Thursday, April 24, 2008

Parenting My Inner Child

I want to revisit some ideas I put forth in a previous post. I had borrowed some parenting advice from the famous Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and turned it around by applying it to myself. Today, I will talk about these ideas in more detail.

Yes, co-opting parenting advice as self-help shows me to be a bit egocentric, which is part of the problem. Yet, I feel there is real wisdom in Rabbi Boteach's principles that I can use to improve my attitudes and behavior.

Stop Asking What I Want to Do with My Life—Start Asking Who I Want to Be
It's no problem to ask who I want to be, but I don't think I know the answer. Perhaps there isn't supposed to be one answer or one answer that holds true now and forever. I know I want to be a "good dad" and a "good husband." I also know I want to be "successful" and "accomplished."

Honestly, though, who I want to be is me. And who am I? Just some guy who loves his kids and wife, loves his life, and loves to learn more about his G-d and his G-d's people. On the one hand, I want to embrace my anonymity and commonality, but on the other hand, I want to cultivate my uniqueness. Is who I am tied to what I do? No, it's tied to who I love and what I love.

Stop Speaking About My Career—Talk Instead About My Calling
What is a "calling"? It is the work for which I was made. What work or kinds of work was I made to do? Hmm. I feel like I was made to explain things and write, but mainly I feel I was made to play and work with other people. I was made to build a community. Not build it myself, but to be part of the building and to be a leading force in it. There are many communities already established that I could be part of - I do not need to build an entirely new one. Certainly, the community I want to build is a Jewish community.

Now, I work as a proposal writer - how does this help me fulfill my calling to build communities and help people? It doesn't, at least directly. It's not the work as proposal writer that's important. Meeting new people and establishing positive working relationships with them is the meaningful part. When I think about what's happened to me at my former job, what I made happen, I see that I violated one of the sayings of the Pirkei Avot, from Rabbi Joshua: "An evil eye, the evil inclination, and the hatred of one's fellows, drive a person from the world." I was - and have been - envious of others, lazy and inattentive, and two-faced. Now I am driven from this "world."

Stop Focusing on Achievements and Accomplishments and Start Focusing on Intellectual Curiosity
I know that I am very much focused on achievements and accomplishments - or rather, my lack of them. But the advice is to focus on intellectual curiosity.

This last term is quite interesting because curiosity is by definition already intellectual. It refers to the desire to learn and know things. Intellectual curiosity means just this kind of wanting to learn new concepts and arguments, and it also suggests a wanting to understand the makeup of one's own intellect.

In real world terms, the advice for me is not to pursue and MBA but rather to study the direction of my passions for business-related knowledge. What is it in business that I really want to investigate? The nice thing about curiosity is that it combines emotion and reason - passion drives thinking.

Stop Speaking About Happiness—Start Speaking Instead About Purpose
For some time now, I have been concerned with being happier, with the idea that I am not happy enough or as happy as I could be. I have bought several books on it, the best of them being Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. Yet, in this principle I am asked to jettison the enitire concept for the idea of purpose.

Or maybe I am not supposed to abandon the idea so much as realize that it is a product of a process and not necessarily an active state. I could be way off here - I certainly feel as though I am not correctly or fully expressing the principle - but purpose is about meaning, lasting value, and representation of interests that are not solely my own. I realize I do not do many things that have or that embody purpose. If I truly want happiness, and it is not entirely certain that I do, it must be as a by-product of living my purpose.

Stop Emphasizing Friends—Start Emphasizing Family
This one really should be easy, seeing as I have few friends. Yes, I am trying to build and expand my professional and social network, but these are not friends.

On the other hand, I wonder if I can truly say I emphasize family. In many ways, I emphasize work and my personal projects over my own family. I am often impatient with my wife and children. I am frequently reluctant to visit or entertain my parents, brothers, in-laws and neighbors. It's sometimes a struggle for me to act and feel genuine in front of even the people to whom I feel closest.

The reason for these feelings lies right out in the open: I am ashamed of myself because I have not accomplished anything of the greatness that I always thought was inside me. This is the source of all for me, and until I deal with this either by acceptance or by accomplishing something that seems worthy then I will always have this cancer in my mind.

Stop Speaking About Attention Span and Focus—Start Focusing on Love
I am very critical of myself, and I see I have passed this on to my children. I feel bad that I am spread out among too many tasks and aspirations and obligations, so much so that I sometimes have to sneak in other work while I am at my primary job. This kind of multi-tasking is clearly not good for me or my career.

The advice being given here is is one of adjusting priorities. Instead of telling myself that I need to be more focused and disciplined, I need to assert my need to love what I am doing, to do it passionately and with a spirit that only I can bring. In the end, we are talking about the same thing, about sustaining work in a concentrated area, but the difference is one of uniting my head, my heart and my activity into one energy. When I focus only on my lack of attention and focus, only part of the problem - and not the real problem - is being addressed.

This guidance, too, works in the realm of how I deal with my wife and children. Yes, I need to pay better attention and be a better listener. Changing the behavior, however, will be much better and more effective if I use my love as a husband and father to drive the activity. I'm not just trying to ge practiced at real listening, I'm trying toremember that if I love someone I want to show it through genuine engagement.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Status Report - Grateful

At the beginning of the year, I made a high-level plan on how I wanted to live. The basic idea was that I would use Maslow's hierarchy to target specific behaviors that would improve my sense of well-being and purpose. I liked the plan when I devised it for myself; I like it now.

So, how am I doing with the plan? In some - maybe many - respects, not great. I'm really not eating clean or exercising regularly. I did set up a savings account. I help with the house, but I need to do more. Same with quality time with the family. I do call my family often. I haven't done much with the house, but I did get the lawnmower repaired and got the birds out of the air conditioning. I have done jack squat with keeping my areas clean. I certainly don't read Torah often enough, and I am not exercising my creativity as I'd hoped. And, well, I do reflect on myself too often.

So, OK, maybe I'm operating at a C grade. I can improve, I'm sure. Of course, anyone can decide to change his habits or his life or his mind. The key part is doing the work once the decision has been made. This is where I have fallen down, and this is where I need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether I really want to change. Maybe I don't. That's OK too, isn't it?

In an unrelated development, I had a rather interesting situation. I was at Becky's church, and the pastor of the day was giving his sermon. He brought Martin Luther into the picture, and of course I nearly gagged because to me Luther is a no-good anti-semite and I don't really care to hear anything about him or by him. But of course, these folks can easily forgive Luther and separate his anti-semitism from the rest of his theology because they weren't tormented by Luther's minions.

I later sent Becky some lowlights from Luther's anti-semitic writings, and she forwared these to the pastor, also noting her displeasure. The pastor - and I'm sure he's a nice guy who means well - sent back the kind of vanilla response I suppose I'd expected: "I'm so sorry, I meant no harm, Luther was certainly in the wrong on many things, he was a man and therefore imperfect, and" - I knew it was coming - "only Yeshu was perfect."

These people and their Yeshu! On the one hand, I have to admire what seems like genuinely internalized belief - apparently true faith. On the other hand, these folks need to wake up and smell the coffee. It's extraordinary how they pray to a man, fixate on sin and death as a way to excuse bad behavior, and use pretty songs to generate heart-dominated worship (as opposed to head and heart worship). The people sway to the music and raise their hands, but it is all rally just vapid. And their "new testament" - don't get me started. What it says is hardly original or significant, yet what it does to Tanach is criminal.

I suspect these people all intuitively realize Yeshu is a mythical character, but they also actually believe the myth. In fact, this is what gives them their strength. In a scary world, they depend on the myth to personify their heart's desires and stabilize their ambiguous identites and need for a sense of purpose. Poor folks, they cannot bear to reflect on HaShem alone, so the Yeshu myth helps them feel oriented, grounded and - perhaps most important of all - involved. Though I am decidedly not apologizing for them or anyone, their idol-worship is a monumental achievement of rationalization against evidence.

I can only thank and praise HaShem that I was not made a gentile.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Coming Back, Bringing In, Letting Go

I have a post from February 8 that I never uploaded:
I haven’t written a post in some time. Although I am quite busy, and it is past 11:00 p.m. as I compose these words, I’m quite happy tonight to be writing. I have Friday off from work, but I will be busy enough tomorrow (which is almost today). For the past two hours I have been typing away on loose ends for Bob and then a work/thought structuring document for Dennis and Dori. I think these products turned out all right.

I am so monumentally busy these days. It’s nothing new. I’ve been complaining quite a bit about my boss. He treats me like I’m his secretary. I don’t doubt that this is actually what he believes I am. To him, I’m marketing support, not marketing. To me, support means hired help, and it means I’m apart from any bonus consideration or other financial incentives.

This is why I have been working to get out of my current position, if not my company. I have recently begun to think that what I really want is to work for the government, probably the federal government. I liked the possibility of working at that other place, King David’s Coffee. It’s just too good. Maybe when Becky has C.J. and then comes home. If I can get some free time, I’ll go and see what happens.

Now, C.J. is due to arrive soon, G-d willing. I’m very excited to see my boy and welcome him home. Hopefully, HaShem will make this so, and look kindly upon my son. Naming him after my grandfather makes me happy. For a long time, I knew that if G-d ever granted me a son, the child would be Charlie. It’s a beautiful thing to have one’s children named after the beloved dead. Yes, the dead remain missed and mourned, but with the children, it is like having a part of them here. Or maybe it’s better to say it’s a bit like having them here. Either way, it’s one of the joys that come into the household with the children.

My Emily continues to be an apple of my eye. Hannah, too, of course, but Emily’s at that age I so loved when Hannah was there. Emily’s still young enough to need me, you see. At almost five, Hannah knows everything and bosses me around. But Emily just wants to be happy and make her noises. I think she’s quite independent, and she has, perhaps, a cagey intelligence. Hannah’s intellect is more active. She’s always pushing it, testing it, using it. If she gets her mind set to some area of knowledge, I think she’ll become a master of it. May HaShem, blessed be He, make it favorably so!

Yes, I am busy and lucky. I’ve been given a lot and I have much to repay.

Quite a bit has happened since this post. I am moving on to a different and, I think, better job opportunity. Yes, it is a lateral move and not a big salary bump - only $500 annually - but the work seems interesting and exciting, and the company is located much closer to home. The benefits are better, too.

C.J. has arrived and he is - seriously - a good looking boy. I can already tell that he's funny. I've seen him laugh a few times, and it's the cutest thing. The girls are really great. Hannah just loves being the big sister, and Emily loves to touch C.J.'s head.

I have gained SO much weight! I tipped the scales today at 192. Yes, that is correct: one-hundred and ninety-two pounds. Not good. I've gone on runs every now and again, but my diet is out of control.

Passover is coming this weekend. I'm trying to think through the idea of "personal liberation." The idea fits with the season, as in "let my people go." The other part of the equation, however, is letting go so that I can serve HaShem. I am rather selfish, very selfish, and do have trouble with this last part. Every year, I want to be free. Every year, I feel as though I am not free. Not to complain, but frankly it's exhausting to feel so dissatisfied all the time. I really want to get away from this. A blog entry from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach sums up the values I wish to stress to and within myself (edited by me, with apologies to Rabbi Boteach):

  1. Stop asking what I want to do with my life—start asking who I want to be.
  2. Stop speaking about my career—talk instead about my calling.
  3. Stop focusing on achievements and accomplishments and start focusing on intellectual curiosity.
  4. Stop speaking about happiness—start speaking instead about purpose.
  5. Stop emphasizing friends—start emphasizing family.
  6. Stop speaking about attention span and focus—start focusing on love.

Bottom line? I'm not worrying.