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How much time did you spend on Presidents Day thinking about presidents?  Did you give much thought to Dr. King’s accomplishments on MLK Day? I’m willing to bet you didn’t invest a moment to think about the labor movement on Labor Day.

And that’s a shame.

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But it’s downright shameful that most of us don’t give more than a passing thought to Memorial Day.

The anonymous heroes who gave their lives to defend the freedoms we take for granted deserve to be remembered.  But there’s more at stake than their memories, more at stake even than the values that lie at the heart of what America stands for – commitment to human dignity, to equal opportunity, to justice, and to charity.

What could be more important than remembering the principles of freedom?  Just this: remembering the mindset of appreciation for the people and principles that give meaning and purpose to our lives.

THE COST OF FORGETFULNESS

Why do half of all marriages end in divorce?  Because of forgotten birthdays and anniversaries.  Because of forgetting to take out the trash and pick up the dry-cleaning.  Because we become so complacent in our relationships that we forget to say thank you for making dinner, thank you for dropping off the kids, and thank you for doing the dishes.  Because we forget to say I love you.

Of course, these aren’t the reasons why couples divorce.  But they are lost opportunities for preventing the steady erosion of affection, commitment, and loyalty.

Why is there so much violence in our streets, in our homes, and in our schools?  Because people feel neglected and negated, isolated and invisible. They feel trapped and alone, so they begin to look for any way out.

Why is there so much disengagement, conflict, and inefficiency in our workplaces?  Because employees feel unappreciated and unrecognized, while executives feel pressured to beat out the competition at any cost.  When good is never good enough, where’s the impetus to try harder or be a team player?

Too often, these feelings of disregard and discontent are justified. We all want to be appreciated.  We all want to be remembered. But we also have to remember that remembrance is a two-way street.

THE WAY OF REMEMBERING

This is not a new idea.  In fact, it figures prominently in biblical history. In no less than six separate places, Moses commands the Children of Israel to remember.  And the lessons of remembrance remain as universally relevant as ever.

Remember the day of your exodus from the Land of Egypt.1  Freedom is not a goal; it is an opportunity.  Butterflies may be free, but there is no meaning to their existence except as part of the food chain.  As much as we love to invoke the pursuit of happiness as foundational to our national ideology, it is the pursuit of purpose that makes us truly happy.

Remember the day you stood at Sinai.2  The rule of law provides far more than a deterrent for criminals.  A legal system is built on a bedrock of shared principles and ideals that forge a people into a nation, a confederation of individuals into a society.  The same is true in a family, a school, or a business. It is the collective sense of higher purpose that binds us together and makes us committed to common goals, and loyal to one another.

Remember the Sabbath Day.3  Productivity and profitability are important, but they are not everything.  It’s true that the fundamental ideals of family, community, morality, and spirituality begin with a work ethic of simple discipline.  But if we forget the values that underlie our material labors, even the most successful enterprises will fail to satisfy us, and we will lose our passion for them.  As J.P. Morgan said, “I can do a year’s work in nine months, but not in twelve months.” Our minds and our spirits will not flourish if we don’t take time to keep them healthy.

Remember the sin of the Golden Calf.4  No matter how good things are, the human id and ego are perpetually tempted by the idolatry of immediate gratification and self-indulgence, by visceral pleasure and the seductive lure of wealth and power.  How many presidents and statesmen, how many businessmen and celebrities have thrown away everything they had because they couldn’t say no to temptation? And why should we think that it couldn’t happen to us?

Remember the attack of Amolek.5  As the Jews headed into the desert after their flight from Egypt, an unprovoked attack from behind cut down the weakest among them.  This was history’s first incident of terrorism: a rogue nation driven by an ideology of hate sowing violence without concern for its own survival.  No matter how much we want to live in peace, there will always be those who find gratification only from their ability to destroy and who spread discontent wherever they go.  If we don’t protect ourselves from them, they will pull us down with them.

Remember what happened to Miriam.6  The sister of Moses is ranked among the most illustrious individuals in Jewish history and tradition.  Even so, in one thoughtless moment she spread gossip about her brother and brought upon herself divine retribution that sent her into temporary exile.  We dare not underestimate the power of speech, which can bring people together in alliances of camaraderie and common cause, but can just as easily set people at one another’s throats.

Remembering is a full-time job.  This is why daily journaling has been recognized as so profoundly beneficial to our emotional well-being.  By reliving moments of joy and satisfaction in writing, we anchor them in our consciousness so that they remain part of us.  By revisiting them continuously, we brighten up our days and refresh our minds.

Above all, remembering to express appreciation spreads joy to those around us – which, by definition, will make our homes and offices and institutions more joyful places for everyone, including ourselves.

It’s easy to forget.  So we might want to start with Post-it notes and cell phone alerts until gratitude becomes our natural attitude.  Just as diet and exercise are essential to a healthy body, remembering to be grateful is critical to a healthy mind and a healthy soul.  It’s also a sure way to make the world we live in a more pleasant place to live.

So remember that the keys to a happier home and a more successful business are in your hands.

P.S.  Don’t forget.

[1] Deuteronomy 16:3

[2] Deuteronomy 4:9-10

[3] Exodus 20:8

[4] Deuteronomy 9:7

[5] Deuteronomy 25:17-19

[6] Deuteronomy 24:9

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Rabbi Yonason Goldson is director of Ethical Imperatives, LLC, and author of Proverbial Beauty: Secrets for Success and Happiness from the Wisdom of the Ages. He is a former hitchhiker, circumnavigator, newspaper columnist, and high school teacher. Visit him at http://yonasongoldson.com.
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