December means family time. We celebrate holidays. We take a little time off. But many of us greet this with a feeling of worry.
Our country feels more divided. The ties that bind us feel more frayed. I’ve read some accounts of siblings cutting themselves off from one another because of the way they voted in this year’s election.
Is there a way out of this conflict? Is there a path to recovering what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature?”
Make This Assumption
Yes. But it starts with an important assumption. We need to assume that those who disagree with us have good motives. We can question their ideas. We can question their decisions. But we can’t assume bad motives. Especially during the holidays.
Take a political example: Let’s see we support Obama Care and our cousin does not. Do we assume he doesn’t support it because he doesn’t care about people who get sick and die because they can’t get health care?
Or do we assume he cares about people getting health care, but he does not think Obama Care is the right way? If we assume the former, we will never find a way to talk. If we assume the other, then at least we can try.
Watch Your Words
We also need to watch our words. As a parent of two young children, I see the way they respond when frustrated with one another. They call each other names and even say things like “I hate you.”
Now, of course, my wife and I stop this, and soon enough they are playing together again. But their behavior shows us how easily disagreement can descend into name-calling.
When we start calling each other names, we are talking past one another, making it harder to ever find peace.
There’s a reason society develops manners. They help us get along. We need them during the holidays. And we need more in political and civic life today.
Say “Thank You”
We also need to more gratitude. Even as so many in America struggle, we also live in an extraordinary time and place.
We enjoy a better quality of life—cell phones, dishwashers, grocery stores filled to the brim—than any other time in human history. Sometimes in the midst of our anger and frustration, we need to step back and say thank you.
That’s the logic behind the first prayer Jews say every morning. It begins with the words Modeh Ani L’fanecha, meaning “I am thankful to be alive today.”
We say that prayer every morning even if we feel angry. We say it even if we are in the midst of tragedy. We say it even if we don’t feel it at the time.
We begin the day with gratitude because life itself is a gift. That is the secret to finding the “better angels of our nature.”
To get more inspiration for finding happiness and making better choices, get Rabbi Moffic’s free gift here.
Where do you find hope in our divided society?
The newspaper is rarely is a good source to find wisdom. We find opinions. We find facts. But real insight on how to live well is are. So we turn to other sources like books and essays and blogs.
But what if I told you one section of the newspaper does contain wisdom? And that section is the one you are the least likely to anticipate? That would be the comics.
The best comic strips do not just make us laugh. They trigger aha moments. They make us think. They stick with us, and we want to tell our family and friends about them.
The Wisest Comic Strip
My all-time favorite comic strip is Dilbert. I love it even though I do not work in the traditional office setting Dilbert so often mocks. But I love the insight of the comic’s author, Scott Adams.
Adams shares more his insights in a phenomenal book, How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Adams’ ability to capture deep ideas in pithy sentences drives the entire book.
The World Needs to Make Sense
Though he is not a person of faith, one of his key observations reveals a lot about what makes our faith traditions so powerful. The world, as he points out, is too complex for any one person to understand.
Even Albert Einstein, perhaps the smartest person to have lived, admitted he knew only a fraction of what there is to know about the world.
Therefore, in order to survive and not feel totally overwhelmed, we develop a perspective, a point of view. That perspective helps make sense of what happens to us.
Someone with a secular perspective sees the birth of a child as purely a medical phenomena. A person of faith sees it as a miracle from God.
Do you Want a Longer Life?
Each perspective has its place. We would not want a doctor delivering a baby to ignore the science and think of it only as a miracle. But when it comes to living a meaningful life, the faith perspective works very well. It leads us to longer, healthier and more compassionate lives.
Indeed, recent studies show that people of faith live, on average, seven years longer than others, have more friends, and a healthier lifestyle.
We cannot fully understand why faith works so well. I say it is because God created us this way, and when we follow God’s teaching, we are optimizing ourselves as human beings.
But others might offer a more pragmatic and sociological prospecting, suggesting faith works because it binds us to others and creates communities that look out for one another. We do not need to know the precise reason faith works in order to see that it does.
All we need to realize is that it works. So if you want a better life, you don’t need more things. You need more faith.
Jewish tradition often leaves me perplexed. A few years ago, the first night of Chanukah coincided with Thanksgiving. This year Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve. How is that possible?
The Jewish calendar revolves around the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle lasts about 28 days. That is a month in the Jewish calendar. The typical lunar year is 355 days.
To keep the calendar more aligned with the Western secular calendar, the Jewish sages add an extra month every few years. Thus, the secular date of Chanukah changes every year, though it rarely is earlier or later than December.
So is there anything religiously significant about Chanukah and Christmas coinciding this year?
Not really. Some interfaith families will observe both in various ways. But here’s what we can all remember.
We need light in this darkest time of the year. For most of us, December is the darkest month of the year. The days are short and the nights are long.
The lights of Chanukah and Christmas come as a much needed relief and source of celebration. Here’s why we need them.
A Story About Light
A classic Jewish joke tells of a man looking down at the sidewalk. He keeps walking back and forth and looking down.
A policeman eventually comes up to him and asks what he is doing. He says “I’m looking for my keys. I lost them.”
The policeman then asks, “Where did you drop them?” The man points toward the other side of the street and says “Somewhere over there.”
The incredulous policeman says, “Then why are you looking over here?”
The man replies, “Because over here, the light is better.”
Light My Way
This joke often used by scientists to explain biases in research. The light represents our biases, and we tend to look for ways to confirm them.
But it also reveals a spiritual truth. We seek light in times of darkness. We need light to guide and comfort us.
My hope and prayer is that we can be lights for one another. We can fill our spirits with the light from above, and bring it down to one another in
Earlier this year a friend of mine delivered a sermon at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Facebook comments soon informed him that the church had once been headed by Donald Trump’s favorite minister.
That minister was Norman Vincent Peale. Reverend Peale presided at his marriage to Ivana. Trump has spoken about Peale’s extraordinary sermons and teachings.
Regardless of what one thinks about Trump, his favorite minister warrants renewed attention. While Peale was popular in the 50s and 60s, he fell from the public eye because of some of his more conservative political positions. His writings were also seen simplistic and backwards-looking.
But there is a difference between simplistic and simple. Peale’s writing is far from simplistic. It does, however, convey some simple and overlooked guidance for living happier and more productive lives. What are they?
1. Always be optimistic because optimism makes happiness possible: Even in trying circumstances, which each of us faces, optimism benefits us. It helps us cope when things go wrong, while increasing the chance we can create a better outcome. This is not just faith talking. It is science.
Researchers have discovered what they term “the optimism bias.” The way we view the future helps shape what it turns out to be. When we view it positively, we reduce anxiety and stress. And we focus on creating the future we envision.
Much of the research in this area has, interestingly, come out of Israel. The world’s foremost optimism expert, Dr. Tali Sharot, writes that “The tendency for positive predictions to create positive outcomes is rooted in fundamental rules governing the way the mind perceives, interprets and alters the work it encounters.
“The mind has a tendency to try to transform predictions into reality because our behavior is influenced by our own subjective perceptions of reality.”
In other words, what we believe is more likely to come true because the belief generates the action we need. We will work harder to realize our beliefs. Peale knew 60 years ago what researchers are proving today. (Click here to get 10 Life-Changing Quotes from Norman Vincent Peale)
2. Find meaning in tragedy: Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In other words, we assign meaning to life’s events.
Certain events like the death of a loved one inevitably produce sadness. Yet, they can also lead us to make positive changes in our life. They remind us of what matters most. They can help us renew other relationships.
We can find hope, as Peale recognized, even in the worst circumstances. And we can turn our tragedy into a lifeline for others. Consider the victims of cancer and Alzheimer’s whose survivors have raised tremendous funds to help find a cure, so others do not experience the same tragedy.
3. Pray with intention: Peale was an extraordinary preacher. Yet, his colleagues said he always got tremendously nervous before getting up to speak.
What calmed him and gave him focus were a few simple prayers. They gave him the push to share his message with the thousands who needed it.
Peale understood prayer is not simply about saying something to God. It is also about saying something to ourselves.
It tells us of who we are and what we are called to do. It gives God an opening to into our hearts and minds so God can help use our gifts. It reminds us that God has our back.
300 years ago a Jewish mystic said “God dwells where we let Him in.” Prayer is a way of opening the door so God can come in. And when God comes in, we find the inner strength to live fully and pursue the happiness for which we were created.
Get 10 Life-Changing Quotesfrom Norman Vincent Peale