What good difference can YOU make in the New Year?
by Bonnie Chernin
Every year at this time, we celebrate and pray for a sweet New Year. As part of our celebration and tradition, we eat pomegranates and apples dipped in honey. We drink sweet wine and wish each other “Shana Tova.” Imagine my surprise when I got a letter in the mail my local Jewish organization wishing me a “Good Difference!”
I learned something new. The Hebrew word “Shana” – which is translated as “year” - also means “difference.” As the letter says: “Since time brings change, and change makes difference, the word for difference and the word for (a year of) time is the same.”
The letter goes on to say to make a real difference in someone else’s life.
No real difference is too little. It can be something easy, such as calling or visiting someone you have not seen in a long time, sending a card to a friend who is not well, or donating to a charity that helps children. It can mean bringing joy to someone else or learning something new and challenging – learning to draw or play an instrument, or teaching a child – anything that brings you personal joy.
Making a difference can often require more effort, such as asking forgiveness of someone you’ve hurt or calling someone you have been avoiding. It can just mean being a better person for others than you were the year before by changing a bad habit that has not served you well. It only takes a little difference to make good difference.
Judaism is a religion of faith and action. Every good act is a mitzvah and with every mitzvah comes greater rewards. Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection and spiritual renewal. It is a time to remember that we are part of something much greater than ourselves, more than we can ever really comprehend. During times of illness, pain and personal struggles, it is easy to forget what can be possible. Each second we are alive enables us with the ability to discard old judgments, create new thoughts, focus on positive ideas, and share precious gifts. Transform your ideas into action and you will create a new world for yourself and others. Your perception of yourself will grow and change as well.
I had one special thing I wanted to accomplish this year, and in spite of all my personal health struggles, I did it. It was difficult but the most important thing is that I did not let my personal stuff get in my own way.
What is the one special thing – the one difference you want to make and accomplish that means the most to you? Does it keep you up at night? Then it is real. Write it down and keep it somewhere where you will always see your “one special thing” every day. This way you won’t forget. Don’t add to it or dilute it. Start working on the one special thing, and you will experience the joys of Rosh Hashanah every day, all year.
Wishing everyone a Sweet and Blessed Year of Good Difference. G-d bless.
Curiosity saves the cats (and the kittens).
By Bonnie Chernin
Via Character Signature Strength: Curiosity. Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.1
Imagine a young mother cat that is not curious. She hears a bird squawking in the distance. It sounds strange – not like the usual sparrow she might kill to feed her new family. So she lets it go at that and goes back to sleep. Her young kittens are sleeping nearby, partially hidden by the shrubs but vulnerable.
Her sister Auntie Cat is awake sitting nearby. She also hears the bird. However, Auntie is a much more curious cat. Her intuition tells her something is not quite right, so she goes to investigate. The bird is closer now. Slowly, Auntie Cat moves forward because she senses this is no normal bird. Her back arches; she recoils in horror as she sees a hungry owl with eyes wide open glaring down at the little kittens. Those are her nieces and nephews! Her sister’s babies will not be the owl’s next meal.
She hasn’t got a moment to wait. Auntie Cat runs back to the kittens and grabs the first one by the scruff of its neck, moving it to a safe place. She frantically nudges her sister, who is yawning and finally awakens. Mother Cat looks over at her sister – annoyed at her interrupted nap. She glances for a moment at her young. Her heart beats faster. Mother Cat begins to panic, as she too sees the owl closing in. Mother and Auntie Cat grab the two remaining kittens and quickly move them to a drainpipe under the deck. It would prove to be a safe place for the brood. Totally hidden and secluded, the pipe is too small for the owl to get in. And the two Lucky Ladies were just in time.
They now stand guard in front of the pipe, and together the protective feline team is ready to ward off an attack by the fearsome looking bird. Lesson learned.
Ok, it may not win the award for best flash fiction story of the year. But hopefully, it does make a point about curiosity. It depends on the situation, doesn’t it? In this case, what would have happened had both Mother and Auntie Cat let their guard down and gone to sleep? They would likely be gone, as would the kittens. Curiosity saved them all.
When is curiosity a problem? When it becomes a risk. It leads us to take actions that create situations that are dangerous. At a party, someone says: “Try this new aged wine – it is awesome and it is my last bottle. Don’t miss out!” You know you have to drive home, but you may not have this opportunity again. So you drink a delicious glass of wine, and then another. Before you know it you are drunk. And you begin the drive home. It turns out you were right. You would not have the opportunity again.
Curiosity mends us, and trains us. It informs our intuition to know when it is safe to venture, or be safe and stand down. Curiosity is what makes us human, and draws others to us and us to others. However, it only does that when we gauge our inquisitive natures. Sometimes we may need to keep our desires safe, and other times safe is sorry and we need to make a move. That’s when gut feelings lend a hand.
Curiosity is wonderful when we take a genuine interest in what those we care about are doing with their lives. Our friend’s daughter needs to choose a college. We are curious and ask questions about what she hopes for; where her dreams are coming from and taking her. Our spouse gets a new job offer, and we are curious and ask if it is what he really wants, and why he wants it now. We are in it for them, and not for us. Those kinds of questions keep us curious, motivated and motivational.
To lead a full life, be filled with the joy of discovery. Ask questions and stay involved in the world, and explore all facets of every experience you have. There is beauty in everything and every place, if you look for it and safety when you need it.
Keep that in mind the next time you catch your cat sleeping with her kittens beneath a tree where a hungry owl perches. Or when your gut tells you the outcome is way too risky and the “awesome” stuff is just an old corky bottle of wine.
Copyright February 2018 by Bonnie Chernin. All rights reserved.
1Via Institute on Character, from the Via Survey of Character Strengths - http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Creativity
Silence Between Intervals: The Basis for Attentive Communication
The best way to speak to someone is to remain silent and hear the speaker out.
That may seem odd, until you consider how often people talk too much and say very little. Silence is a gift that is difficult to maintain in a conversation. But it is a gift to the recipient. For the person who is not speaking it is a virtue to hear, to listen.
Lately, I have been making a point to listen to classical music on a daily basis. My personal preference for classical music can be found in the Core Competency of Listening. The more I listen to classical music the better a listener I become. In a symphony, listening requires careful attention to hear the composer express whatever his intention is within the work. Is it joy or sorrow? Solace or regret? Introspection? All of the above? What emotions arise as you hear the piece? When listening to orchestral works there is distance and convergence, space, silence and separation within movements. The composer leaves it up to the listener as to how to interpret the music.
One of the things musicians know is that it is the slow movements that are the most difficult to play. The audience is listening not as much for the technical bravado of a fast presto movement, but for something deeper within the melody that is carefully constructed. The beauty of slow movements is that you can really hear the spaces (silence) between sounds that link one musical phrase (sentence) to another. In the hands of a skilled musician, those spaces are connections, and in context of the whole piece a bond is formed.
Think of conversation that way. Give people the space they need to speak their ideas, even if they express themselves with hesitation. Think of their ideas as unique melodies that make up the entire piece, the whole person. How does the person connect one idea to another? Is there an understanding of the passages? Is there a bond or a gap that needs to be bridged to understand the message expressed?
These are the blessings of a loving relationship. Many people don’t know how to do it. Maybe it’s because they never experienced it growing up. Perhaps they were invalidated by parents, teachers or caretakers.
The good news is…listening is a skill that can be learned at any age.
With space you learn to anticipate one another with joy. Don’t be eager to speak. Delay your response and let your companion’s words settle. Your partner will appreciate the wait. If people would really listen – and not just hear – the intervals between the words, they would experience a new relationship with every sentence spoken.
Copyright November 2016 by Bonnie Chernin.
Published July 4, 2016 by Bonnie Chernin
Published 2016 by Bonnie Chernin
Published March 8, 2016 by Bonnie Chernin
Published February 15, 2016 by Bonnie Chernin
Published February 1, 2016 by Bonnie Chernin
Published December 21, 2015 by Bonnie Chernin