Dear Readers,

I was having a conversation with an especially mature teenager.

“Really, there is so little about ourselves that we can be proud of,” she insisted. “Our character traits are mostly inborn, based on genetics, or formed through our life’s experiences. Whether we are smart or pretty is also just a gift that we were born with.” She mused thoughtfully.

“So, in truth,” she continued. “The only thing that we can really be proud of that we accomplish on our own is when we work on changing something about ourselves.”

That’s what I love about teenagers. They can be so deep and insightful, and so brutally honest with themselves.

The Rebbe taught: “Young people are overflowing with a mixture of adrenaline and confidence—‘I want to change the way the world works,’ teenagers often think. ‘I can change the world.’ This is the conflict between them and adults: Young people abhor the status quo, while adults’ lives revolve around it.”

“So, what are practical things that I can work on for positive change?” She probed.

It was one of those rare moments that a teenager opens up, and I knew that I needed to come up with genuine responses.

“For me, feeling gratitude is difficult.” I suggest. “Making a list on paper or in my head of the things to be grateful for every day—from ‘small’ things, like the fact that the sun is shining, to my health, home and family—helps me recognize all the good in my life and actually makes me a happier person.”

She liked that idea. But she pushed me for another suggestion.

I thought for a few minutes and was relieved when another idea popped into my mind. “OK, here’s something else,” I said. “Every day, do something to make another person happy. It can be a small thing, like saying thank you to your bus driver, or complimenting your friend who looks lonely, or showing appreciation to the check-out person. Any nice word or gesture to make someone smile. How’s that?” I asked.

“The truth is,” she said agreeably, “that at any given moment, most of us are so focused on ourselves and how we’re feeling. We analyze to death whether we’re disappointed with an outcome or how a friend is treating us, or how popular we are with our group. So, this is a good way to take the focus away from me and what I want by focusing, at least for a short time, on making another person happy.”

These days between Passover and Shavuot are meant to be journeys into the inner terrain of ourselves. We prepare to receive the Torah by becoming better people. The Hebrew word for character traits is middot, which also means measurements. When we do our inner work, we measure and create more of certain qualities and less of others in order to grow as better human beings.

Do you have any suggestions for small things that we can do to create big change within ourselves?

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW