How to Create Winning Relationships

“Choose to be kind instead of being right and you’ll be right every time.”

                                     – Richard Carlson

If you have ever seen the movie, The Matrix, there is a scene where a member of the human resistance movement is selling out all of his friends to the enemy. Sitting in an elegant restaurant, he is openly aware that his so-called dining experience is a digital illusion for his brain, while in reality, his body is hooked up to a machine. Nevertheless, as he lifts a forkful of mouth-watering digital steak, he opts for a lifetime of virtual reality.

One of the perks of being human is that we get to make stuff up. Hard-wired with creative potential and endowed with free will, we make up stories and then proceed to live in the version of reality that we created. Sometimes we are aware that we are delusional, denying reality and justifying our actions. Other times, we are unconscious and unaware of our drives, and our habituated and reactive behaviors.

And so God placed into the very structure of our existence, pauses, or reset buttons, where we consider the impact of our choices, and reconnect basic reality.   Shabbos is a reset button, a respite from the exhaustion of creating, where we can ponder our created reality on a deeper level by virtue of our conscious connection with Godly reality.

Every seven years, the land gets to enjoy Shabbos, known as “shemittah,” where the land is not worked and any produce that grows is free for the taking. And then after every seven cycles of shemittah, there is a massive economic and agricultural reset where all indentured servants are set free, debts are forgiven, and all land reverts to its original owners.

For 49 years, we groove along on our created wealth, our acquisitions, our use of slave labor, etc. We dig our roots and think there is permanence in the resulting society and economy. And then in the Torah portion, Behar, God upsets the apple cart and pushes the reset button.

Now, for example, the man who had sold himself into slavery because he could not pay his debts not only is set free, but he is restored to his land. Is this an economic model any MBA would study? In a free market society, these laws make no sense. They are not just counter-intuitive they are irrational and, in fact, delusional. But that depends on whose version of reality you are buying into.

When Behar is read as a double Torah portion in conjunction with “Bechukotai,” we can view difficult passages that portend historical tragedies for the Jewish people, known as “the curses,” in a different light. If we choose to disregard God’s reality, and therefore, prefer the delusions of one’s making, then we are turning away from our very source, and living instead, on our own in “la-la land.” The problem with “la-la land” is that it can turn very brutal very quickly, thereby unleashing devastating consequences.

On the other hand, however, if we focus on “the blessings,” we can see that God is asking something from us that is very loving.  The word “Bechukotai” is derived from the word “chakikah,” which means “engraving.” God is asking us to engrave the words of Torah into our hearts so that Torah becomes authentically and intimately interwoven with the very fabric of our being, and thus becomes the reality in which we live. In God’s reality, then, the so-called irrational becomes natural. We want to give instead of get. We become focused on the needs of others instead of being self-centered. We strive for holiness, and we make space for other.

Being Right or Being Happy

The curse of the dissolution of marriages and other relationships comes about when one or both people become so entrenched in their versions of reality that they cannot make room for the thoughts, opinions or feelings of the other. That means you can’t be so entrenched in your point of view and your particular version of reality that you become the unilateral arbiter of Truth. When you make yourself right, you are by default making the other person wrong. While I am not saying that there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong,” this dialectic is not good for relationships, for any time you win at your partner’s expense, your relationship is the loser.

Hit the Reset Button

When you are in emotional gridlock, hit the pause or reset button and realize that there is another reality, a Godly reality, to tap into that will work for your relationship. In an article entitled, “Think You’re Always Right? It’s Probably Ruining Your Relationship,” Dr. Roger Landry offers a few tips on how to avoid this relationship trap, and one of them is to prioritize kindness and compassion over feeling “right:”

This is so much more important than converting the world to your very limited view. We all face challenges. We all suffer loss and pain. All of our opinions are informed by circumstance. Unless you’ve lived someone else’s life, you can never fully understand why s/he believes what s/he does. Listening to the reasoning behind someone else’s feelings can be a revealing. It deepens your connection with that person and broadens your interpretation of the world around you.

In Behar, God reveals a society based on kindness that cyclically recreates itself so as not to get entrenched in disregard of the needs and rights of the disenfranchised poor. But one must be willing to adhere to rules and laws that may make no sense or are hard to do.

When we internalize God’s Truth, however, and live from a heart-centered and Torah-based reality, we reap all of the blessings that flow from love and connection. That is the real victory.  Now that’s being right and being happy.  

 

Mountaintop Reality – Trekking to Holiness

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“It has nothing to do with who I am as compared to everyone else. It has everything to do with who I am in companionship with God.”    

     – Craig D. Lounsbrough                                   

Try as we might, we can’t shortchange process. The American psyche cherishes innovation. We admire the overnight success (and wonder why we can’t be so lucky). But we don’t know the back-story.   Ask any “overnight success” and he or she will tell you that it was years in the making.   As Samuel Goldwyn said, “Give me a couple of years and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.”

When we try to shortchange process and leapfrog over a necessary course of development, what happens is that we fall, inevitably, and, what is worse, we often fall to a point lower than where we even started.

When that happens, it can be very destructive to the psyche because we can become cynical, and feel hopeless, thinking that we just gave it our very best shot, and alas, failed – again. So why bother.

But wait, you might ask – aren’t there instantaneous flashes of insight, moments where we can feel a real paradigm shift in that proverbial “aha moment”? Yes, but these are flashes, and flashes are, by definition, temporary.

An “aha moment” is a glimmer of potentiality. It reveals a new possible pathway. We need to create new consistent behaviors to turn that glimmer of a pathway into an actual trail, and in so doing, lock that insight into a new way of being. Otherwise, it disappears almost as fast as it appeared.

The Process of….Process

No matter what, there is a process. We had a 49-day trek that took us from Egypt (Passover) to Mt. Sinai, where we received the Torah (the holiday of Shavuos).   When we left Egypt, the Jewish people were said to be at the 49th level of impurity, and it is one explanation for why the redemption took place when it did, for had we descended one more level, to the 50th level, we would have been considered unredeemable.

Every day thereafter we spent walking away from Egypt and towards Mt. Sinai we ascended one level of holiness, so that when we arrived at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah we were at the highest level of holiness.

Jewish time is not linear, but cyclical, an upward spiral. “What goes around comes around” is an expression we take literally. Every year, to commemorate that process, we count those same 49 days from Passover to Shavuos, spiritually reliving that journey with the intention that every day brings us higher and closer to the spiritual energy of Shavuos.

Trek Like a Jew

Thousands of years ago we couldn’t jump from Day 1 to Day 49; even now, we can’t pass Go and collect $200. We all know the quote, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.”   When we feel overwhelmed, it’s useful to slow things down and remember that all we can do is take one step at a time. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself for years.   No surprise that I still had a hard time getting my act together. And so I realized a deeper truth for myself, that it’s not necessarily true that the journey begins with the first step. What is true, however, is that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the thought of the 1st step. And the thought of the next step. And so on. This is a critical distinction.

In every Torah portion since leaving Egypt, God is trying to shift how we think, how we see ourselves, to break down the slave mentality and build us up to being priests unto the nations. All of the laws have an external expression in the world of action, but they should come from an internal reality. “Be holy, for I am Holy” says God. Holiness, however, has to be “whole”. Thus, as we see in this week’s Torah portion, “Behar,” holiness must permeate our business transactions.

In a free-market society, in a bottom line material world where we are disconnected from holism, many of the laws in “Behar”, make no sense. Rather, they seem irrational and counter-intuitive. For example, one law dictates that every seven years, all work on the land must cease and the produce that grows is free for the taking. Ask any MBA – this concept is unreal!   But that depends on whose version of reality you are buying into.

There is an animated musical film that came out years ago – The Prince of Egypt – where Moses is feeling pretty down and Yitro (aka Jethro), who is Moses’ father-in-law, inspires him with a song about “looking at his life through heaven’s eyes.”

Think Like a Jew

What is the reality of our lives? What is reality anyway? There is a lot of “reality” out there from which to choose. As a matter of fact, our brains receive billions of bits of information per second, but our brains can only process an infinitesimal amount of it, excluding over 99.9%.

We choose which sliver of “reality” to focus on and what to exclude. Thus, our very perspective is a matter of choice. We can choose to perceive that sliver of reality that will reveal holiness. “Behar” means “on the mountain”.   It’s as if God is saying, “Look at your life from up here. Don’t just buy into what you think the world is, what you think nature is, and what you think the reality is. Look at reality through My Eyes. Look at your life through the eyes of heaven.”

When I went to law school, we were often told that we weren’t there just to learn laws, but to learn to “think like lawyers.” The purpose of learning Torah is not just to learn laws, but to learn how to “think like a Jew,” because everything we do starts in our minds.

Before you take the next step of your journey, remember that it is preceded by a thought. Remember the thought that you are holy, look for that sliver of reality that reveals holiness, know that heaven smiles down upon you to light the way, and your footstep is bound to be sweet and sure, and you will not fall.