Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Service of Gratitude II

Thursday, March 8th, 2018


I’m gratified when an article in a legitimate source such as The Wall Street Journal confirms one of my observations. In this case, it’s about gratitude and how it has been lost among a large swath of people, young and old alike.

For years I’ve been part of a committed group of association members who vet applications for college and grad school scholarships—as much as $10,000 plus generous fringe benefits. I’ve often written here about the scholarships or the winners. They pass three reviews: Every application is read by two members. Those recommended for the second level are interviewed on the phone and if that conversation goes well, the student meets a committee in person where final decisions are made. The competition is stiff. Some of the high school senior through grad school students are remarkable.


This year I interviewed college seniors attending grad school and only one sent me a thank you. Last year none of the students I spoke with thanked. “So what?” say you? “Nobody thanks these days. Where have you been?” you may think. So this: If two students receive equally high recommendations to move to the third and last review and one has written a thank you as short as “tx,” and the other has not, the grateful one gets the opportunity to be interviewed in person; the other loses her chance.

But the ramifications of not expressing gratitude are far greater than missing out on a scholarship.

In “An Attitude of Gratitude,” in the Journal Jennifer Breheny Wallace wrote: “As Dr. [Richard] Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves—if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy—it will help them to develop character. ‘But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement,’ he says. And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.” Weissbourd, a psychologist, is faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.


“Researchers find that people with a grateful disposition are more thankful for a wider variety of things in their lives, such as their friends, their health, nature, their jobs or a higher power—and that they experience feelings of gratitude more intensely. For them, gratitude isn’t a one-off ‘thank you.’ It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world.”

John Wyeth

This approach reminds me of the award for niceness instituted at the Harlem Link Charter School named to honor the memory of John Wyeth who had worked there for a decade and who was the epitome of the award. I wrote about it a year ago.

Wallace also included observations of David Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He mentioned how gratitude takes a place in most world religions.

I attended a memorable Bar Mitzvah service many years ago in which our friend’s son Julian told the congregation about his good deed that was part of his Bar Mitzvah preparation. He described making sandwiches to offer homeless men and women in Newark, N.J. and how hard it was to get out of his father’s car when they arrived in the city and what it was like to approach and speak with the destitute people he met.

Helping less fortunate people became a turning point for one family in the article. The floors in a house that one of the children helped to restore as a volunteer were in such bad shape you could stand in the home and see through to the ground. When this child returned home “she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”

Wrote Wallace: “The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater well-being. They also found that religious gratitude—toward God—was associated with additional reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in well-being.”


It’s never too late to teach gratitude to a child and Wallace noted the obvious: The most effective way is for parents to practice what they want a child to do such as thanking when junior takes out the garbage or holds open a door.

Wallace wrote that parents can “spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: ‘Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favorite team’ or ‘Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play.’”

Do you think expressing gratitude eventually leads to feeling it and that it really has positive effects? Does a person—parent, boss or client–appear to be weak if they thank which is why they don’t do it? Do you know anyone who never thanked and then suddenly began to? Do you have examples of someone who expressed gratitude to you that bowled you over?


Service of Freedom of Speech

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Free Speech

I woke up on Sunday to a rip ‘roarin conversation on WABC Radio’s Religion on the Line between co-hosts Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack and their guest, Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. The topic: The University of Oklahoma students who chanted a racist song on a bus. Two, the leaders, were already expelled from the school. Their fraternity chapter that was evicted from its house on campus was closed by the national organization.

I felt that the co-hosts  [pictured at right] were surprised by Meyers’ arguments. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik Deacon Kevin McCormack 2

Meyers said that the University president, a government employee, had no right to expel anyone because of this country’s commitment to freedom of speech. He noted that the incident happened off campus and was brought to the world by a video that nobody has to look at–they have to take action to see and hear it.

He felt that it was up to the University to do a better job of educating its students, not expel them for their words; to teach them to express their opposing ideas so that the words are challenged by words, not by punishment. He said that it’s not up to the government to teach good manners. He mocked the university president for being overly dramatic when he claimed he had a sleepless night over the incident.

He granted that as a private institution the fraternity was within its rights to punish and close the chapter.

Michael Meyers NY Civil Rights CoalitionMeyers [photo left] agreed that racism and anti-Semitism are wrong, but, he recalled, even Martin Luther King Jr. said you must let people speak.

The message of the Rabbi and the Deacon was that in religious communities, people have a moral responsibility to address [and punish] hateful or demeaning comments. They parried Meyers’ comments and said that words can be as dangerous as actions. The Deacon, who is also the principal of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, pointed out that he is able to expel students for such actions because he works for a private institution.

While co-hosts and guest clearly didn’t agree, the segment ended with laughs by all when the Deacon said he’d like to continue the conversation with Meyers over dinner and the Rabbi, known for his quick wit and love of teasing, suggested that Meyers remember to bring his checkbook.

Where do you stand?



Service of Being Cut Off at the Pass

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014


Photo: Brett Duke/The Times Picayune

Photo: Brett Duke/The Times Picayune

Last Sunday Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack mentioned on their radio program, “Religion on the Line,” that there were no clergy at the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum dedication.

This was an unusual omission, they observed. They reminded listeners of the interfaith memorial service organized by clergy at Yankee Stadium a dozen days after the attack. It was meant to help heal. So what had changed since the citizens of the New York metro area–and the country–craved spiritual support?

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Left, and Deacon Kevin McCormack

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Left, and Deacon Kevin McCormack

I didn’t watch the museum’s opening ceremonies and wasn’t aware of this, though I was surprised to hear it, given that prayers or spiritual thoughts are often a part of memorials at a graveyard.

What came immediately to mind? This scene, a total conjecture: The event planners thought of everything and someone influential came in at the last minute, cut off at the pass their arrangements regarding clergy participation and made a crucial change based on a snap decision. It’s happened to me and to others all the time and in all sorts of ways—not just at events.

Aaron Copeland [seated] and Leonard Bernstein. Photo:

Aaron Copeland [seated] and Leonard Bernstein. Photo:

Leonard Bernstein did it to Aaron Copland. In the Bard College Conservatory of Music notes in Sunday’s program, Peter Laki, visiting associate professor of music, quoted Bernstein writing Copland about the latter’s Symphony No. 3: “Sweetie, the end is a sin. You’ve got to change [it].” Laki continued: “Bernstein proceeded to cut 10 measures from the concluding section.” Laki wrote that the cut version became standard, but that on Sunday the audience would hear the last movement as Copeland wrote it. It was glorious.

Lionel, a fictional character on the British comedy “As Time Goes By” suffers indignity and fits as his script–and life–are cut to shreds and then foolishly built up by a California TV production crew.

Back to real life when John McCain ran for President, Senator Joe Lieberman was his first choice of vice president but the Republican Party axed that plan. You know the rest.

Has something you’ve planned, written or designed been cut off at the pass? What was the result? Why do you think that the clergy of any stripe was omitted from the 9/11 Memorial Museum dedication?

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