Month: April 2018

My Overwhelming Dilemma: What Would You Do?

dilemma

The First Dilemma

There are a lot of reasons I am writing this post. However, the biggest reason is to just get some things out into the open. Things I’ve been bottling up for way too long, all starting with the first dilemma.

Many years ago I worked at Cornell University. I was in charge of a Jewish outreach program there.

My wife was running an incredibly important program, sadly filled with complications and controversies. The extraordinarily noble goal was to unite the different elements of a rather divided community in a program that was educational, fun, enriching, and spiritually invigorating.

We had a special guest visiting from Israel, who would be leading a musical prayer service followed by a communal meal. The dilemma? We wanted to try and get all the different elements of the community to join together for the prayer service.

This issue was not just one of preference. There were countless philosophical and theological issues and concerns at play here.

The stricter elements of the group (orthodox) pray with what’s called a mechitzah, a physical separation between the males and the female. The purpose is essentially to improve concentration on the prayers. The other groups not only do not pray in this manner, they find it anywhere from antiquated to offensive, and would never willingly pray in such an atmosphere. And neither group is known for making a lot of concessions on their beliefs or practices.

But the whole program hinged on getting everyone together. And it was my responsibility to figure out a way to make it work.

The Solution

I contacted an authority on Jewish law in Israel, someone I knew and greatly respected. And he had a solution, which seemed to be a great idea. There would be three sections: A men’s section, a women’s section, and a section where people could sit how they choose. The ideas was simple. From the strict perspective, we just needed to give the ability to do the “right” thing. From the less strict perspective, they just needed the option to do things the way they preferred and were used to.

This seemed to solve all problems. And I flew with it.

But not without serious trials ahead of me. I fought battle after battle with many people over the course of well over a month. However, when all the smoke cleared, I was on top of the world. I had conquered every objection.

I even recall a student who vehemently and vigorously argued with me about the permissibility of the mixed section. After he couldn’t take it any more, he contacted his own religious authority… who confirmed everything I said.

I fought and won an uphill battle. It wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.

Now all we needed to do was survive the nightmarish logistics and we were on track to have an epic program. We would unify the elements of a fragmented community, and inspire a multitude of students hungry for such inspiration.

And then my phone rang…

Through the wild Jewish grapevine, my boss had heard about the program we were running, and the solution we had devised in order to make the program work effectively.

He told me in no uncertain terms that the solution was completely unacceptable. And for all issues like this one, we were now required to ask him and only him. He even approached the rabbi who I had spoken with and requested he no longer answer my questions, thus closing off a major resource in my life.

The Big Dilemma

There I stood, stuck with an insanely difficult challenge.

I could uproot things as they were and try and see what new solutions we could come up with on short notice. It is fairly likely I’d find no viable alternative in time, thus in essence destroying the program we’d been working on for months.

The inevitable results of doing so would be personal and professional embarrassment. A community that liked, trusted, and respected me would need to rethink their position, since I had stood so firmly behind this idea, and cancelling the program would just be a giant declaration that I was wrong and had been the whole time.

I would watch endless hours of hard work coming crashing down beneath me, as our program gets projected toward certain failure. I can only imagine how great our international visitor would feel, knowing that he arrived to work with a mere fraction of the students he was expecting, and would only be reaching a very limited population.

And let’s not forget the potential marital discord that could erupt. My wife had put everything into making sure the program was all set up and ready to go.

Or…

I could just ignore the phone call, run the program, and risk the overwhelmingly likely consequences that would arise.

And I chose the second option.

I took the phone conversation and just bottled it up inside me. Until now.

The Future

My contract for that job was not extended for a second year. I’m sure this “incident” was hardly the only reason for my dismissal, but I’m certain it was a hefty contributing factor.

This story has been eating at me for over a decade.

Sometimes it’s healthy and healing just to get these thoughts and feelings outside of you. I wonder all the time if I did the right thing. I wonder if it was wrong to place the health of my marriage and my personal integrity ahead of job concerns. Or if abiding by my employer’s wishes would have ultimately been healthier for both of these things. I wonder.

 

What would you have done?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 8 comments

Banish Fear Forever

fear

Riddled With Fears

When I was a child, I was riddled with fears. I’m not exactly sure when the mental switch happened in my mind, but at some point I decided that the time had come to remove all fear from my system.

Why?

Fear controls you. And I don’t want anything in charge of me but me.

Two fears I had that I have faced up to and essentially conquered are the fear of needles and a fear of public speaking. I’ve dealt with both in a similar fashion. Arguably the only way to conquer a fear is direct confrontation. It is certainly the most effective.

The Dreaded Public Speaking

To this day, when I know I will be speaking publicly, my body has an odd reaction. I cannot eat beforehand. I’m a bit restless. And I second guess every word that I will imminently be saying. I’m fine once I get started, but I have yet to figure out how to fully cool the nerves before I get there (despite faking really well that I don’t have a care in the world).

I decided to take every opportunity I could to speak publicly. I still do it, never refusing opportunities without a good reason, and constantly volunteering to get up in front of crowds. Like an addiction, even a fear that has been conquered still has small vestiges in need of eradication. With each word I say out loud in front of others, I grow stronger.

Most who meet me would never imagine this is one of the things I struggle with, and I credit that to facing my fear so aggressively I have virtually eliminated any bits of it from my life.

The Dreaded Needle

My fear of needles and blood and anything surrounding them has been quite the adventure. I used to get nauseous every time I had a simple blood test. I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me physically, but I was told by many reliable sources that it was all in my mind, and there should be little to no physiological reactions to losing such a small amount of blood.

So what do you do in such a situation? I signed up to give blood.

Face the fears head on, right?

Face them I did! I went to the drive trembling like a small child, and walked away feeling like I had climbed a mountain. I have since given blood several times, and even though one time I fainted because I stood up too quickly and another time some bozo nurse mangled my arm (and blamed it on me and my veins, of course), I will still happily give blood whenever the opportunity arises, with my head held high.

Fear Is About Freedom

Some might argue that fear is natural, and that there’s no reason to be upset about having a few here and there. But I disagree, since fear to me symbolizes something so much greater than just a small impulse in the system.

It is all about freedom. Without control over yourself, you are never truly free.

I do not like to have, even for a moment, a lack of control over my life or my body. I was controlled by an urge to bite my fingernails for over a decade, and they were nasty and chewed down to the point of intense pain. The day came when I was ready to no longer be controlled by something so ridiculous.

I fought back and won, and even though I basically never bite my nails anymore, there is still this part of me that wants to. A part I fight to beat down every single day of my life. I used to be controlled by an intense sugar addiction. A small bite of anything sweet would leave me running after every donut within a mile. Again, I fought back with a great intensity, and it’s been over two years since I’ve touched such food. I can proudly say that you can place a stack of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies right in front of me, and not only will I not touch one, but the urge that used to be the death of me is completely gone.

However, like everyone else, I still succumb to fears and compulsions all the time. Every day is a renewed battle to try and gain full control and mastery over myself, and a long and arduous process of self-evaluation to figure out where I still need copious amounts of improvement.

Don’t Fear Fear

That’s not to say I beat myself up about any of this. Life is a long series of successes and failures. Life is inherently improved by celebrating your every success, no matter how minuscule or seemingly insignificant. And life’s failures are not meant to be excuses for depression or self pity, but rather opportunities for learning and growth.

Unfortunately, it’s so very easy to get everything confused. We can brush off our successes as if they are tiny and unimportant and pound mercilessly upon ourselves for each and every time we don’t live up to our own expectations.

This is a pure recipe for a disastrously sad and highly unfulfilling life.

We should all be blessed to be introspective enough to see our own weaknesses. Brave enough to recognize them not as faults but as challenges. Powerful enough to fight back against each and every one. And fortunate enough to emerge on the other side better, stronger, happier people.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 0 comments

Ain’t No More Heroes

No More Heroes

Heroes of American History

When I was in college, I took an excellent American History class. The details and depth were remarkable and really helped spark my love of history.

But not without cost.

Americans start learning our history very early on. However, the depth level changes drastically as we get older and more sophisticated, and we eventually reach a point where the heroes of our youth are very hard to love anymore.

As small children, American presidents are presented with cute tales and are venerated on a level kin to that of faultless superheroes. As we get into the high school years, we are presented with lots of facts that may challenge our initial assumptions, but the facts are fairly superficial and very intentionally exclude many details of the people’s lives.

And then we hit college. Our heroes are turned into lecherous slave owners, and when all the smoke clears, we are basically left with no more heroes. When most people are placed under such scrutiny, and their indiscretions are highlighted so vividly, it’s hard to look anymore at what they’ve accomplished. And it’s even harder when you are led to believe something about these figures, only to have it dashed as we mature.

How very unsettling!

And now we are adults. We’ve come to accept that no one’s perfect. But the process of losing our new heroes, or at the very least the people we admire and look up to, just repeats itself over and over again, relentlessly and mercilessly, to the point where it’s hard to trust anyone anymore.

Several years ago when I was going through my divorce, I turned to humor as a phenomenal coping mechanism. Comedy is a brilliant tool to have in your life. Not only is it such a warming and cathartic feeling to laugh until you cry, but comedians are the last bastion of people in the world who understand that everything is funny. The modern-day PC culture has removed so many items from the table that it’s sometimes easy to forgot how hysterical the world is.

Two years ago, I had a dream fulfilled when I got to see my favorite living and active comedian on stage. Louis CK wasn’t just a person who made me laugh. His routines about divorce became a part of me! There were time when I would watch those clips several times a day. And his live show was on fire! Insane laughter for an hour straight. An absolute genius! Before the show I had watched every word that man had ever said, and yet in one hour I didn’t hear a single joke repeated.

Nothing Lasts Forever

And then it hit. Allegations. Weird and gross allegations against this man who had unknowingly done so much for me.

I constantly want to quote him or share his videos in response to things people say or do online. But I’m afraid of people’s reactions, since more often than not, people condemn the whole of a person alongside of any indiscretions they have committed.

But by doing so, I’m left with a void in my life, and a whole lot of questions, some of which I want to explore.

Do We Need ‘Em?

First, do we really need heroes in our lives? Have Hollywood and our educational system wronged us and confused us into believing there are folk out there who we could and should admire, people who could motivate us and pull us to be better than we otherwise would be? Or does this just set us up for failure, since all of our heroes will eventually be exposed for who they are, thus dashing our unrealistic visions of perfect individuals?

These are tough questions to answer. I think we all do need heroes. However, like so many important things in the world, powerful influence from individuals comes alongside great risks. Just about the worst thing that could ever happen to a person would be to see their child die young. However, the only flawless way to prevent this is to not have children at all, which would be terrible advice for one who fears the worst consequences. Any reward far outweighs the horrific risks.

We need to admire people. We need to see greatness in others. Without it, our lives contain major voids and less to strive for. However, we always need to know that admiration usually grows, and with each ounce of admiration, the risk of later disappointment grows as well. But it’s still a risk worth taking.

But what if the hero has already fallen?

Can we still enjoy and benefit from the great things our heroes have produced even after their legacy is tainted?

More tough questions, for many reasons. For one, we risk offending those harmed by the hero in question, either directly or through legitimizing others guilty of committing such acts. If I quote Louis CK, even if I do so with good intentions or to the amusement of most of those around me, if I’m in the presence of someone who has suffered through an action even remotely similar to his, I can do remarkable damage.

Just to be clear, I generally do not concern myself with offending others, especially the easily offended. I will sleep like a baby at night if I upset someone because my mere words hurt their sensibilities. That’s their problem, not mine. My concern here is about furthering damage or disturbing anyone who is already a victim. To not have such sensitivities is borderline inhuman.

What About Me?

My final concern is about causing damage to myself. Does it harm my soul to maintain an admiration for the art of someone who has shown gaping character flaws? I don’t believe there are people out there who don’t have such flaws; however, some are far worse than others. I say with shame that in my life I have lied, bullied, and defamed. However, am I forever not to be trusted? When does a flaw reach a level that completely delegitimizes a person, or is so heinous that it forever taints their achievements and creations?

And even when they reach this miserable level, is there a possibility of redemption? Is there a point of no return where no amount of apologies or positive actions can restore the hero to some semblance of previous glory?

I sit here honestly perplexed, not knowing who to trust, nor whether or not it’s safe to ever trust. Where have all my heroes gone? And what am I without them?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, 0 comments

Domestically International

international

My Bucket List

Years ago I sat down to write a bucket list. When the ideas slowed, I hopped online to see what other people had come up with.

Two things immediately caught my attention. First, I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought I was. Top items included getting degrees, getting married, having kids, living in other countries, and becoming fluent in a second language. Check, check, check, check, and checkity check.

The second thing I noticed was how many lists were loaded with multiple travel aspirations. What I found noteworthy about that… is that personally, I had none.

None.

In fact, I hate travel. I don’t like airports, planes, or jet lag. I don’t mind seeing new places and getting out of my comfort zone, but I always feel like the travel portion of traveling ruins the entire experience.

Why I Hate Traveling

Weeks before you travel are spent on preparation and packing. There are nerves and logistics galore. The next step is sitting around mindlessly and endlessly in an airport, after undergoing an unnecessarily invasive investigation. Where else in life do you give someone an insane amount of money in exchange for being treated like a criminal?

If you make it through the airport shakedown, you get the lovely experience of hours of being cramped in an uncomfortable plane with nasty food and constant interruptions from a pilot who thinks the altitude is more important to you than watching Eddie Murphy’s latest film.

Hopefully you’re among the lucky few who isn’t dehydrated with stuffy ears and an achy back from the experience. Now you get to move on to the oddly long wait for your luggage, assuming that it actually arrives. And we’re off for several days of fighting off exhaustion and breaking through jet lag in order to be able to properly enjoy the vacation.

And when all the smoke clears and you’ve fully enjoyed your trip, you get to do all that crazy one more time.

Now, I’m aware that some people are far better at traveling than I am. Hell, I don’t even like to travel to other cities! Nevertheless, all this is why I can’t bring myself to be excited about travel.

Knowledge of Other Nations and Cultures

Yet, I noticed in recent months that I experience travel in a completely different way. Despite my aversion to actually going anywhere, I devote an uncanny amount of time to gaining an in depth and profound knowledge of other nations and cultures.

I read books and articles about history and regional differences. I study geography. I’ve hosted hundreds of people for lodging and meals from all around the world, and I seek to really understand where they’re coming from. I look for subtleties in behaviors and mannerisms, ask questions about languages, and I’m always learning fascinating things about cultures.

(Fun side notes: Did you know that in Spain, they use the word “tortilla” completely differently than in Mexico? In Spain, it’s something more comparable to an omelette! And in the very not superstitious Germany, they still have a couple of odd ones. Never wish “Happy Birthday” before the actual day. And ALWAYS make eye contact when saying “Prost/Cheers”, for not doing so is a bad omen for seven years of bad sex.)

Studying Languages

I study languages. Lots of them. Sadly, I have not been blessed with any gifts at picking up foreign languages at all, and cursed with the desire to speak about a dozen of them. But I don’t get discouraged easily and I will continue to push forward every single day, always learning a little something, even if I know mastery is unlikely in my near or even distant future. Just because I love it.

And so here I am. A guy who over the next decade or so will be wildly familiar with world geography and history, familiar with multiple languages, with connections around the world and insights into culture and customs everywhere… with no obvious use for any of it.

So why do I do it? How did I end up this way?

To be honest, I’m still not sure. There’s plenty of room for exploration. I’m mulling around two potential theories at the moment.

Why am I Domestically International?

First, I like the idea of being safe and comfortable no matter where life takes me. If my job wants me to take a trip to Germany for a conference, I want to be able to order a coffee in German, understand the person sitting next to me making fun of my haircut, appreciate some local television, and not embarrass myself by doing something culturally inappropriate. Furthermore, one cannot truly appreciate a foreign nation without speaking its language. Growing up in America it’s easy to feel like you speak the only language anyone could ever need.

However, I have met countless people who can barely eke out a sentence in English. There are countries where few people speak English or where different generations do not speak English well. How miserable would it be to visit a country and only experience 10% of what they have to offer because of my own limitations?

The World Through the Languages and Cultures of Others

Second, experiencing the world through the languages and cultures of others is a quick way to their hearts. True, some cultures do not want to hear you breaking your teeth on and butchering their language (you know who you are, Frenchies!). But most of the world loves that you took the time and effort to appreciate that their world matters too.

Try it. Learn how to say “hello” in Russian. Say it to the next Russian person you meet. Watch their face light up. It’s worth it every single time! It’s fairly likely that the next moment will be a little embarrassing as they then sputter out a million sentences in Russian, and you stand there smiling and clueless. Still worth it.

When you take the time to interest yourself in the language, culture, and history of other people, you step into their realm. You become a part of their world. You become a stronger and more tolerant member of society, and you generate feelings of belonging for all those around you.

I might tour across Europe or other parts of the world one of these days. It would be nice. But even if I don’t see the world out there, I’ll be satisfied so long as the world out there still becomes a part of who I am.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in couch surfing, opinion, personal story, travel, 0 comments