Let's Go For Coffee

Labels Are For Shirts—And For People Too!

August 31, 2008

Tomorrow night my youngest son returns home from overnight camp. It's the first time that he's been away for such a prolonged period of time. It is also the first time that my nine-year-old experienced such independence and responsibility that comes with being on your own.

Almost four weeks ago, the two of us were sprawled across the carpeted floor of his bedroom collecting neat piles of his clothes. Together, we developed an efficient system—he would gather his stuff from his drawers, passing me one piece at a time; I would label it and pack it into his suitcase, as he checked it off from his master list.

Observing my work closely, he cautioned, "Make sure you label everything, Ma! I don't want it to get lost." He was excitedly anticipating his first camping experience. "But write my name very small. Write it here in the back of the shirt," he said pointing, "or in a place where no one will notice." He instructed authoritatively.

When our family made the fourteen-hour drive back and forth to visit him, midway through his camping session, he proudly showed me his orderly cubby, where all his clothes were neatly folded, just so. Confidently, he informed me that he hadn't lost any of his belongings, thanks to our careful labelling. Other than one black stray pair of socks on which the black labelling pen wasn't legible, all his things were safely returned to him—even from the notorious, clothes-eating, camp laundromat.

And as he knowingly confirmed the merits of our fastidious labelling system, I began to consider the benefits of labels.

Not only on clothes. But on people, too.

Now, I know, it's not politically correct nowadays to apply labels to people. But hear me out.

It's a big bad world out there—even worse than that clothes-eating camp laundromat. Without a deeply engrained, strong sense of their identity, our kids can so easily lose their distinct selfhood, in their attempts to meld in with their surroundings. Only a clear, indelible and positively experienced label of our heritage—of who and what we are—can withstand the melting pot of assimilating into the crowd.

When we proudly wear a label of our identity, or a label of our family's and nation's heritage and history, we feel a distinct sense of belonging, a true knowledge of who we are and where we belong—one that can help us find our way back through any circumstance.

Tell your child he is a Jew—a member of a three-thousand year old chain of tradition. He is a part of a chosen people. He has parents, grandparents or great ancestors of whom he can be proud. He has a special tradition and family customs of which he can feel gratified. This identity will help him stand out, and remain apart—and, if he does falter, help him find his way back.

Also tell your child his unique qualities as a person—his strength and talents, and what you like so much about his special personality. Clearly label his untapped potential and you will help him maximize his best qualities and develop his character to its fullest. He will believe in the labels you give him and strive to live up to them.

Labels only become hazardous when they are negative or debilitating. Or when they become so central, that they overtake the individual.

As my son cautioned me—make sure the labels are small, and unnoticeable. Labels don't need to be worn outwardly, front and center. Labels that are too showy, arrogant, or too big are overwhelming—and unsightly. When a label becomes the person, rather than a part of his identity and what he can strive to be, it becomes counter-productive. Rather than helping him to actualize his unique sense of self, it hides it and squelches it.

We can then only see the label, and no longer the distinct individual.

I'm really excited that my son is finally coming home. I'm also happy that he's coming back with all his camp gear in tow.

But I'm even more glad that he's gained an increased sense of maturity and a belief in his capabilities and his identity.

I hope as the years progress, he will wear the label of his heritage with ever greater pride and that throughout the turns and twists of our confusing lives, it will help him find his path.

Now where did I store that labelling pen for next year?

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.

What Every Great Boss Knows

August 24, 2008

Are you a boss? Do you have someone whom you supervise?

If you are a wise boss, you know that the way to get the most out of your employees is to make them feel some level of ownership. When your employees feel in charge of their own destiny, steering their independent area of jurisdiction, their full potential, devotion and responsibility will come to the fore. Creativity and productivity, on the other hand, is stifled by censorship and your underlings' lack of freedom to explore and develop their own initiatives.

Every successful boss realizes this. (And "bosses" aren't only found at work. At home they're usually called by the titles of "Mom" and "Dad"…or "Wife.")

A successful boss understands, as well, that the higher level of productivity and creativity is worth the inevitable errors, mess-ups and blunders that his employees are sure to make because of this freedom. True, an intuitive boss will sensitively keep a close watch, from afar, to ensure that the whole project will never be sacrificed due to any recklessness, lack of experience or unintentional errors. But he will also intervene in subtle ways, clandestinely putting things back in place and creating the right setting to steer the project back on track.

If he's really good, he'll be able to do this without his employees ever figuring it out. And definitely without them resenting it.

In our psychologically-attuned times, "empowering your employees" is the byword in the corporate world (--used by every self respecting, smart home-based boss too!). Every successful boss does this.

In fact, maybe these intuitive bosses learned this trick of the trade from the Ultimate Boss—the Boss of our world.

He, too, ensures that we're the master of our unique destinies, allowing us to develop our special talents and distinctive qualities to their fullest. He'll allow us mess ups and blunders, some of which may be quite costly. But if we're steering too far off course, He'll set the circumstances in place so that our projects eventually get back on track. He'll ensure that we never go too far off from the personal and universal missions of our world. The grand plan might be delayed or suspended, but it will never be entirely jeopardized.

And He usually does all that without us even realizing it.

Now that's what I call a wise boss.

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.

Get Me Out of Here!

August 17, 2008

The black fly was steadily crawling up and down my kitchen window screen. It was desperately—but methodically—seeking an escape, to get beyond the imprisoning panel of the screen, into the wide, open world.

It could smell the refreshing air. It could sense the gust of cool wind blowing across its long transparent wings and short stubby legs. This taste of freedom motivated the industrious fly to continue its painstaking pursuit to reach into that thrilling liberty.

Watching the fly, I realized that unless I provide some assistance, I'd be hearing it buzzing in my ears and disturbing my sleep at night. So I pushed the screen wide open; its escape now made easily attainable.

"Go on, just fly a little to the left and you'll be free," I said aloud, as my four-year-old and I sat at our kitchen table, closely observing it.

Inexplicably, though, the fly continued its regimented climb, on the same thread of the screen. Unaware of the open gap, it persisted fruitlessly in its stubborn search for a small hole to make its exit.

I'm told that wild animals that have been confined for a long time react similarly when the lock on their cage is finally released. They continue their nervous, circular pace around the parameters of their prison home, before finally venturing through the open door into their sought after freedom.

And, if you think about it, human beings do the same thing.

How often have you tried to break out of an old and irritating habit or an unhealthy outlook, only to be held back, caged in by the parameters of your imprisoning addiction?

How often have you wished for the freedom of change? A change in a negative pattern of thinking. A change in an automatic, emotionally triggered response. A change in your habits or routines. A change from the confining, "in your box" way of thinking or acting.

But, like the fly on my window screen, imprisoned by our routines, fenced in by our comfort zones, captured by the familiarity of what we know - rather than what we'd like to be - most of us, too, are unable to take the plunge and experience the much dreamed-of exhilaration of reaching our uninhibited, full potential.

"An imprisoned individual cannot set himself free," say our Sages.

In such situations, perhaps only the listening ear of a close friend or mentor can lend us the much needed courage, assistance and direction to forge into a better, emancipated reality.

Eventually, that fly did make its way out. But only after my daughter and I repeatedly "pushed" it towards the open screen—and towards its freedom.

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.

The Hardest Three Words to Say

August 11, 2008

You and your spouse are driving along the highway. You begin to strongly suspect that you have missed your exit. The thought keeps nagging at you, and as more time elapses and the terrain is looking less and less familiar, the more certain you become. Yet as you begin to vociferously demand that your husband turn off the next exit, he stubbornly insists that you are headed in the right direction.

Fifteen minutes have passed. By now you both realize that you are driving on the wrong route. Yet, instead of changing paths, your spouse is still hoping beyond hope that this will somehow bring you to your intended destination.

Why is he being so obstinate? Because turning around is admitting that he has made a mistake and that's probably the hardest thing for any human being to do.

We all have that highway scenario played out in our lives. We understand that we're heading down the wrong path, we realize that the longer we continue the more lost we will become, and yet we obstinately cling to our mistaken ways.

Why? Because it is so incredibly hard to admit that we've make a mistake.

You've had a disagreement with your spouse, child or co-worker. It escalated to the point of ugly comments and incriminating remarks.

You know you were wrong. You know you crossed some red lines. You realize that you should never have brought his mother into the conversation, or that hapless remark he once said—and apologized for dozens of times—more than ten years ago.

And yet…you couldn't stop yourself. As soon as you began your slippery slide into that nasty terrain of discord, there was no way to prevent plunging full force.

Now the heated moment is behind you. You know you ought to make amends, but every time it occurs to you to apologize, ever fiber of your being rebels as your mind begins a full scale line of defense—you may have been wrong…but he did say/do/act so inconsiderately…He should be apologizing!

Why remain in a bitter tug of war that is straining your relationship and distancing you further, when an apology could easily make things right? Because the hardest words to utter are "I'm sorry, I made a mistake."

Let me share a small incident. When I was travelling recently to the West Coast, a friend asked me to take a very important package to her son who was studying there. I readily agreed, packed it into my suitcase, took it along with me…and proceeded to forget all about it, shlepping it right back home with me! Only when I finally unpacked my suitcase upon my return did my heart drop as I realized my error.

What to do now?

1) My first reaction: ignore the whole mess up and avoid the unpleasant ramifications. But her son really did need this package. It was bound to come to the fore and wouldn't she be even more upset that I didn't inform her immediately?

2) Call her up and defend myself, effectively freeing me of any guilt. Explain, "hey, it was nice enough of me to agree to s-h-l-e-p it in the first place," and find some way of blaming her for not anticipating this by having her son call to remind me about the package.

3) Owe up to my mistake and sincerely apologize for it.

The incident was minor enough with small enough at stake that I was able to take the latter path—and truly admit to how idiotic and silly I felt for being so absent-minded. The conversation could have taken a very different turn, but instead the more I carried on about how utterly sorry I felt, the more she reassured me, "You're only human! Please stop blaming yourself."

But it did teach me that the more we go against our initial and natural resistance, admit to our wrong and sincerely apologize for it, the softer and more appeasing our friends, spouses, children and co-workers become. On the other hand, the more defensive or blaming we become, the more the situation spirals out of control into a full-blown war.

With minor mistakes, it is easy enough for us to owe up to our wrongs. The challenge, however, becomes when it happens in more sensitive areas or in more meaningful relationships, especially when there may be traces of emotional baggage and prior feelings of hurt, resentment, or anger.

I am sorry. Three short words. Three powerful words. Three words that can prevent us from plunging deeper down the wrong path.

Will we allow our egos to get in the way from steering us towards this harder, but far more rewarding path?

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.

Mind Your Business!

August 3, 2008

"Just look the other way!"

"Live and let live!"

"What's it to you, anyway?"

These are the mantras of our age of impersonalization…

Mind your own business, we tell ourselves. It's not your place to mix in, friends admonish one another. Even parents follow suit. And neighbors scrupulously defend these mottos. We feel it is wrong to interfere with issues that are not our own.

Tolerance and acceptance are espoused as our eleventh commandment. But I think that these positive words are merely cloaking our shameful apathy. They hide our real attitude of, "I don't really care enough about you or your issues to assist/make change/become involved, so instead I righteously act as if I don't want to interfere."

I remember one of the first times that I came face to face with apathy. I was visiting New York City as a young child. We were walking along a downtown street when I happened to notice a bulky form strewn across the sidewalk. As we approached, I was appalled to discern the shape of a human being, huddled on the ground, obliviously unaware in his drunken stupor of anyone around him. It was midday and without a hiccup to their quick pace, the flow of pedestrians stepped right over him as they went about their regular business. As a child, I couldn't comprehend the concept of a homeless vagabond sleeping on the boulevard, but it was even more jarring for me to witness the callous reaction of these fellow citizens.

While I'm not suggesting that we all approach homeless strangers in our downtown streets, this disregard for another has dangerously seeped into our own communities and lifestyles to the point that we avoid confronting unethical situations—under the guise of our "live and let live" attitude.

Suppose you were witness to a senior being verbally abused—would you rise above the crowd by being the sole voice of protest, or would you take the easier route and merely look the other way? Suppose it was your friend who was perpetuating this abuse, would you approach him to rectify the wrong, or would you remain silent under the guise of "it's not my place to say anything"?

The Talmud states that the Temple was destroyed due to Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is well-known and goes like this:

A Jewish individual had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. When this man made a large feast, he instructed his servant to invite Kamtza but instead the servant mistakenly invited his foe, Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza attended, assuming that their past rivalries had been forgiven. When the host discovered Bar Kamtza's presence, he demanded his immediate eviction. Bar Kamtza's pleas to be spared the public humiliation would not soften the host's stance. The host even adamantly refused Bar Kamtza's generous offer to pay for the entire feast as long as he'd be permitted to remain. Though the great rabbis and important people of Jerusalem were present, no one interfered. Bar Kamtza was so outraged and disgusted by this incident that he eventually plotted to libel the Jews before the Roman Emperor. This ultimately led to the Temple's destruction. (See the full story here. )

The Temple was destroyed due to unfounded hatred between Jews. The lack of leadership played a central role in the degeneration of the generation.

Yet the Talmud specifically blames Kamtza as well as Bar Kamtza—"Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed." Bar Kamtza was the individual who was in a serious dispute with the host. Yet Kamtza, the host's friend, appears entirely innocent. Kamtza wasn't even present at the affair, so what role did he possibly play in this wrongdoing? Why does the Talmud hold him accountable?

Yet perhaps the Talmud is teaching us about the necessity of doing our part—for each of us, “small” people, friends or neighbors—whether or not our leadership is setting the proper example.

Kamtza's fault stemmed from being aware of his friend's irreconcilable hatred towards his enemy. Kamtza heard about it, knew about it, witnessed it on occasions, yet remained ambivalent. Kamtza did nothing to rectify the situation.

Remaining silent while a wrong is being perpetuated, makes you, too, a party to the guilt. Apathetic silence to a crime is deemed acquiescence.

The Temple was destroyed for no less a reason.

Minding our own business is no justification. Our job is to make justice our business.

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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