Even If I Never Do Anything Else…

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Last night I watched an old episode of Oprah on YouTube. It was a follow-up on a story she had done some time ago about a 6-year-old boy who had been horribly abused (I never saw the original story, but there was enough material from the original that it was absolutely clear). Among other things, the boy had been locked in a bathroom closet, chained and starved, ignored and treated horribly. At some point his 14-year-old step-sister ran away from home and when she was picked up by police she told them about the little boy being abused at home. Police sent a social worker to the home- who found no evidence of abuse (I won’t even touch on this right now)- but the original officer who had picked up the runaway found her story too honest and too compelling to simply ignore. He figured out a way to assess the boy for himself, and saw glaring evidence of abuse. He interviewed the boy and heard such a catalog of horrors that the parents (a biological father and a step-mother) were promptly arrested and tried for their crimes.

The story was publicized, and the officer received many letters commending him as a hero. When asked about his actions that day, he said something along the lines of ‘I may never accomplish another thing in my life. But at the end of my days I will know I accomplished this.’

That pretty much gave me chills.

Not only because he quite literally saved that boy’s life. But because when his pivotal moment came, he stood up and did the right thing.

I don’t know how many people when faced with an ambiguous situation choose to sit down and stay silent. Let someone else take care of it. Cower in the face of making the first move. In this case a trained social worker evaluated the situation and wrote an official report: nothing to worry about. But this officer’s gut told him different. He was worried and a child’s life hung on his decision. Be uncomfortable and possibly embarrassed, or go with the flow and don’t make waves? How many people would choose complacency over action? This man didn’t choose silence. He chose to do the right thing, and that’s what made him a hero. And for the rest of his life, he will know that when his moment came, he showed his true character. HERO.

A few days ago we were involved in a situation involving someone who had committed crimes against children. I won’t disclose details of the particular situation because they aren’t important, but what happened afterward was both perplexing and enlightening. A group of parents “decided” (and I put this word in quotes very deliberately- I will explain why in a second) that it was okay for their children to be around this man as long as another adult was present. First off, you can be darn sure that if I KNEW someone had offended against children he wouldn’t be within the vicinity of any of my kids, or any kids I had the power to protect- not with another adult present, not with me present. All it takes is the blink of an eye for one oops moment (especially in a group setting) and someone has come to irrevocable harm. And to what end? So you can show what an enlightened person you are that you don’t hold someone’s past against them? Uh, no thanks. I will take a pass on that particular lack of judgement. That person has given up the right to not be judged in that specific way. Too bad, so sad. Not on the backs of my kids, though. Shouldn’t be on the backs of any kids…

So why do I say the parents “decided”, in quotes? Because I don’t truly believe that most of those parents made a decision. I believe that in groups, people are often shamed into capitulating to things against their better judgement. If someone in leadership says here’s what we’re gonna do… Or this thing is okay… Many many people are too hesitant to say Oh, No. That most decidedly is Not Okay. So in the above scenario some person (I will hold back from extemporaizing on what I think of such a person’s character…) says publically that the offender is going to get a chance, and everyone can show how welcoming and embracing or whatever whatever they are by “accepting” this person. If someone has reservations, they feel like a big jerk to say anything, so they are shamed in to silence. And then it is presented as a group decision that someone who has harmed children is now to be included, and let’s all hold hands and group hug.

Equally often, people don’t think at all. they see what is, and simply take it for granted that Someone (ah, the great all-knowing, all-wise Someone, who we can trust so we don’t have to bother…) has thought about this and considered all angles and made the decision for us. After all, this thing is happening, so it must be right, yes? So we are content to accept the status quo, and because it seems to make sense, or usually because it just plain easier to go along or to not have to think for ourselves, we let things roll. So they roll.

In the above scenario, I got in touch with the person in charge. I said both (I’m paraphrasing) “What are you thinking?” and “Are you crazy?” The answers I got were unsatisfying, and someone asked me why I bothered. Why was I getting upset over something I couldn’t change? And why was I poking my nose where it didn’t belong?

And my answer was a variation of what that officer said, even though I hadn’t heard it at the time. Because I try to make it my habit to react in every moment in ways where if I have to look back I will know- that even if I never accomplish another thing in my life, at least I can look back on each pivotal moment and know that in that moment, I acted in a way that was right and correct. At the end of the day, you never know what action you take will make you a hero to someone, so be prepared.

And don’t be afraid to stand up.

A Little Christmas Magic

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When I was a little girl (I don’t remember exactly how old) I was spending the night at my grandma’s house on Christmas eve. I’m not sure how I got the idea in my head that something very special was supposed to happen at midnight on that night (perhaps it was from the Christian kids in my public school?), but I was trying very very hard to stay awake as long as possible.

Luckily this particular grandma was the type who was somewhat easily persuaded to do things like play endless games of gin rummy with way-too-young-to-be-up-so-late little girls, so we stayed up until 8, 9, 10, and then 11pm. Some time after 11 my grandma finally had enough and decided she needed to go to bed, but I was not to be derailed by something so mundane as an overtired grandma. I checked her bookshelf, but this particular grandma was also the type who read mostly Harlequin romances- hardly the type of thing that sparked my interest at whatever tender young age I was at the time. I think I ended up inventing some sort of game with poker chips and clear discs I found in the game cabinet, and about midnight I was rewarded for my efforts with one of the coolest experiences ever.

It was a cold Michigan night and my grandma lived in a basement apartment, so when you looked out of her windows pretty much all you could see was the pavement covered in snow. If you looked at the correct angle you could see the rooftops of neighboring apartment buildings, also blanketed in fluffy white snow. The sky was clear and the night was silent. Literally at midnight on the dot, though, sleigh bells started ringing. From somewhere- who knew where?- bells began to jingle. Nobody was visible, and nothing else changed, but I believe that the stars twinkled just a bit while the bells were sounding. Then, just as suddenly as they started, they stopped.

I had no expectation of bells, nor even really of Santa. After all, I was a Jewish kid without a tree or a stocking, or a Christmas holiday or any such traditions. Sure I watched the Peanuts Christmas special, and of course the Grinch (both of which made me cry), but that was about as far as my official knowledge base extended. But in that moment, I was a believer. Not of Jesus and Christianity, but of the beauty and majesty of the season. Of the whole peace on Earth and tra-la-la-la-la thing.

If you had asked me if I had harked to hear angels singing, I just might have said yes.

I know some people get a little crazy about not wishing people a Merry Christmas. There are people who are careful to only say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” or other sanitized generic non-wishes. But who are they kidding? Do most of those people (don’t kill me here- I said MOST!) hedge their bets because the person they are speaking to may celebrate Kwanzaa and they don’t want to offend? I don’t think so. Chances are if you are in America the person you are speaking to celebrates Christmas, and chances are that if they don’t, they won’t get offended if you wish them a Merry Christmas by mistake. It’s not like I go around shouting Christmas wishes in everyone’s face this time of year. But if someone wants to say Merry Christmas to me, I’ll admit that it always makes me remember that night at my grandma’s house all those years ago and how magical it was to hear something so special that seemed meant only for me.

Until now 🙂

Merry Christmas.

My Hero, Pranav Kodali

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Please watch. You’ll be a better person for it.

What I’m Ticked About: (hint: this post won’t be what you think it is…)

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Today started out like any other, meaning I found several things to be aggravated at. I woke up at 3:45 am and couldn’t fall back asleep, and by 7 I was off and running with my hit list. But what I intended to blog about won’t make it here today, because by a happy accident (but nothing is an accident. really), I picked up an old copy of Reader’s Digest, and found this lovely story from Khurshid A. Guru, MD:

Growing up in Kashmir, the doctor’s grandfather owned an apple orchard. Every time they would walk through the orchard, Khurshid’s grandfather would take the apples that the birds had bitten from and cut pieces from the opposite side to offer to his grandchildren. Khurshid always imagined the grandfather to be miserly, and to not love the grandchildren enough to want them to have the unbitten, more pristine apples.

One day, Khurshid finally asked, “Grandfather, why do you only give us the destroyed apples? Why never the whole ones?” And the grandfather replied something that would shape Dr. Guru’s worldview forever: “The birds would only eat from the sweetest apples, and that is why I give these to you. I know they will be the best!”

From then on Dr. Guru learned never to make assumptions, but to always ask.

I wish each of you a life full of sincere inquiry.

Have a great weekend 🙂

Feeling Sorry For Yourself?

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i love technology i hate technology. wanna do a good deed?

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i have been incommunincado for the last several days- hiding out at an undisclosed location somewhere under the mason-dixon line. i have thought briefly a few times about what my upcoming post might be about, since my next one will be my 500th… but then i checked my friend’s blog- the one who was burned- and something WAY more important has come up.

i try as a general rule here not to ask you guys for stuff unless it is really important. i get quickly tired of blogs and groups and even people who are forever asking ” what can you do for me???”

i know that a long while back i posted that a certain farmers market was trying to raise funds to get off the ground. and i definitely asked those of you who pray to say a few words on behalf of my friend dave, who was dying of cancer. but tonight i saw that another friend has set up a fund to pay for my friend and her family to help them through this holiday season (passover, which is incredibly labor intensive, and probably the most expensive time of the year for us), and to assist them with the enormous costs of running her home and the medical treatments that won’t be covered under their insurance. with 10 kids to take care of (the youngest has down’s syndrome) and a husband who is currently cutting down his hours so he can manage the home as well as the children and his wife’s medical needs, you can imagine that the debts are just piling up on top of them.

this is a family that lived EXTREMELY frugally to begin with- no frills and no extras- so it’s not like there’s a lot of fat they can cut out of their budget to tighten their belts. my friend would faint away with humiliation if i told you they lived at the poverty level, but if i told you what they made it in year to support a family of 12 you would never believe it.

so why am i telling you this? because a real person who i know in real life, who is honest and trustworthy has set up a fund to help my friend. i can vouch for her being a stand-up person. and my friend has 100,000 % integrity no question about it. any funds that are raised for her medical needs and to keep her family afloat during this crisis will absolutely go for that purpose- you can have absolute confidence.

on her blog, there is a link to the donation site. i tried multiple times to just post the donation site here, but i’m hopeless with technology and *h is asleep. so, i am putting up the link to her blog. please follow it to the donation page and look at the picture of her in the hospital bed.

and remember to be grateful for what you have.

and no joke, people- even if you can only spare $5- please send it. i know how many people read this blog, and that adds up to a lot of money. and if you have a blog, or a facebook or a facechat or an instagram or a hulugram or an i-phone or whatever young people have nowadays that makes other people look at stuff, please send this on. i know tons of things get drowned out in the overflow of dancing kitty cat videos, but this is real stuff with real people who i actually know- so i can honestly tell you it isn’t a scam… time to shine, people- whatcha gonna do? here’s the link to her blog:

http://avivahwerner.com/

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-a-mom-who-had-hot-wax-explode-in-her-face-/162412?utm_source=widget

hero-in-waiting

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i heard about a new program that is being tried in some schools, and i really hope it catches on. the idea captures such a powerful paradigm shift that i knew i had to write about it, because i think it is dead-on true, and because i think more people should be thinking along these lines.

i’m not sure who is responsible for developing this idea, but it may be the person who wrote the book the lucifer effect (which is now sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor, so after i’ve read it i may be able to let you know more…). in any case, the idea as i understood it is something like this: our idea about a hero is completely wrong. while most of us think HERO and picture a cape and superpowers, the actual real-life hero is much more likely to be the average guy (or gal) on the street who pulls someone off of the subway tracks after he’s had a seizure or stops an assault by turning on a bunch of lights and calling 9-1-1. real heroes are the people in each and every moment who make a decision- either consciously or unconsciously- to act in a noble way.

and that is something that can be taught.

so while you can’t go into a school and teach kids to bend metal rods with their eyeballs or reverse the gravitational pull of the earth, what you can teach is that, by practicing making moral and correct choices they strengthen their “hero” muscle. and when, someday, they each may be called upon to make a defining decision, they will be that much more likely to make the right one.

studies have shown time and again the one of the easiest ways you can get someone to behave outside of their moral comfort zone (in a bad way) is to put them in an unfamiliar situation. so, while i might be very comfortable taking someone to task in my own home for telling a racist joke (i am a bad example of this, by the way, because i have a big mouth, so i exercise my moral muscle a lot- hahahaha), i would in theory be much less likely to tell off that same person if we were at a social gathering or in the home of a stranger. the less at home i felt, the less likely i would be to take a stand.

this can be explained by a number of factors. obviously if i am in an unfamiliar setting, i may not know the expectations or the correct social behaviors. the more attuned one is to these cues, the less likely one would be to violate them, which may explain why reserved british *h frequently wants to run and hide when he sees someone acting out of line in public. because he can watch my blood pressure rise, and he knows that if someone’s behaviour gets to a certain level of unacceptablility, i just might intervene to take it in hand. this makes him alternately proud and mortified, i think, but this is the price we pay for exercising moral muscle…

in the school programs, they teach children that they will feel uncomfortable when they observe bad behaviour or sticky situations. but this is not a signal to shut down. sometimes it is a signal to step up. obviously they are not telling children to put themselves at risk. this is not a curriculum that tells little kids to try to stop muggings single-handedly or to take on bullies with physical force when they have no hope of not getting beaten to a pulp. this is about being diligent to return the change in a store when you are given too much. it’s about carrying someone’s packages when you see they are struggling. it’s about not fake-laughing at a mean joke just so you can feel in with the popular kids. it’s about reaching around to your back and feeling those hard bumps and knowing that’s a spine and it’s there to hold you upright. and each time you stand just that much taller. because you know you are a good person who acts in a moral way. and that means something.

because a hero is built one act at a time.

when you think about it, there isn’t too much difference between a person who walks over to a person in tears and asks, “can i help?” and a person who walks past. but really, there is a world of difference. there isn’t a lot of time involved in saying thank you sincerely, versus merely mouthing the words meaninglessly and moving on with your day. but looking someone in the eye and giving them some real appreciation for whatever they did for you- even if it is what they were supposed to do (like making your coffee hot or putting a bandaid on you or clearing your salad plate)- can change someone’s entire day. and how super-hero-level-powerful is that???

in general, it is one of my great aggravations in life when people redefine words to suit the meaning of the moment. whether something is politically charged or not, i think that if you have a new situation, you should think of a new term to fit it. so when i call these small acts of nobility “heroic”, i really do mean that. i really do mean, in the literal sense of the word, that by acting in a moral and righteous way, that you behave like a hero.

and i wholeheartedly agree with the idea behind the school curriculum that the more you can get kids to practice this skill in small comfortable ways, the more it becomes part of their nature so that they are more likely to see themselves as heroes and behave as heroes in big ways.

i think that in this world, it is an act of exaltedness, it is an act of rebellion against the norm, it is an act of defiance of mediocrity, and it is an act of true heroism.

now the only question left is, what kind of hero will you be?

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