A reader writes:

We are often told that we need to be sensitive to the inherent nature of our children. Not all children are going to be scholars. We must respect and encourage them to develop their potential in areas where they will excel, and these areas may not be in the scholastic arena. To try to cram a child into a wedge where they don't belong is destructive, and I understand this intellectually.

However I find it very difficult to tear myself away from the ideology that states that intellectualism is the only attribute that is valued by our society -- both in Judaism and in secularism. What are some practical ways that I can release myself from this destructive way of thinking? CL

Dear reader,

You accurately and articulately identify a most common pitfall in contemporary life -- the disconnect between our heads and our hearts.

In fact, in our daily prayers we quote the biblical verse, "and you shall know this day and bring it back to your heart"(Deut. 4). Our sages explain that "knowing" is virtually meaningless unless that knowledge filters down to and penetrates our hearts. Only then does the knowledge become relevant to our lives. Indeed, only when our heart is engaged can our knowing affect and modify our behavior.

Easier said than done. How do we do this?

Reality checks are critical. At a recent Bat Mitzvah celebration, the aunt of the celebrant, a school teacher addressed the group. In her remarks, she proceeded to subject Elisheva, the Bat Mitzvah girl and the audience to a two-part quiz. The first part consisted of three questions:

1. Who are the last 5 Nobel prize winners?
2. Who received the Academy award for best actress in the last three years?
3. Who were the heads of the State department in the last couple of years?

She turned to the Bat Mitzvah girl and asked how she had fared. Elisheva responded that she couldn't answer any of the questions and would have received an "F".

The second part of the quiz followed:

1. Name three teachers who were kind and attentive to you in a special way.
2. Name three friends that were there for you when you needed to talk, share and commiserate.
3. Name three family members who light up your life by letting you know consistently how much you mean to them.

Again, the aunt turned to Elisheva and asked how she had done. "A+!" was the young lady's reply.

It is the people who reach beyond themselves to notice, care and give to others that really make a difference in our lives.

No one remembered the people who achieved fame, glory and notoriety in our society by virtue of their brains, looks or public acclaim. At the end of the day, it is arguably the people who dedicate their efforts to transcending their own concerns, wants and needs and reach beyond themselves to notice, care and give to others that really touch us and make a difference in our lives.

My dear reader, constantly reminding yourself of this undeniable truth will ultimately help you make a paradigm shift.

REPROGRAMMING

Another fact to consider is that even in terms of "success" as understood by our misguided culture, there is little correlation between those of great intellectual and scholastic achievement and making money. In many instances, those who founded and built huge financial empires had little formal education, and in some cases, could barely sign their names.

Changing our perspective, indeed our very thoughts, is unquestionably hard work. Our biases and long held beliefs are deeply ingrained. We are programmed to a certain way of thinking. Nevertheless, choice is the hallmark of the human being. We are not hopelessly condemned to any pattern of behavior, no matter how deeply rooted. It does, however, require extreme effort to drop negative thoughts and plug in to true reality.

It's important to recognize that our thoughts are merely a product of our own making and have no objective reality or inherent truth. Nonetheless, they take over and become the reality of our life and the context in which we live. Hence, if we so choose, we can deliberately drop the contaminating thought and remarkably, in so doing, we allow for truth and positive energy to flow in its place.

This process requires identifying the destructive thought as something we absolutely refuse to indulge -- then drop it and move on. With practice, this mode of behavior becomes a very effective tool for substituting misguided and toxic perceptions with true clarity.

Needless to say, as the reader has already observed, every child has a uniqueness all their own and every parent's mission should be to create a context that is not only supportive but that celebrates the differences in each of their offspring.

MILK AND HONEY

Erich Fromm wrote an essay in which he espouses the need to raise children not only with "milk," which is representative of basic nourishment that sustains life, but also with "honey" that provides the sweetness of living. A diet of "milk and honey" is the best gift parents can provide for their children.

Honey is articulated in the many ways, verbal and otherwise, that we validate and affirm our children and lets them know that we cherish them for who they are -- that we feel blessed by their presence. Eric Fromm takes God in creation as his reference point. Not only does God create and sustain us in existence but "God saw that it was good." Following the creation of man, the Almighty observed us, His newly created beings, and with great pleasure proclaimed that we were good -- He took delight in what He had brought into being.

Providing ongoing expressions of joy and pleasure is the "honey" that we all so desperately need and is unfortunately so rarely forthcoming.

Similarly, we as parents have the ability not only to create and to sustain, i.e. to feed, clothe and provide shelter and basic needs, but additionally to provide ongoing expressions of joy and pleasure. This is the "honey" that we all so desperately need and is unfortunately so rarely forthcoming.

Fromm concludes that indeed in our walks through life as we meet different people, it is eminently clear and discernable which ones were raised on "milk" alone and which were privileged to have been raised on both "milk and honey."

My dear reader, our sages state that the question of a wise person already comprises half of the answer. The other half is totally doable. Check the following:

  1. When a negative thought arises, identify it as a contaminant, drop it, banish it and move on.

  2. Remind yourself of the people who warmed your heart and made a difference in your life. Acknowledge that the attributes by which they did so had little to do with intellect or scholastic sophistication.

  3. Please note that Betzalel, the architect of the holy sanctuary, is known and lauded in the Torah not for his erudition (though that might have been there as well), but for his inspired artistry. King David, likewise, is appreciated and revered in history for, perhaps more than anything else, the songs and poetry that comprise the beloved, timeless book of Psalms. His poignant and brilliant articulations of both the joys and sorrows of the human condition have been a source of solace and comfort throughout the ages. There are, indeed, many varied and legitimate venues for self expression. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, exhorts us to allow each child to go along his path, the road consistent with who they are, i.e. their particular nature, disposition and talents.

  4. Remember that you are a custodian entrusted with diamonds and your task is to polish each individual and sacred gem so that its inherent unique brilliance will surface and shine.

  5. Finally, pray to God for a bestowal of emotional maturity, intelligence and strength, that will give you the wherewithal to provide for your family not only the "milk" of basic sustenance, but perhaps more significantly, the affirmation of person that is the "honey" of life.

    Good Luck!