Tooting Your Own Horn

So I always try to see the best in people.


But sometimes it is hard when they are so intent on tooting their own horns. 


Bragging, boasting, patting themselves on the back about how smart they are or a job so incredibly well done.


Oh, you’ve got to ask yourself…


Is it all really true?


OR  


Do we have perhaps some slight exaggeration going on with a dose of self-aggrandizement, a spoonful of self-promotion, and more than a pinch of big ego?


Perhaps, also the person is in denial as to what their own capabilities–and limitations–really are. 


For example, many artists are enthralled with their work and themselves.

“Isn’t this so good?”
“Can you believe I made this?
“Wow, this is impressive, right?”


Sure, there are plenty of talented people out there doing good and even amazing work. 


But even then tempering your achievements with a little modesty and balance, like “I do this well, but I need to grow more in that area”–goes a long way to making the admirable talents and achievements more honest, humble, and believable. 


Always, people are good at some things, and worse at others.


We all have things to work on and improve, and nobody is so perfect in this world!


We can try to come close–that’s our job to strive for it–but true perfection belongs to G-d alone. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Ooh That Is Good

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Hey, congratulations to Roger Federer on winning his 19th tennis championship. 


It’s an absolutely awesome level of athletic achievement and it’s definitely something to celebrate. 


But when I saw this photo of him and his trophy in the paper this morning, it seemed over the top!


Whenever someone sets their mind to something, works really hard, and is thank G-d able to achieve it–that is something to be happy about and enormously grateful for. 


Hey, listen, I understand there are some real superstars out there and I respect them! 


However, seeing this guy clutching his trophy in both hands, smelling it, kissing it, and more…it looks to me more like idolatry than the pure, sweet smell of success. 


I get it–he worked super hard, achieved impossible things, and deserves to savor the incredible moment–no one is taking that away from him. 


Instead of that gold trophy, wouldn’t you rather see him kissing his wife and children, thanking G-d (and his coach maybe), and saying things like how he will continue to use his success and earning to help others or maybe train the next generation of aspiring athletes. 


I applaud Federer more for his known philanthropy in helping disadvantaged children and doing charitable events for disaster victims than for winning his 19th championship (hey, 18 would’ve been fine too).  


In the end, self- (and trophy-) love and admiration is not the something to celebrate, but should instead point us back to character and using our strength and achievements to help others.


For what is really important in life, there is no earthly trophy for–and certainly not one worth any ultimate embrace. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal via Wall Street Journal)

What A Climb!

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So I bought one these climbers–this one very colorful–to hang on one of my walls. 


I like the image of climbing and overcoming–with G-d’s help–whatever obstacle is in our path.


It’s not easy to climb and keep climbing, because the higher you go, the thinner the air, the more tired you get, and the further you have to fall!


But what I also realized about the image of the climber is that if you turn it on it’s side, then the same person who is climbing…is now crawling. 


What at times in life can be a beautiful climb up, at other times can be any of us on all fours. 


There is no easy path straight up, although there is definitely one that can go straight down!


Sometimes, we are vertical–living and working hard trying to achieve something. 


And other times, we are horizontal–resting, asleep, or even in a hospital bed fighting for our lives just to survive another moment or day.


When we climb, we may literally be trying to conquer mountains.


But when you crawl, you may literally be on the ground begging for mercy.


Climbing and crawling are really not that far apart in terms about 90 degrees and how quickly change can happen and a person goes from an upward trajectory to a more devastating one. 


Some things to keep in mind…anchor your feet solidly and hold on to that rope tightly and even for dear life. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Memorial Day Stars and Stripes

 

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Loved this lady’s sweater of the American Flag.


So cool with the stars on the sleeve like that. 


I thought this was especially nice for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.


As we remember those that have sacrificed so much, and the many that have fallen making the ultimate sacrifice, so that all we could be free. 


“In the olden days,” they used to say America was the “goldene medina”–the golden country–the land of opportunity!


But really, the gold itself is just fools gold, the real greatness of being here is the freedom to be who you are and to have the human rights and protections to pursue whatever your dreams are. 


Maybe that’s what the stars on the flag are really all about–we can all reach for the stars–whatever stars we want–and many will actually be able to achieve the impossible. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Wonderful Thank You

This is one of the most beautiful thank you songs that I have ever heard.


This was played for a departing leader with beautiful photos of all the good and caring work that they did over many years.


The passion, commitment, and tenacity were evident through out, and even though I hadn’t known this person for long, it brought tears to my ears.


What certain people can accomplish with their lives–helping others, making a better world. 


What we can accomplish through kindness, caring, selflessness, generosity, and tenderness. 


It’s the definition of inspirational–that we can live a life where the “thank you” is really and totally besides the whole point. 


Live life and live it well! 😉

Enter With A HANDSHAKE & Leave With A HUG

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So after almost 6 years at the U.S. Department of State, I am moving forward in my career to a very exciting role at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 


As I look back, I have fond memories of the wonderful high-performance division I was part of and the many amazing achievements we had together, and what our Deputy Assistant Secretary called, the “A Team.”


But one thing today is sticking out in my mind and it’s this image.

“Enter with a handshake and leave with a hug.”

On the first days, when I arrived it was all formality and firm welcome handshakes.


We don’t really know you and you don’t really know us, but we’re embarking on this journey together, and where it takes us no one really knows, BUT we wish you the best of luck–now go out and do great things!


Then on the last days, as I was preparing to leave, the formal handshakes were long gone and instead they were replaced with warm heartfelt hugs (and some special emotional words and cards). 


I was no longer a mystery of a person, with just my reputation, coming in to do G-d knows what. 


Now, I was a human being that had a genuine history with them, formed relationships with many, had faced challenges together, and had touched not only minds, but also it was apparent, hearts. 


I will not forget the special people, nor the many times shared, our accomplishments as an organization, and how we grew. 


I am moving forward not only with their tight hugs to more handshakes anew, but also to once again hopefully grow heart-to-heart with people, as further relationships are formed and we make, please G-d, amazing new progress together–for the mission and for the people. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What Is Peace + Happiness?

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I loved this piece of art work with the colorful Buddhas.

It got me thinking about peace and happiness–is it the same for everyone?

To one person, career, achievement, and money seems to make happy–as one of my friends told me about one of his extremely successful bosses who heads a large corporation and has not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 mansions on the water, in the mountains, and overlooking Central Park in NYC.

To another person, it’s being able to do what they want to in life–doing what makes you emotionally happy instead of what you have to do; the freedom to choose and to be passionate about what you do and how you spend you time every day–whether it’s a profession, an activity or sport, or even exploration and travel.

Yet others, find peace and satisfaction in spiritual and religious pursuits–joining the clergy or learning about G-d and philosophy, doing G-d’s commandments or helping his creations by doing good deeds. 

Many of course, find peace and get nachas from their families, the loves of their life, their beautiful children and grandchildren, and helping the next generation to grow and prosper after us. 

That can also extend to friends, community, and even colleagues–when we surround ourselves with other good people, those who we enjoy their company and have things in common, then we can find happiness with each other.

Being here in Florida for the holidays, I’m reminded of all the sun, beauty, and body-worshippers, those people who love their physique and good health, working out, looking good, being with others that look good, and even designing and making things that are beautiful. 

And at the other end of the spectrum again are the intellectual nerdy nerds who get their energy from being brainiacs like one of my friend’s nephews who is one of silicon valley’s serial innovators.

Whatever you love, have, and do that makes you happy is something to be extremely grateful for.

Nothing is forever, and nothing is owed to us.

Use the gifts that G-d has given you with the wisdom to reach enlightenment by being good and generous to others and so that you truly merit these beautiful things and thank the creator who blessed you. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Make People And Time Count

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So there was an article in Slate about how kids think these days.


And it’s a reflection of the adults, of course. 


When 10,000 middle and high school students from 33 schools across the country were asked, what’s more important–80% chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority vs just 20% who picked caring for others.


The kids who chose their happiness and achievement over helping others tended to score low on empathy and were at greater risk of being “cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”

Bottom line is that these are our values that we impart when we recognize and reward our children for things like good grades and extra-curriculars, but not for helping or caring about others. 


Pretty much, I think parents worry that their kids should be able to support and care for themselves, because that’s what’s considered our primary responsibility as parents–to make sure the next generation survives and can go on physically and materially once we are gone. 


In a way, it’s Darwinism and survival of the species and of the fittest. 


The problem is survival of our physical manifestation is not equivalent to the thriving of the spiritual being inside all of us. 


It’s not enough to live, but we have to live a good and descent life.


Our bodies wither and die, but our souls learn, grow, and go on to the afterlife. 


Yesterday, I had this freakish accident, going through the turnstiles on the Metro in Washington, DC.


The person before me went right through the gates as they opened, but when I put my pass down and went through, the gates had a glitz and closed suddenly right on my legs (and my artificial hips) and I went tumbling forward hard to the floor. 


Amazingly, two wonderful bystanders (not the Metro employees who didn’t even flinch or care) came rushing over to me, and literally lifted me up by the arms and handed me my wallet and glasses which had fallen to the side. 


One of the people that helped was especially nice to me, and he asked me how I was and really seemed to care that I was alright–imagine that a complete stranger in the Metro! 


The two people who stopped to help could’ve literally hopped right over me to rush for the train at the end of the day like everyone else, but they didn’t.


To them, caring was more important than their own time. 


Maybe I got the 20% yesterday, but it made me realize AGAIN how terrific some people are and they truly make time count–by making people count–like unfortunately many others may never ever bother to. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal) 

Stop If’ing Me

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Often in life, I hear people say how if only in life things could’ve been different. 


Then they could’ve been happy…successful…satisfied…contributed more…been a better husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, employee or Jew/Christian/Muslim…achieved more…gotten further in life…become more…saved more…been more charitable…or a better person.


I remember in elementary school, in one class when the kids would ask lots of questions…”What if [this]?” or “What if [that]?”


And the teacher (who happened to be the vice principle) would start to get exacerbated, and would blurt out, “If, if, if…if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a trolley!”


Not very complimentary to his grandmother, but point well taken–we can ask if till we’re blue in the face, but what does that accomplish except make excuses for ourselves or fantasize about something that isn’t. 


This came up yesterday when I was talking with some people about the Syrian+ refugee crisis and what is the obligation and right thing to do in terms of Europe and America taking in so many of these people.


And someone said, “Well why should we take them in if they can already go to so many Muslim countries that could take them in–why are we involved?”


And one of the other people goes, “Well that’s a big if about the other Muslim countries taking them in–because they don’t seem to want to help them.”


And then he adds this funny saying to solidify his point, “If the queen had another appendage, she’d be the king!”


Um, okay…that’s another way to put it. 


Not sure this answers the refugee question about who is or should be taking responsibility and helping whom.


But that’s the thing about “if’s, ands, or buts” in life…these can be real questions or they can become convenient excuses, conditions, and qualifications.


And that is why we have to discern if something is a real question that makes us examine things harder and more carefully to make a better decision or whether it’s just another dead end or side track to nowhere. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Freedom Pays

Freedom
Another great article by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal today.



The usual saying is that freedom is not free (i.e. that we must fight for it). 



But Stephens shows us that Freedom actually pays. 



It is our freedom that helps us to be creative and innovative like no others on this Earth.



Stephens comments on his growing up as an American abroad:



“I find it amazing that, in the U.S., I can drink water straight from a tap, that a policeman has never asked me for a ‘contribution,’ that my luggage has never been stolen, that notbody gets kidnapped for ransom, that Mao-esque political purges are conducted only inthe editorial of the New York Times.”



Instead of having to focus on fear in everyday life–we can use our energies to plow creatively into the next great thing for mankind. 



In sync with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, when we are not scavaging for food and huttling in some abandoned building or cave to protect ourselves from marauding bandits or corrupt dictators, we can self-actualize ourselves by leaps and bound contributions through science, technology, engineering, mathematics, humanities and arts. 



Our society looks for opportunities, rather than having to look over our shoulder at daily threats.



We run to invest in great ideas, rather than have to use our money to escape the corruption and tyranny that surround us.



With the holidays are upon us, it’s a perfect time to reflect on our good fortune at being part of a democracy where freedom and human rights power our success.



Thank G-d for where we live and what we are able to achieve. 😉



(Source photo: here with attribution to Eric Magnuson)