quarter of a million skilled Portuguese citizens and the destruction of an Indian Ocean paradise. 

On that sunny afternoon, however, I was accompanied by a British friend who was visiting me.  We rented a plane in Johannesburg, and with my fresh piloting skills, we set out to fly to the coastal resort now known as Maputo.

I tell you this partially in the spirit of self-indulgent nostalgia, but mainly to describe what happened when John, comfortably ensconced in the right seat, excitedly spotted a large herd of elephants below.  I immediately threw the P-32 into a bank and began carving a large circle through the clear African skies so we could keep the mesmerizing sight in view.  I must have done two or three complete circles as we gazed in wonder at that herd of one of God’s most astounding creatures.

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Google Shmoogle, Going Mad

February 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

My accountant recommended I start taking one 40 milligram Atorvastatin tablet before bedtime.  I now pour a quart of synthetic fuel additive into my car’s fuel tank every filling because the plumber who fixed our kitchen sink advised it.  My auto mechanic said that everyone should expense carpet cleaning on their federal income tax.  You may well laugh but many people vote the way their favorite Hollywood celebrity recommends.  Many people raise their children according to the dictates of the latest issue of psychology magazines and many people choose what car to buy on the basis of the mindless ramblings of a hysterical Nordic teenager.

Wouldn’t you be really relieved to know that you had access to fully reliable information?  (…and no, that wouldn’t be the Internet.) Well, think of your rabbi as the ultimate antacid.  I am about to bring you relief.  That’s right; I am about to show you how and where you can seek dependable data about whatever troubles you.

The first step is to determine into which of two categories your question falls.  Does your question have something to do with the natural sciences?  Is it about how things are and not about how things should be?  Is it about things or animals more than about people?  Example: What is the highest mountain visible from a city with a population of more than five million inhabitants?  Most questions of this type have one unarguable answer.  Let’s call this basket of questions, category A.

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