The perfect world DOES EXIST, at least for a week.

I just got back from the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.  Imagine blind, amputees, and traumatic brain injury survivors skiing and doing all kinds of “adaptive” winter sports. You can watch a video on the events here. wsc  Just scroll down the page to the video.

But these triumphs over adversity and limitations, while inspiring, are not what made it a perfect world. Imagine a world where all the superficial surface appearances (that hold no clue to the character of the person) like skin color or physical disability, yield to the desire to love and serve others. I saw a black woman feeding a white man who was blind and having difficulty feeding himself. As I approached the table, she came over with her tray, and asked if she could feed him. This kind of thing was repeated over and over. Whites leading Blacks who were blind and vice versa, those who could walk on their own carrying the trays of those who struggled with walking. All the races seemed to be represented, most of the participants were strangers to each other, there were wheelchairs aplenty and service dogs, many struggled to walk, to eat, but there was more help than anyone needed and no one had to ask!

THIS is the perfect world on earth: Love and service without quid pro quo. Heaven will be like this, but without the disabilities. Revelation 21:3-4. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”’ Believe it!

My favorite proverbs.

King Solomon, in his time, was widely known as the wisest man in the world. Why? When the Lord asked him to name anything he wanted, he asked not for wealth or defeat of his enemies, but for wisdom to enable him to rule well. Wow, if only our current leaders today wanted that!

Proverbs 3:7 be not wise in your own eyes fear the lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 10:20 the tongue of the righteous is choice silver..10:30 the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom..

Proverbs 16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than 100 blows into a fool.

Proverbs 18:2. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, only in expressing his own opinion.

Proverbs 18:12-13 Before destruction a mans heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. If one gives an answer before he hears the matter it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 19:3. When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.

Proverbs 19:11. Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 26:12. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes. there is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 26:16. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

Proverbs 26:20. Where there is no wood the fire goes out and without a whisperer quarreling ceases.

Proverbs 29:1. He who is often reproved but stiffens his neck will be suddenly broken beyond healing .

Proverbs 29:11. A fool gives full vent to his spirit but a wise man holds it back.

Proverbs 29:23. One’s pride will bring him low but a man who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Proverbs 31:30. Beauty is vain and charm deceitful but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not swiftly carried out, the hearts of the children of man are fully set to do evil.

There were many more proverbs but the ones I chose represent my favorite themes. Self control, the evil of pride, and the virtue of accepting correction are prominent. While the line from Ecclesiastes doesn’t appear in the book of proverbs, it was written by Solomon and I consider it a proverb. Delaying the punishment for a crime speaks directly to the human heart in a negative way, encouraging further evil.

There is something perverse inside of human beings that is magnified laws and rules. I am reminded of a story from a great teacher  mine, Dennis Peacocke. Imagine the most perfect lawn, lush and green and unmarked. You walk by it every day, admiring the perfection. It’s so unsullied. Not one blade of grass is tamped down. Then one day a sign appears, KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Your admiration turns into something else–the perverse desire to walk on the lawn, to sully it.

This perversity was manifested even by Solomon. The Lord said to Solomon that He was pleased with Solomon’s request and so granted it as well as great wealth and victory over his enemies. How did Solomon abuse these blessings? Keep in mind the Lord also warned him of the consequences of failing to obey His commandments, mainly that he follow the Lord exclusively and not run after “foreign gods.”  The Bible shows what happened.

1 Kings 11:1-3. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.”

“Nehemiah 13:26. “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.”

Now some say the marriages of Solomon were political alliances, I say that is irrelevant. If his heart was following the Lord, he would not need political alliances. But this lesson is for all of us: No matter what we are blessed with, our natural inclinations will motivate us to mess it up. The lesson is clear: Don’t do what comes naturally (pride, arrogance, anger, seeking temporary pleasure at the expense of …..well, everything else! 

Is Muslim comedy an oxymoron?

Rather than begin with my own opinion, the following is an excerpt of a review of a sketch on a BBC show. I will reserve my opinion until the very end.

A Muslim comedian has spoken out in defence of a controversial new BBC comedy sketch called The Real Housewives Of ISIS, saying ‘being offended is very popular these days’. The BBC has come under fire for the sketch, which satirises US reality TV shows like Real Housewives Of Orange County and Real Housewives Of Atlanta. It appears on new BBC 2 show Revolting and follows a group of British girls who have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and marry terrorists.

In the first episode, one of the characters is seen showing off her new suicide vest after complaining that ‘it’s only three days until the beheading and I’ve got no idea what I’m gonna wear’. Another bemoans that her husband ‘won’t stop talking about his 40 virgins’. After some critics described the sketch as ‘disgusting’, comedian and writer Shazia Mirza has told The Guardian: ‘The rightwing press might be offended, and maybe the leftwing liberals, but Muslims aren’t offended – it’s like they want us to be offended but we aren’t. We’re OK, thanks’

Mirza continued: ‘There’s a long history of people from different religions mocking themselves – Christians, Jews, Catholics – why can’t Muslims make jokes about themselves? If we are going to continue that proud tradition of satire that has to be allowed.'”

Naturally, I wanted to see the sketch for myself before rendering an opinion.  Here it is.  The Guardian 
  1. I think satirizing a group is the most effective way to undermine it, even when such group is as heinous as ISIS.
  2. The massive amount of suffering they have caused makes me reluctant to enjoy even a joke at their expense, but if the satire can can make some potential recruits turn away or shame their cause, then let’s have more satire.
  3.  I am so politically incorrect and impervious to personal offense that I find the idea of a female ISIS recruit complaining that she “has nothing to wear to the beheading” hilarious. Sorry folks, I do. I don’t even understand the whole concept of being offended.
  4.  My only quibble with what Shazia Mirza said is that she implies that the right wing press is more likely to be offended than the left wing liberals. NO! The latter are offended by almost anything, far more so than conservatives. Taking up offense for others is the badge of honor for liberals.
  5.  I really found it funny, especially the one where the wife says she has been widowed 5 times, then hesitates as the building shakes (drone strike?), then corrects herself and says 6 times.
As for the title of this post, I appreciate satire as among the highest forms of humor, and I would like to see a lot more self-satire from Muslims. As someone born into a Jewish household, I can appreciate the history of Jewish humor as a constructive response to oppression. If I were being oppressed, I hope I could laugh in the faces of my oppressors. Yeah, nothing would make them angrier….but that’s the idea!

As for a lot of Muslim spokesmen today AND their liberal media enablers,  I want to quote Hussain Haqqani, a prominent Muslim and former Pakistan envoy to the US: “The violence over ‘Islam’s honour’ is a function of the collective Muslim narrative of grievance. Decline, weakness, impotence, and helplessness are phrases most frequently repeated in the speeches and writings of today’s Muslim leaders. The view is shared by Islamists – who consider Islam a political ideology – and other Muslims who don’t. The terrorists are just the most extreme element among the Islamists. As a community, Muslims are obsessed with their past pre-eminence, which stands in stark contrast to their current weakness. The bravado of beheading “blasphemers” and thinking that a terrorist attack can change the global order are ways of reclaiming a glory that is vividly recalled but has not been seen by Muslims in recent centuries.”

If you hate what I have to say, good. I invite you to get it off your chest by replying. But don’t necessarily expect a response. Dueling blogposts, emails, and texts are fun for awhile, but ultimately futile for mutual understanding. I am open to real dialogue but NOT dueling diatribes!

 

 

Personalized potatoes, PB+J, Stolen Super Bowl jerseys.

The NFL, after reviewing hundreds of videos (taken by various media), released a few of them which showed a guy with an empty shoulder bag entering the Patriots locker room after SB 51 with the rest of the media and walking back out with a fuller bag tucked under his left arm. This very same thief also had Tom Brady’s stolen SB49 (Seahawks) jersey in his possession. The NFL also suspects that he took Von Miller’s cleats, jersey and helmet after SB 50. If you want the more complete story, here is the link to ESPN stolen valor

Even more obnoxious to me, since Kurt Warner is my all time fave sports hero, is that he also had in his possession Kurt Warner’s jersey from the Rams 1999 SB victory. The thief, Mauricio Ortega ortega, even brought the Warner jersey with him to SB 51, hoping to sell it to Kurt for thousands of dollars. Thank you Marshall Faulk, hall of famer and teammate of Warner’s from the “greatest show on turf” days, for refusing to sign any of Ortega’s stolen valor!

What should be done with this guy? Barred from entering the U.S.? Banned from NFL sporting events? How about the CIA recruiting him? As a spy, his bravado, stealth and total disregard for any conventions would make him a star among covert ops. It will be very interesting to see what Mexico does. Will he be a hero because he thumbed his nose at the US? or will he be prosecuted as the criminal he is? Stay tuned.

Switching from the NFL to the NBA, we have a couple of creative but harmless sports stories. Potato Parcel, a company that got a deal on Sharktank, sent personalized potatoes to the starting fives of every NBA team. Fun! Here are some examples. potato parcel

The ultimate American comfort food may be PB and J. The NBA starters may like their personalized potatoes, but for comfort food, nothing beats the old standby. This story is too amusing for me to mangle it by retelling, so check it out. pb and j in nba  I must confess that this story had an immediate effect on me. Just last week, I had managed to use up the last of the strawberry jam we bought when our kids were living at home, and I vowed to never buy any more jelly! But when I read this story, I immediately checked the cupboards. We had bread and peanut butter, but no J! So there went my resolution, as I ran out to the nearest store and bought some J (blackberry), then had a PB and J for lunch-for the first time in about 45 years! Look for me to be out on the courts next week, doing layups (in my dreams). 

Some ideas on the most intractable conflict of our times.

You can find interpretations of the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict which support any political view. Who knows what is correct other than those who were there? Though any cop will tell you, even eyewitnesses often fail to see what is there.

Some history is not in dispute. After Israel was established by UN mandate in 1947, Arab armies invaded in 1948 from every direction and Israel counterattacked. Many Arab families that inhabited the land prior to mandate left before the war, expecting to return after the Arab victory. We know what happened. Israel won, and took territory in excess of the UN-designated borders, and the families that left mostly became refugees. There are about 7 million Palestinian refugees (defined as descendants of those who either fled their homes or were expelled by Israel) and most live in squalor and abject poverty. It is a fact that billions of dollars have been given to various groups claiming to represent the refugees. WHY, THEN, ARE THE REFUGEES LIVING IN SUCH MISERY? WHERE DOES THAT MONEY GO?

After almost 70 years of violent exchanges and emotional upheavals, and untold grief visited on both sides, is there any hope for a peaceful coexistence? If there is, it would be found in only one principle: I call it radical forgiveness.

My radical suggestion will seem dangerously naive to an Israeli, but it would start by Israel saying, “we have been destroying the homes of suicide bombers, building walls and expanding our territory through settlements. Those actions have mostly resulted in more clever bombers, more enemies and more anger rather than peace. What we are about to do doesn’t change our right to exist, but acknowledges the reality of cause and effect. Starting now, no matter what you say or do to us, we will bless you. We will dispense true justice, as the Old Testament commands. In Exodus 22:21, God commands our forefathers, ‘you shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in Egypt. You shall not harm any widow or fatherless child. If you do and they cry out to me, I will hear them and my wrath will burn against you.’ Perhaps if we start obeying God’s Word rather than our anger and fear He will bless us with peace. But even if He doesn’t we will obey Him.”

The experts of today claim that the conflict isn’t about religions, it is about land. How foolish. All human conflict is ultimately about who or what you worship, about who is in charge of your life. The charge that Joshua gave to the people of the exodus before they entered the promised land was: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15. joshua 24:14

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Uh huh. It wasn’t long before the people broke faith with God and exalted themselves as god. The last sentence of the next book of the Old Testament after Joshua, the book of Judges, ends thus, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” What a mess that was, but you will have to read the whole book. judges 1

Back to modern day Israel. Why do I suggest that Israel make the first move towards radical forgiveness? Because we Jews (I was raised in a Jewish household but chose to believe Christ at age 40) and Christians serve God who wants a relationship with people, and who wants us to express our love for Him through obedience to His statutes (Jews) or our emulation (in spirit at least) of Jesus. Muslims serve Allah, who commands obedience also but not out of love or relationship. In his book No God but One: Allah or Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi says “Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of sharia, a law to follow. Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of God himself, a relationship with him that leads to heart transformation.”

The people of Israel could choose to follow the path of radical forgiveness, though it is hard and their theology and materialism may not give way to it. I do not believe that the theology or anger of the Palestinians can allow such a path. I beg to be proven wrong.

 

It’s better to make “yes” easy than to make “no” hard, but it is contrary to human nature.

I have been negotiating settlements with insurance companies for years and get more money for my clients using that principle above than any other strategy. Except for life insurance, where you are paying the premium for an exact amount of money when the insured dies, ALL OTHER INSURANCE SETTLEMENTS PAY BASED ON SOME KIND OF NEGOTIATION. Mostly, you are paying the premium to get an amount up to the policy limits if a certain kind of loss occurs.

The key is that to me IT ISN’T A STRATEGY; it’s the right attitude.  Here’s what I mean: In almost any human interaction, we can make it easier for the other person (whether it’s an insurance employee or a negotiator for a particular side in a conflict) to say “yes” to our request or try to make it hard to say “no”. My work with insurance provides lots of great examples of how this works. Here are some general principles:

  1. Assume that the other side IS negotiating in good faith, meaning that they want to do the right thing. But what if they aren’t? That’s okay, often they aren’t, but as you apply these principles, they can move from being an adversary–wanting to win, to beat you–to being a friend, or at least caring about how you feel. However, the best way to establish good faith is to state your assumptions and ask questions as taglines. For example, “I want to do the right thing for all parties here, so that we can all feel good about the solutions, and I hope you feel the same; don’t you agree?”
  2. Get the assumptions and expectations of both sides out in the open and make sure you are both “speaking the same language.” Examples: “What I want to happen here is ______ (describe your desired outcome in “visual” terms, meaning that if you each were able to record the outcome, it would look substantially similar). Once those outcomes have been described, you will know how to move closer to a “win-win” (or you may find that the differences are too great to get to “yes”).
  3. If it’s a situation where a written contract is involved, like an insurance policy, know exactly what it says about such a situation. Make sure that what you are asking for is within reasonable bounds. If it is not, then the situation WILL become adversarial, and it’s your fault. Then it becomes about making it hard to say “no” rather than easy to say “yes.”
  4. If it starts getting ugly at this point, like the example in my post entitled Let there be peace…or not, it is either time for bringing in an independent authority, like an arbitrator, mediator or judge, or switching to the alternative strategy, which I refer to as “making it hard to say “no.”

I have never had to resort to this strategy, because it will usually create an enemy. You may think you’ve won in the short term by getting your way, but if you have to work with or live with this person, you can be assured that they will find ways to pay you back, unless you can win them over. While I could use the example from my other post–the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–to illustrate this state of war, I don’t think that’s a good example because they never got past #1, good faith. Each wants to crush the other side, and what further makes it intractable is that each side is also a proxy for a larger conflict.

The negative side  of the “make it hard to say no” principle is this: If we want something and the other side doesn’t want to say ” yes ” no matter what inducements we have offered (the positive side of making it hard to say “no”), we can try threatening to do harm or withhold good if they stick to “no.” That is the approach of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems to lead to more of the same. If it’s a court of law or divorce situation, it can become sue and counter sue. When there is a lack of good faith, or when egos are threatened, or emotions get stirred up, there is only one way out of the anger escalation spiral. I will explain that in my next post–Ideas on the most intractable conflict of our time.

After this digression to politics, I will return to my insurance example. The settlement offered my client was initially $7,500, and they had some vague written justifications. The policy didn’t specify what the damages should have been–they never do. Making it easy to say “yes”, I cited some court cases with similar circumstances in which the judgments ranged from $25,000 to $50,000. The claims guy them raised his offer to $10,000.

In response I cited a Washington state statute which mandated arbitration when the potential judgment was under $50,000 (the policy allowed the company to refuse arbitration, but the statute modified the policy). I then explained that, in consideration of saving the insurance company the time, money and potentially negative publicity of losing an arbitration, my client would be reasonable and not ask for the maximum possible arbitration amount, let alone what it might be if we went to court, given the strength of our case. The insurance claims guy said he could go a little higher and asked what our number was.

Normally they expect you to ask for a little more than their offer. I asked for a number which I said would be fair to both parties: $30,000, which was halfway between his offer of $10,000 and the arbitration limit of $50,000. He immediately agreed, my client signed his waiver and the check was in the mail (it was).  The way I framed the ask gave the insurance guy a rationale to accept it.

Perhaps I could have asked for more, but it would have violated what I call the 50/50 principle. For example, if someone wants to split compensation on a case, and there is no way to accurately assess how much work each will have to do, the 50/50 split is usually accepted instantly. It feels fair. Anything other than that split will lead to a degree of arbitrariness, which universally feels like it could be unfair.

Anything that breeds even a tiny degree of suspicion tends to harm the agreement. The strategy of making it hard to say “no” almost always involves a threat. “Agree to what I want or else ” never feels good to either party and should ultimately be a weak fallback when you can’t get to “yes.” Unfortunately it’s also the foundation of our adversarial legal system.

Can you do your duty despite “survivors guilt?”

Now that I have gotten a lot of the polemics out of my system with my previous blog purges posts, I want to put on my compassion hat and address a subject that, as common as it is will no doubt be even more common in the future: “survivor’s guilt” or trauma-related guilt.

(from the website verywell.com) “Trauma-related guilt refers to the unpleasant feeling of regret stemming from the belief that you could or should have done something different at the time a traumatic event occurred. Trauma survivors may also experience a particular type of trauma-related guilt, called survivor guilt. Survivor guilt is often experienced when a person has made it through some kind of traumatic event while others have not. A person may question why he survived. He may even blame himself for surviving a traumatic event as if he did something wrong.”

I want to be sensitive about this, as it feels real to sufferers, but… I don’t get it. When I was 24 I was sent to Vietnam courtesy of the U.S. Army, starting out as an infantry grunt but soon found myself, due to my having a B.A. in psychology, being assigned as what the military called a psych tech. In my case, I was the sole arbiter of who was and was not fit for combat, operating from a fire base called Quan Loi, many miles and a long helicopter ride from professional supervision. A degree in psychology was hardly any preparation at all for my duties.

In a sense I had the power of life and death, in that if I decided someone needed a break from combat, I could assign them non-combat duty for up to 90 days. How did I decide who was fit and who was not? Eeny meeny miny moe, more or less. But I actually was quite good at it and even maintained some semblance of sanity. I can’t say the same for my predecessor, who became a nervous wreck before he handed off the pleasure to me.

One day a soldier came to see me, desiring to be relieved of duty as helicopter door gunner. His story was that he was having blackouts, periodically losing awareness. I asked for examples but he couldn’t give me any. I asked his crew members but none of them were aware of any such behavior. In the absence of any corroborating testimony (including his own) I couldn’t justify relieving him of duty. Two weeks went by and I saw him again. This time he was dead, as were most of his crew. The one survivor said that my patient pulled the pin on a hand grenade and then appeared to forget to throw it, just staring at it. It blew up and caused the helicopter to crash.

I could have used this incident to beat myself up, calling into question my judgment and my competence, justifying quitting or sinking into drug abuse. I felt traumatic guilt for a few weeks, then asked myself the questions, “do I think someone else could do a better job if I quit? Wouldn’t quitting be indulging in my feelings of guilt to the detriment of my patients and my duty?” My answers led me back to the job, with a resolution to be more thorough. That is why I still have trouble understanding the degree to which so many people allow themselves to be debilitated by guilt that they survived or made a bad decision.

Existence is full of uncertainty. Everyone will make bad decisions, we will know people who died or were maimed by horrors we were spared from, but life goes on and our duty remains. True judicial guilt usually means a person consciously did wrong and deserves either punishment or making restitution. But what we call guilt feelings when we didn’t consciously do wrong can be an indulgence that justifies shirking our duties.

One of my favorite sayings is ” I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure. I awoke and found that life was duty. I acted and found that duty is pleasure.”