Jewish World Review June 19, 2002 / 9 Tamuz, 5762
My dear college graduates, here are seven ideas for life.
1. The greatest struggle in your life is not with society but with yourself. This idea is not taught today. We are taught that we are victims of society -- of its sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and ethnic prejudices. The overwhelming temptation is therefore to see your problems as being with America and not with yourself. But this is all false. We are each our biggest problem.
2. Use your common sense. Whenever you hear the words "studies show" -- outside of the natural sciences -- and you find that these studies show the opposite of what common sense suggests, be very skeptical. I do not recall ever coming across a valid study that contravened common sense.
For example, I was told when I was in college that "studies show" that boys and girls are not inherently different; they only differ because parents raise them in a sexist manner. This was nonsense, and now almost no one believes this.
Now we are told that "studies show" that it is not better for children to have both a mother and a father, that it is just as good to begin life with a single parent or with two fathers or two mothers. But, with all respect to any person who raised a good child, this, too, is nonsense. Of course it is better to begin life with a good father and mother.
3. Race is unimportant. The color of people's skin is as trivial as the color of their hair.
Be guided by the idea of Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who suffered the horrors of a Nazi death camp and whose family was gassed. After the Holocaust, he was asked, "Do you hate the Germans?"
"No, I don't," he replied, "because there are only two races, the decent and the indecent."
Remember that truism, and you can never be racist.
4. Don't leave your values at home. Whatever you do professionally, don't leave your values at home when you go to work.
Many people in my profession, the electronic media, are decent people. But they leave their decent values at home when they go to work. At work, they produce a lot of garbage because ratings demand it.
So, too, many lawyers are fine men and women at home, but they leave their decency at home when they enter a courtroom -- because obtaining the verdict they want demands it.
It is not hard to succeed professionally. What is hard is to succeed with your integrity intact.
5. Beware of bad ideas.
The 20th century, the century of gas chambers and gulags, was the bloodiest and cruelest century in history. Why? Not because so many people were bad, but because so many believed in bad ideas. The Islamic terrorists who slit flight attendants' throats and slaughtered 3,000 American innocents on September 11, 2001, were not sadists; they were normal people who believed in evil ideas.
Here is a quick way to measure if an idea is good. Ask two questions: Does believing this idea make a person more ethical? Does the idea hold all people accountable to the same moral code? For Nazis, Communists and Islamic radicals, the answer to both is no.
6. Your behavior matters far more than your intentions. That you mean to do something good or that you are sincere doesn't mean much. What matters is how you act. If you do something bad, it is not important that you "meant well." So spend much less time monitoring your motives and far more time monitoring your actions.
7. Judeo-Christian values are the real counterculture.
Many people think that dressing weird or having your body pierced is a statement of individuality, strength and rebellion against the dominant culture. Not true.
The ultimate counterculture and strength in America today is to take the G-d of Judaism and Christianity seriously. If you want to be an individual and to be strong, affirm a higher value system that enables you to say no to the prevailing culture. When you know to whom you are accountable and when you march to the beat of that Higher Drummer, you will lead a more peaceful, happy and individualistic life.
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06/12/02: Why do adult children live with their parents?
Because they actually like them