Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Who Else is Afraid of Public Speaking?

Some people would rather die than give a speech in public. I find this fact difficult to understand, yet numerous surveys attest to it.

Since I speak for a living, I thought I had grown immune to the fear. Yesterday, however, it was palpable, as I presented a two-minute summary of my book to a group of distinguished authors and book fair organizers from across the country.

who else is afraid of public speaking

The person to my left had been a senior editor at Newsweek. The author behind me was the Editor-in-Chief at Business Week. Three people in my row had New York Times bestsellers! 

I felt like one of people the Bible describes when it tells of the Israelites first entering the Promised Land: “Giants roamed the land…and we must have been like grasshoppers in their eyes.”

What Are They Saying About Me? 

When emcee called my name, time stopped. I went up to the microphone, looked out and started talking. I looked for a friendly face. When I found one on the upper left hand corner, I relaxed. What felt like 20 minutes ended up lasting a minute and a half.

When I sat down, I heard the customary applause, and then a murmur. I imagined they must have been whispering to each other, “Who invited this guy?”

Speed-Dating

The program continued for another hour. Afterward, all the authors and book-fair directors converged into a social hall for appetizers, drinks and discussions. The book-fair directors sought out the authors who interested them. It felt like a big unorganized speed dating exercise.

I expected to sulk in a corner and maybe have one or two conversations. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Though I was not deluged with attention as some of the authors were, many people commented on my presentation and how interested they were in hearing about the book. A fellow author even asked for speaking tips.

The entire experience taught me a few lessons.

1. The anticipation of an event generates much more fear than the event itself: When I was speaking, I focused on what I was saying. Before speaking, I focused on how nervous I was. We may not be able to avoid anticipatory fear, but if we recognize and call it out, we can see that it is more about ourselves than what we are about to do.

2. It’s okay to be nervous: It is a sign we are taking the event seriously. Why would we get anxious over something that was not important? When we care, when we have worked hard to get somewhere, we take it seriously. The key is not to let it push us offtrack.

3. Envy is deadly: There is a difference between ambition and envy. Ambition can drive us to innovate and move beyond our comfort zone. Ambition can lead us to work hard and achieve.

Envy, however, can destroy us. C.S. Lewis pointed this truth out with characteristic eloquence. Envy, he said, is “the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad.”

“It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than others – when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that it would take all the fun out of it – then you are going wrong.”

Yesterday I learned, once again, God does not compare our lives with other peoples’. God calls us to find and live by the unique divine spark within ourselves.

Rabbi Moffic’s newest book is Wisdom for People of All Faiths

Should You Feel Guilty for White Lies?

You are visiting with a friend. She has just returned from a trip abroad, and she brings down a new dress she purchased while traveling.

You immediately notice that the color does not suit her. It is also too big and poorly designed. You simply find it terribly ugly.

is it ok to lie

And then she tells you how much loves it. She loves the color and the fit. She also mentions that it cost upward of $1000. She says, “What do you think? Don’t you love it?”

White Lies

What do you say? You know your friend values your opinion. You also know that she loves the dress and has no possibility of returning. She will be devastated if you tell her what you think. How should you respond?

We have all been there. My guess is that most of us would smile and  say, “It looks great.” We might feel a bit guilty. We might later tell ourselves that we should have been more honest.

Yet, from the perspective of Jewish values, we could tell ourselves that we did the right thing. In fact, we are following biblical and rabbinical role models who understood human sensitivities and paramount value of peace.

When God Lied to Abraham

The paradigmatic biblical example of this kind of sensitivity happens between Abraham and Sarah. God tells the 92-year-old Sarah that she and her husband Abraham will give birth to a child.

The shocked Sarah laughs. She asks God how a man as old as her husband Abraham could ever become a father.

God then relates this episode to Abraham. God, however, does not tell the whole truth. He leaves out the part of the story where Sarah laughs. In interpreting this passage, the Jewish sages derived a principle: “We are permitted to alter a story for the sake of peace.”

Clashing Values

Does that mean we can lie whenever we want? Absolutely not. It does mean we need to evaluate our actions within a larger matrix of values.

In Judaism, peace is the paramount value. I refer to peace not only in the sense of conflict between countries and groups. I also mean peace in human relationships.

When it comes to these relationships, preserving mutual respect and peace takes precedence over absolute honesty.

Now this precedence is not true in all circumstances. If we tell a lie involving something illegal or sexually immoral, honesty takes precedence. Yet, peace is an ideal that stands near the apex of the Jewish values pyramid.

The Bible tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) The Jewish biblical interpreters pointed out that this verse contains two verbs. We have to seek peace. And we also have to pursue it. In other words, peace is the North Star guiding our choices, words and deeds.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Who Do You Remember on Memorial Day?

Who do you remember on Memorial Day? Is it a friend or a relative? A grandparent or child? The day honors the memory of all who have died in service of our country. Yet, we each old precious individual memories. Who we remember tells us a lot about ourselves.

The person I think about every year is my grandfather.

memorial day

I think about him on many occasions, but Memorial Day is poignant because serving in World War II helped defined who he was. It was the first time he left his native Milwaukee. It was the first time he worked in a hospital. It was the time he made the closest friends of his life.

His service taught me lesson that resonate every day.

1. We are lucky to be alive: Whenever I told him what a hero he was, my grandfather would tell the real heroes are the ones who died. He had immense gratitude for his life, and he did not take it for granted. Tears welled in his eyes when he spoke of his ship that barely made it back to the United States as it sailed through waters filled with German submarines. Those of us who have never served in the military sometimes need to be reminded of how much gratitude we owe those who have given their lives for our country.

2. We gain satisfaction from serving something larger than ourselves: My grandfather knew why he was in battle. To stop Hitler, to save lives and to protect the United States. It was not for glory. It was not for metals. It was for other people. Every study on happiness and finding meaning in life echoes my grandfather’s experience. Happiness comes from helping others.

3. Gratitude is the greatest tribute we can give:  Thorton Wilder put it eloquently: “All that we can know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”

I am struck by that line: “What is essential does not die but clarifies.” When we remember someone, we remember what was central to them. We remember their character, their hopes, their dreams. Our lives become a living memorial to them.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

The 7 Habits of Stress-Free People

Do you know how to handle stress? We all face it. And we know it can hurt us. Yet, we struggle with how to handle it. A recent study found only 23 percent of people feel they are doing “an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing stress.”

Now picture some relaxed people you know. How have they gotten that way? Some may have genetic predispositions. Studies of happiness indicate that about 50 percent of a person’s “happiness quotient” is a result of DNA.

stress-free person

Perhaps the same can be said for our level of stress. What, then are some strategies we can use to address the other 50 percent?

As a person and teacher of faith, I look at this question from a spiritual perspective. Yet, this perspective does not ignore the scientific and psychological insights. In fact, some spiritual practices have long known what science recently discovered. Here are seven of them:

1. Pray: Prayer is not about asking for things. It is about gaining perspective. It is about reminding ourselves of what is most important. Taking a moment to pray helps us step out of the trees to look at the forest.

2. Join a community: A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Ross Douthat connected the rise in suicide to weakened social ties. Americans with little connection to established social institutions like a church or synagogue are more lonely and depressed. Studies show that joining a group that meets just once a month increases our life span.

3. Unload to a friend: Religions have long had a structure for expressing our grief or pain or anxiety. Some of these feelings reflect guilt, which is addressed in Catholicism through confession.

In Judaism the custom of studying in pairs facilitates relationships that provide an emotional balance and partnership for processing the challenges of life. All of us need find a way get out what is hurting us inside.

4. Breathe: The Hebrew language uses the same word for “breath” and “soul.” Every breath we take nourishes the soul. This habit is accessible to us wherever are. We can pause and breath deeply. It can instantly help us slow down.

5. Change your language: Our words shape our thoughts. They help form our perception of what we are experiencing. So often we use highly charged language to describe our feelings. “We are exhausted,” or “so upset” or “really frustrated.” If we dial down our language, we may find that our feelings follow.

6. Sleep: Unless we are a new parent or part of the .001 percent of the population who are the exception to the rule, we need to sleep for 7-8 hours on a regular basis. We were not made to keep going and going.

We were made for cycles of work and rest. If we do not get enough sleep, we have shorter attention spans. We are usually more impatient and short with others. Getting a good night’s sleep may sound like common sense. But it is wisdom many choose not to follow at their own peril.

7. Observe the Sabbath: This habit follows the logic of the previous one. God did not create us to run at full-speed all the time. We need to rest. Fortunately, a day of rest was built into the order of creation. I believe the entire story of the seven days of creation is meant to teach us that God intended for us to take a full day for rest.

To observe the Sabbath, you do not necessarily need to follow all the Jewish laws or Christian practices. You do have to go to synagogue or church. Just change what you do. Do not feel the need to be productive. Try not to talk about work. Try to do activities that replenish your mind and soul.

A great musician was once asked by an admirer: “How do you handle the notes as well as you do?”  The musician answered: “The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses between the notes–ah! That is where the art resides.” The Sabbath is our pause between the notes of life.

 To read more from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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