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When It’s Time to Stop Being Nice!

July 27, 2008

Is there ever a time to say, "Enough! No more Mr. Nice guy for me!"?

Think about this one before responding with a knee jerk reaction, it's not an easy question: Which quality would you like to impart to your child—how to be a nice person, or how to be a successful one?

In response, you'll probably wonder are the two necessarily mutually exclusive. Are they ever?

We define a nice person as someone who cares about others and is sensitive to their feelings. We've all met these sorts of individuals. These are the people who are selfless, seeing beyond their own wishes and putting the needs of others before their own. These are the people we love to be around.

Successful people, on the other hand, we identify as those who assert themselves to ensure that their personal goals are being met, irrespective of the needs, wishes or opinions of others. We've all met these types of individuals who guiltlessly step on anyone who gets in the way of their climb up their proverbial career or social ladders. These are the types whom we try to avoid—at all costs. But who nevertheless seem to be getting what they want out of life.

So, can the two co-exist?

Ideally, we'd all like to teach our children how to be accommodating to the perspectives of others. We'd like to teach them how to share their toys, their time on the swing and their snacks. We like to view ourselves, too, as considerate people who willingly give up our seat to the elderly or handicapped, who generously toss a few coins to the outstretched arms of a homeless indigent and who support the neighbourhood PTA. We value talking politely and criticizing sparingly. Until…that is, we have a run-in with someone who so blithely takes advantage of our good heartedness.

Ever had a situation where you are being neglectful to yourself (or your family) by tending to the whims of fussy Uncle Ben, critical cousin Sally and selfish neighbor Rhonda? Are you being considerate—or a wimp—by being a 'yes man' to your boss's opinions or by kowtowing to your tyrannical co-worker's quirks?

There are times when decidedly un-nice behaviour is the best response. Our traditions give the wise advice: "With a sly person, be sly." To achieve the greater goal, the correct response may be to deal deceitfully—or arrogantly, or selfishly, or sternly— with a person who only understands that negative language. With people who can't see beyond the little circle of their ego, ask yourself is being nice the correct approach or will a more stern method ultimately achieve more greater good?

How do you draw the line?

Maybe the answer lies in evaluating our motives.

Ask yourself, why be nice? Do you believe this is the right way to approach life? Or do you just want to be thought of as a nice person? Do you genuinely believe that your child should share the coveted park's swing with others, or is it your fear of him being labelled as the ill-mannered bully? Why are you giving a rubber stamp approval to your friend or co-worker, is it because you agree with what s/he is doing, or are you reluctant to appear disagreeable? Why are you generously offering your time and energy to others—do you want to be considered kind or do you genuinely believe in the cause?

Perhaps the key is developing an inner strength.

Let's impart to our children—and demonstrate ourselves—the backbone to stand strong, whether that means having the courage to act with kindness and sensitivity (which should always be our default) or to act with deceitful slyness or gruff sternness to those that only understand that language—to achieve the best outcome.

Some of the most self-centered people look strong on the outside, but are weak within, completely incapable of overcoming their personal biases and whims.

And some of the nicest, kindest people may seem weak on the outside but have the steely determination within—to do the right thing. Whether that means saying an accommodating, sweet "yes" (in most cases) or an unkind, stiff "no."

Not because they are affected by how others will view them. But by how their Creator does.

What do YOU think? When is it time to stop being nice?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Family Performance

July 20, 2008

Several weeks ago, on Lag B'Omer, I joined our community for a rustic excursion to a vast outdoor park. As part of the program, there was a circus show, performed by a husband and wife team. They performed incredible feats of balance, control and co-ordination. At one point, my heart was racing so quickly, as I watched them masterfully balance on the unsteady surfaces while performing heart-stopping tricks.

The highlight of the show, however, was when the couple's young son joined in their unnerving feats. He balanced himself upside down on his father's shoulders—who himself was balanced on a high and unsteady surface—while the youngster performed all kinds of acrobatic, daredevil jumps in the sky landing upside down, his outstretched fingers locking with his father's.

As much as the anticipation grows for each of these daredevil feats, was it possible that in this performance an even greater tension could be sensed?

I don't think it was only my imagination, but the show took on an even greater intensity in these moments because we were aware that the young child balancing on the strong adult's shoulders was not "just" a child, but his son.

As his mother pressed the hoops into his arms for his challenging jumping routine, was she also conveying a kindly extra nod of encouragement, more than she would for any other fellow performer? And as his father stood by his side to take the final bow, was the pride evident in his eyes more for his son's amazing antics than for his own?

True, every performer's heart constricts until he sees his fellow performer successfully land after mastering a thorny trick. Each works hard to contribute his part so that the performance as a whole can succeed. No doubt, a close knit bond of kinship develops among each member of these performing groups.

But here that bond was palpably more evident. After all, this was his son. Her son. He was not just any performer, not just any child, but theirs.

As I watched the show, I thought of this underlying emotional tension.

I thought of how when we see friends or acquaintances going through an issue, a challenge or a temptation in their life, how we empathize for them and try to help in any way possible.

But watching this parent-child trio, I thought that if somehow we can view our friends or acquaintances as part of our family, would our perspective be different? If we could somehow convey true compassion, acceptance, love and self-interest in their success—would that intensity somehow make a tangible difference in their positive outcome?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Riding the Waves

July 16, 2008

In my last post, I wrote about my wonderful two day get-away with my husband to the scenic region of Niagara Falls.

One of the first tourist attractions that my husband arranged for us to do was a special boat ride along the Niagara River called "white water jet whirlpool."

For the hour or so that we were on this boat, I felt like a teenager again. Before boarding, we were forewarned that the ride would be bumpy and at times scary. We were also told that we would get wet—very wet—and that we should take along an extra change of clothing. But despite these warnings, I wasn't prepared for what lay ahead…

We began our adventure, by putting on heavy plastic coverings. We donned extra sweaters, to keep us warm in the colder temperature by the water, and an additional plastic rain coat, rubber bonnet and water shoes, topped off by a tightly fastened life jacket. In short, we were covered from head to toe in this thick yellow rubber shield before embarking on the boat.

The jet boat had about fifteen rows of seats and we were advised that the first rows would be the roughest and wettest. Of course, my husband opted for us to sit up front!

And then our escapade began.

At first, the boat rode slowly, almost like a relaxing tour in the river. But before long, we were bumpily riding the waves of the largest white water rapids. The river beneath us felt like hard jagged rocks sharply beating against our boat and I held on for dear life over each huge wave that we encountered. Water came pouring in on us, as if in bucketfuls, repeatedly splashing and thrashing our faces and bodies. No matter how much yellow rubber was enveloping us, we became thoroughly drenched, through and through. The hammering of the water was relentless, as were the walloping rapids, the boat's sharp turns and its sudden short stops.

In the moments that I wasn't gripping the steel bar in front of me so tightly that my knuckles turned white, I was joining in with the screams of all the other adult passengers on board.

Before long, the ship's captain announced that we were slightly ahead of schedule and asked if we wished to ride one more "bonus" ride on the biggest, bumpiest and highest rapid yet. Our group's undivided, resounding "yes" was followed once again by the ensuing hysterical screams, more drenching downpours and heart-stopping, menacing bumps.

And then, of course, hilarious giggles.

The group that debarked from the ship was sopping and dishevelled, but nevertheless unanimously happy. We had paid generously for this terrifying, bumpy encounter where huge waterfalls were slapped across our heads and faces. And yet we all exited laughing heartily.

And that is when I thought about how our attitude and perspective to each of life's challenges makes all the difference to our experience.

In a different set of circumstances, each of us would have been furious to be caught in such a downpour, soaked to the bone and subjected to such intimidating, heart-stopping activities. But because we perceived our experience as something enjoyable, as an adventure that we willingly undertook, these very same activities were seen with entirely different eyes.

Is there perhaps a message here on riding the bumpy waves, or in experiencing the drenching downpours of our lives?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Recharge Your Marriage

July 13, 2008

This past week, my husband surprised me with exciting news.

"How about we both clear our schedules for just two days and get away? Just the two of us! We'll take a break from the kids, from our work and from the hectic pace of life and just enjoy each other's company."

The words were music to my ears. Every marriage expert suggests this—and for good reason—to reignite the marriage and recharge the batteries. But until we were actually in the car waving goodbye to our children on that Sunday afternoon, I didn't quite believe it would happen.

Our destination—a surprise for me, and chosen by my husband—was the beautiful scenic setting of Niagara Falls, just one-and-a-half hours away from our home. It was a perfect choice—far enough to feel like we got away but not too far to feel like we couldn't keep tabs on the kids, or return if we were unexpectedly needed. The plan was that we would be gone from Sunday afternoon until Monday night, long enough to get a fresh breather on life, but short enough for both of us to make adequate arrangements in our work schedules so we wouldn't be noticeably missed.

My husband planned our entire itinerary, filling our days with activities and tours that were a mixture of fun-filled and enjoyable as well as picturesque and relaxing. He also organized all the food and eating arrangements. I couldn't believe all the small details he thought of in advance, and all his research and co-ordination to make our trip as spectacular as it was. In his characteristic way, he thought of everything, and the two days away were absolute bliss, recharging and reinvigorating both of us.

On the way back, I, once again, expressed my gratitude to my husband for making this trip so memorable and we both resolved to do this more often.

"But do you know what I really liked the best?" I asked him. His curiosity was piqued as I continued. "It was the fact that you took the initiative to do this! Even if the trip wasn't as perfect or as well-planned as it was, even if the accommodations wouldn't have been as scenic, or even if there would have been glitches in our itinerary, to me, it still would have been perfect, because you took the time and effort to show that our relationship was important to you. It means the world to me—even if everything had gone wrong—that you arranged this for me!"

So what's my message here?

First, for all those husbands reading this—take the initiative to show your wife that your relationship is a priority to you. A couple days away would be a great place to start. But if that is not possible, in however you decide to show that you care, don't feel daunted by the expectation that it needs to be something extraordinary. Just the fact that you are taking the first step and that you are using your ingenuity will make her feel incredibly cared for and special.

I also was thinking that our connection with G‑d is a "relationship" too. G‑d tells us: "Open for me just the tip of a needle and I will open for you a floodgate."

Of course, G‑d can make any necessary "arrangements" in our lives far better and more perfectly than we can. But perhaps, we are being asked to "clear some time from our schedule," to demonstrate that our relationship with our Creator is a real and important part of our lives.

Perhaps, here too, our efforts need not be perfect. Our deeds need not have the backdrop of perfect, picturesque scenery. The arrangements need not even be glitch-free.

We simply have to take the initiative.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

A Glimpse at Greatness

July 6, 2008

There are some people who profess greatness, but in moments of struggle, anger or challenge, their true colors come to the fore.

And then, there are others who claim to be simple, modest and plain individuals, but during certain circumstances, one can't help but gain a glimpse of their true greatness and spiritual fortitude.

Aaron (name has been changed) is a man in the latter category.

Aaron is a close friend of my family. Recently, his teenage son suffered a tragic accident. A group of his friends had been lighting fireworks when inexplicably a terrible mishap occurred and one exploded in his face. Although he was rushed to the hospital's emergency room, the damage was irreversible, and the sight in one of his eyes was permanently lost. After hours of laborious surgery, the other eye was thankfully salvaged and the doctors were able to assure the family that the ugly scar on the young boy's face would eventually completely heal.

At a moment of such unexpected horror, the reaction of a parent would understandably be anger and outrage at the unfairness and cruelty of life. It would be expected for such a parent to become submerged in a losing battle against an overpowering bleak and bitter misery as he experiences feelings of incredible self-pity for the terrible ordeal facing his son and his future.

But not Aaron.

Soon after the surgery, Aaron called my father, his rabbi, to explain, "I thank G‑d that my son's life was spared. The accident could have been far worse; he could have lost vision in both his eyes and become blind for life. His face, too, could have been permanently disfigured. We are very fortunate."

The first time that Aaron met my father in person after the accident, my father was in the middle of delivering a Torah class. When he spotted him, my father immediately stopped his class, approached Aaron and the two embraced. What words of comfort could he say to a man of such caliber?

Aaron revealed his spiritual stamina again when he shared his unbelievable reaction to this encounter with my husband, in the days that followed. "You should know how special your father-in-law is," he began. "He knows how to comfort like only a true friend and mentor can. His actions convey more than mere words."

After my own nine-year-old son approached Aaron to enquire about the welfare of his son, Aaron remarked to my husband (and found the time to call my parents to compliment them on their grandson's conduct), "Your son is so mature," he remarked, putting aside his own feelings at such a painful time. "Many adults have a difficult time facing me after this accident. But I marvel at the maturity of your son, to ask me in such a forthright manner, so sincerely and so maturely."

From where does an individual find the fortitude to overlook his son's new disability and focus instead on his fortune at being alive and on the abilities that he still possesses?

What enables a father to see beyond the bleakness of his own tragedy and focus on the outpouring of love and compassion of those around him?

How does a parent see the light and goodness of life at a moment when darkness and difficulty has penetrated into the life of his most beloved?

Honestly, I don't know the answers to these questions.

But what I do know is that when you are fortunate to witness such greatness, you can only stand in awe—and attempt to learn from its penetrating message.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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