“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Apparently this was Gloria Vanderbilt’s favorite piece of advice. Not what I expected but that’s the point, isn’t it? Even the seemingly privileged, the wealthy, the talented, are not exempt from life’s challenges. Everyone is fighting a great battle.

Because that is the whole point of life and the battle is for life itself. The battleground occurs in our psyche, in the struggle between the base and the holy, the negative inclination and the positive one, the body and the soul.

And it’s unending. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, the struggle wages on. Everyone’s front line is different but the force of battle is similar, as should be our battle strategies and our plan of attack. For if we are engaged in a daily battle for our souls, then, like any good general, we need a strategy for success.

We don’t want to be taken by surprise; we don’t want to be unprepared. These are a leader’s cardinal errors. And here we have the advantage over most military strategists. We know the battle is coming. There is no reason we should be caught unawares.

Just like an alcoholic needs to avoid the neon-lit street where his favorite bars are located, so too do we need to stay away situations that trigger negative responses.

If we are on a diet, we don't walk into a bakery just to look... and smell... and...well, you know what happens next.  Not the scheme of a grand strategist.

If we are frequently late for work, perhaps we should purchase an alarm with no snooze button (do they exist?) or set the clock 15 minutes early (you know the tricks!). We don't want to give ourselves permission to make the wrong choice.

Unlike movies and televisions, our battles are not usually grand and epic.  They are not fought in coliseums or across international borders.  They are small, almost constant skirmishes that lay siege to our every waking moment.

To yell at the child who forgot his lunch or to calmly deliver it to his classroom (or to let him eat the peanut butter sandwiches his teacher always has on hand?)

To express frustration with a spouse who forgot to pick up the dry cleaning or to just go myself or (here's a radical thought) to wear something different?

To struggle over whose turn it is to take out the garbage, make dinner, read a bed time story - or to just do it with a smile on our face. These are our daily challenges, our great battles.  And no one is immune.

Although our enemy may have the cunning of a terrorist, we know where he is hiding and we know what triggers an assault. This is our opportunity to be clever strategists and devise a plan that will work to counter our yetzer hara, our negative inclination.

Yes, sometimes we are sleeping. But that is our own fault. The signs are all around us if we choose to read them. We can also rely on past experience. We know where we are weak. We know where we are vulnerable. We know that when we are tired our defenses are down. So we have to plan accordingly.

Don’t Be Quick to Judge

This is sound advice for every human being fighting the great battle for life. But Ms. Vanderbilt takes it one step further. It’s not just about the battle we are fighting but it’s about the one that everyone around us is engaged in as well.

If we remember that all of our family members, our friends, our community members, our acquaintances are also struggling, it will deepen our sense of compassion and empathy. We won’t be so quick to judge or be hurt. We will be focused on their needs and not our own.

It’s good that everyone is fighting a great battle for giving up the battle is choosing death. But some skirmishes are harder than others and in some the toll is greater than expected. So we need to behave with kindness and mercy not just towards our friends but towards ourselves.

Her favorite piece of advice could just have been “Be kind” and that would have taken us a long way. But the second part of the quote makes it so much more – for us and for others. It goes to the heart of what it means to be alive and to develop and grow as a human being. There is wisdom everywhere – we just need to make ourselves receptive to it.