Grass Not Always Greener

Sometimes the grass isn’t (always) greener.


Instead the grass grows in beautiful multi-colors. 


The grass art in this garden looks a lot better than the grass itself. 


The only real green is money and envy!


When comparing your lot with others, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. 


Even then you’ll never know the person’s real “package” (or basket) in life. 


Be sure that everyone has their share of good and bad, so never be jealous of anyone. 😉


(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Only Game In Town

Only Game In Town.JPeG

This was a funny sign up in Harpers Ferry yesterday, Thanksgiving Day. 


Outside this restaurant, it says, “Only OPEN Place in Town, GREAT Food.”


I suppose if it’s the only game in town, then whatever food they have is by definition “great”-compared to going hungry that is. 


Life is very much like this–where everything is relative. 


If I have too many choices–how do I choose? 


Whatever I choose, I may second guess myself that maybe another one would’ve been better. 


It’s like when I go out with my daughter to eat, somehow whatever she orders is always better than what I got!


But when choice is limited or non-existent, well then “beggars can’t be choosey.”


Essentially, your happy with what you have– perhaps, something is often better than nothing. 


But really it’s much more than that, because if you look closely at others, you realize that what you have is actually a pretty darn good lot in life–so don’t be envious, jealous, or be too quick to want to change places with your neighbor. 


Obviously, this was a very apropos sign for Thanksgiving–where we need to learn to be grateful for everything we have in life. 


It is our basket, and we wouldn’t want to trade it for anything in the world (and if you did, you’d be sorry afterwards). 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Heaven To Look Forward To

Heaven To Look Forward To

Took the family today to see the movie Heaven Is Real.

We were all crying like babies, including me.

Loved it!

When the boy has a near-death experience (NDE) and sees heaven, he comes back with stories about it being like here but more beautiful, where everyone is young, and relatives long gone hug him.

In heaven, there is no hate or fear–only love.

It was eye-opening, when his father, a pastor, goes to the hospital to say the last prayers with a dying man and the pastor asks, “Do you have any regrets?” and the old man answers, “I regret everything!”

While living for our selfish satisfaction and fun may be great for a moment’s high, it is certainly not a life of meaning and purpose–and will not open the gates of heaven to us.

That life is hard is portrayed in the movie–with loss, physical hurt, and financial hardships.

But when these are viewed in the bigger picture as tests in life for us to overcome in order to merit a heaven that awaits us–perhaps this gives us some added perspective.

In the movie, as in real life, there are those who are angry at others and G-d for what they lost, and it is our challenge to replace that anger with understanding, forgiveness, and love of each other and the Almighty.

Regretting everything is tragic, but probably not that unrealistic for many of us…particularly in a world where we constantly strive for our individualized versions of perfection.

In the end, I think our failures weigh on us and it’s challenging to see past them to appreciate our successes as well–in whatever measure we’ve achieved them.

Let’s face it, it is not easy to maintain 100% purity of heart amidst a world of lust, envy, and sin–but that should not take away from us constantly trying.

Heaven awaits–even the imperfect. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Nature of Envy and Ambition

Throne

I watched a really good movie the other day called “The Violin.”

It was about a civil war in a South American country where freedom fighters are vastly outnumbered and outgunned and an old violinist tries to smuggle weapons and ammunition to his people in his violin case. 

At one point in the movie, their village in overrun by the army, and the boy’s mother and sister are killed. 

The little boy asks the grandfather to explain the horrible life events that have befallen them to him and the grandfather tells how G-d created the world with good people as well as people the are envious and ambitious and those people sought to take everything away from the others–no matter how much they accumulated, they wanted more.

I thought about this with respect to a quote I had learned in Yeshiva that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”–that those who have unbridled power and ability, will use it without limitation and in wrong and harmful ways to others, because they can.

Envy and ambition and power–can be used for good–when people see others succeed and are motivated to work hard and do their best too. 

But when people become blindly consumed with it for its own sake–they can’t stand anyone having more than them or even having anything–they think they should just as well have it all–then they will not just work hard to achieve it, but they will act out against others to unjustly take what they want and as much as they want. 

My father always taught me never to be jeoulous of anyone. He told me that if you knew what really went on in their lives–what their basket [of good and bad] was–you wouldn’t trade places with them in a million years. 

And I believe he was right. Often when I know someone only superficially and their life looks so grand and “perfect,” it is tempting to think they have it all or even just better, but then when you get to know their life challenges–sickness, abuse, death, loneliness, and other hardships–you realize how things could always be a lot worse and how truly lucky you are. 

Of course, there will there always be people who are superficial, materialistic, and can’t control their urge for power and things–and they will try to take more than their fair due and by force if necessary. In the end, will it bring them real fulfillment and happiness, the answer is obvious. 

I believe it was my Oma (grandmother), a survivor of The Holocaust, who used to say “count your blessings”–she was right. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Two Lessons On The Road To Enlightenment

Enlightenment

I watched a terrific PBS Emmy-nominated documentary called The Buddha(2010).

The show described the life of Prince Siddhartha from India about 2500 years ago and his “quest for serenity and eternal enlightenment.”

There were two highlights that I feel are really worth noting:

1) The Story of the Glass:

Prince Siddhartha saw a glass and marveled how it held the water, how it made a distinct ringing sound when tapped, and how it so beautifully reflected the light off of it.

After this, he imagined what would happen to the glass if the wind or shaking knocked it down and it shattered.

Then he realized the reality of this world is that the glass was (as if) already broken, and that we should appreciate the goodness of the glass all the more while it is still whole.

I loved this story, because it so encompasses Buddhist thinking in terms of its seeking to overcome human loss and suffering.

Like the glass, the reality of this world is impermanence and therefore, it is as if we have already lost all the people and things we love–therefore, we should appreciate them all the more while they are here.

Further, we can learn to cope with these feelings of (eventual) loss and suffering by ending material cravings and instead seeking out inner tranquility and spiritual enlightenment.

2) The Story of the Four Meetings:

The Prince who had been pampered his whole life (up until about the age 29) and had only known pleasure–the finest food, clothing, and women–until one day he went out and meet four people.

– The first was an old man and so, he came to know how people change.

– The second was a sick person, and so, he came to know how people suffer.

– The third was a corpse, and so, he came to know impermanence and death.

– The fourth was a spiritual seeker, and so he came to know escape.

I thought this story was profound in understanding the cycle of life–from birth to maturity and ultimately to decline and death.

And in order to escape from the loss and suffering (that occurs again and again through the continual cycle of birth and death and rebirth), we must seek to liberate ourselves from materialist desire, greed, envy, and jealousy.

These things ultimately causes us to sin and suffer and if we can break the cycle by meditation, asceticism, and spiritual wisdom, then we can find true inner peace and achieve nirvana.

Some personal takeaways:

While I am no expert nor a practitioner of Buddhism, I do appreciate the Buddhist teachings and try to integrate it where possible with my Judaism, so that I can find meaning in the path toward spirituality and faith in G-d.

One of my personal goals is to overcome the senseless drive for chasing endless materialism for it’s own–and ultimately–meaningless sake, and instead be able to really focus and achieve something meaningful.

I believe that meaning is different for each individual, and is part of our path of finding ourselves and our in place in this universe.

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Christos Tsoumplekas)

Satisfy or Suffice

Enlightenment

How many of you feel satisfied or are you left still somehow yearning and hungry?

Living in a time and place where materialism is a competitive and daily fact of life for–high paying jobs, big houses, fast cars, Ivy league educations, exotic vacations, fashion and jewelry “statements”, elegant restaurants, and lavish parties, –it is philiosophically and practical to ask satisfy or suffice.

If we live our lives to satisfy ourselves–then we tend to a society driven by one word, and one word only–“more!”  
Our appetites for material things that satisfy our senses are like a bottomless pit–to see beauty, to feel comfortable, to taste delight, to hear endless praise and envy over what we have achieved and accomplished in life–can these cravings ever really be satisfied?
With satisfaction, one of the key issues is that no matter how much we have accumulated or attained, it irks us to no end, if someone else has just a fraction more.  This is called relative deprivation–we have everything we need, but we still feel short-changed because someone else has more. It’s infinitely hard to be satisfied knowing that, because somehow we have failed…someone else is better off materially, and our interpretation often is that they are better innately than us and thus have gone further than we can or maybe deserve more on a spiritual level–either way another’s abundance, regardless of your own successes, can still mean you are a loser!
It’s funny, coming off the Metro and watching the mobs disembark from the train and race up the escalators, even when there are not a lot of people there…first one to the top is the winner; everyone else shlumps off somehow defeated afterward.  G-d, this has become a sick society–what difference does the 2.347 seconds make?
Educationally, collecting degrees and certifications has become another hobby for many, so that if you don’t have alphabet soup before and after your name, your frowned upon as just another ignoramus out there–as if the degree makes the person.
Another example, yesterday I heard that when getting engaged/married, the chic is that it is no longer enough to give a diamond ring to the young lady, now a matching bracelet is also part of the grand bargain or else you are not “keeping up with the Jones.”
The examples go on and we can all tell them from our specific lives of the endless rat races that we endure to try and not only make ends meet, but also to compete and avoid “the shame.”
So what’s the alternative?
Instead of trying to be satisfied, we can learn to suffice–to be happy with what we are blessed with. That doesn’t mean that you don’t try to do your best in life, you do!  But rather, you work hard and invest a reasonable amount of time, effort, money to achieve a goal and then you go on without beating yourself up over what you haven’t achieved.
In short, happiness is in saying enough (or like on Passover, Dayenu!).
To suffice, part of it is learning to differentiate between what is really important and what is, in the end, trivial. How important is it that you get the NEXT whatever in your life versus can you be more innately happy spending time doing things you enjoy with the people you really love.
Suffice–learn to balance the demands and needs of your life–grow beyond the mundane; the true test of life is with you yourself–achieving your potential–not how you do relative to others.
An article in Wired (November 2011) talks to this when it asks about going out and finding a soulmate, “Do you keep searching and hope something better will come along, or do you stop searching when you find something looks pretty good?”
This article, whether addressing the many commitment phoebes out there, or those just having a hard time finding Mr./Mrs. Right–whether in terms of accepting and living with others’ flaws or just learning to stop looking for someone prettier, smarter, more successful etc.
Wired suggests developing a baseline by dating “roughly” 12 people so that you can make an informed decision of the head and heart, but this can apply to education, career, home and all areas of your life–seek what is best for you, but also realize that we are all imperfect mortals and that only the heaven is for angels.
Suffice–do your very best in life and accept yourself for who you are and meet your destiny head-on–you can achieve happiness beyond the mere materialism and superficiality that cloud our societal judgements–this to me is enlightenment.
(Source Photo: here)

>Overvaluing the Outsider

>

Harvard Business Review (HBR), April 2010, has an article entitled “Envy At Work” by Menon and Thompson that describes research that shows that “people want to learn more about ideas that come from other companies than about ideas that originate in their own organizations.”

The reason that we value outside opinions over inside ones is that we fear elevating the person whose opinion we espouse. In other words, if we endorse an idea of a person in the organization, then we risk being seen as not only supporting the idea, but the person, and then having our power potentially being subsumed by that person.

The HBR article states: “When we copy an idea from an outsider, we’re seen as enterprising; when we borrow an idea from a colleague, we mark that person as an intellectual leader.”

This kind of thinking harms the organization. For rather than seeing our colleagues as teammates, we see them as competitors. We work against each other, rather than with each other. We spend our time and energy fighting each other for power, influence, resources, and rewards, instead of teaming to build a bigger pie where everyone benefits.

According to Menon and Thompson, “The dislike of learning from inside rivals has a high organizational price. Employees instead pursue external ideas that cost more both in time (which is often spent reinventing the wheel) and in money (if they hire consultants).”

I’m reminded of the saying, “You can’t be a prophet in your land,” which essentially translates to the idea that no matter how smart you are, people inside your own organization will generally not value your advice. Rather they will prefer to go outside and pay others to tell them the same thing that it cannot bear to hear from its own people.

Funny enough, I remember some consultants telling me a few years ago, “That’s what we get paid for, to tell you what you already know.”

Remember the famous line by Woody Allen, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member”? The flip side of this is that as soon as the organization brings you into their club, they have contempt for you because you are now one of them.

How do we understand the capability of some people to overcome their natural tendency toward envy and be open to learning from others inside the organization? More specifically, how do we as leaders create a culture where such learning is facilitated and becomes a normal part of life in the workplace?

One way to start is by benchmarking against other organizations that have been successful at this—“Most Admired Companies” like Goldman Sachs, Apple, Nike, and UPS. When one starts to do this, one sees that it comes down to a combination of self-confidence, lack of ego, putting the employees first, and deep commitment to a set of core values. It may not feel natural to do this at first – in a “dog-eat-dog” world, it is natural to fear losing one’s slice of the pie – but leaders who commit to this model can delegate, recognize, and reward their people without concern that they personally will lose something in the process.

The leader sets the tone, and when the tenor is “all for one and one for all,”— the organization and its people benefit and grow. This is something to be not only admired, but emulated.