There was just one kid left, as Number Sixteen was too young to eat cereal and Numbers Seventeen and Eighteen were not yet on the scene. I scratched my head as to how she would contribute to the harmonious ambience.
Perhaps she would weigh in on the toxic waste imbedded in the bowl or the cornflakes contribution to the carbon footprint. Perhaps she would opine that there were hazardous mercury levels in the corn and I was being neglectful and delinquent regarding helpless minors. Maybe she would inveigh that corn – that may ultimately be converted into cornflakes – was picked by non-union employees. Thus, instead of innocently serving my kids breakfast and whisking them off to school so that they may become gainfully employed, productive members of society, I was supporting and abetting abuses against migrant workers and corrupting pure youngsters in the process.
“Sock it to me,” I challenged. Even though the possibilities were endless, I was ready for whatever she had to say. Well, almost ready. In fact, I wasn’t ready at all.
“C’mon,” I demanded. She just impishly smiled at me. I placed my hands on my hips and waited.
But she wouldn’t take the bait. She just sank her spoon into her cereal and ate. “All right. All right, already,” I intoned, “I’m not falling for this, what’s the issue?” And once again the spoon submerged into the bowl and she continued to quietly munch on her cornflakes.
Nothing I could do could get her to kvetch. I was getting concerned, as if I should check her vital signs. But she sat there contentedly consuming her breakfast.
“Don’t you want chocolate milk with your cornflakes?” I egged on. “Wouldn’t you care for them a little more soggy? How about a lot more crispy?”
“It’s OK,” she said at last.
“You don’t have anything you want to complain about?” I asked, totally incredulous.
“I never said I have nothing to complain about,” she intoned with an expression that belied her age. “I just don’t see the wisdom of protesting. I am fine and I am being adequately nourished.” And with that she went back to her cereal.
The kid taught me a lesson: bellyaching is not a constitutional right. Those who engage in self-pity and gripe do nothing to endear themselves to others. They reveal an infantile sense of entitlement that will forever embitter them toward society. Put more succinctly, just because you have a right to complain does not mean that you have to complain.
The extension of this, or perhaps her very intent – although I am not sure how much philosophy to read into the comment of an (admittedly intelligent) eleven-year-old – is that it is far easier to complain about what you do not have than appreciate what you do have. The secret to happiness lies in appreciating what you are blessed with. It is immaterial how much you have; it matters how much you appreciate. You can own a fortune and be miserable, and you can live in poverty and be elated.
This point deserves sober elaboration, for human nature conspires to make one unhappy and in permanent complaint mode. Be it our appetite for food, money, clothing or creature comforts, we always want more – or at least more than our neighbor.
Regarding food, our bodies appear to be insatiable. And worst of all, the desire is always for the worst. Why is it that doughnuts make you fat, and celery doesn’t…? Our bodies (or at least mine) never announce, “Thank you very much for satisfying me, I’ve had enough.” You can eat a gigantic meal and ten minutes later you’ll be back at the fridge. We are maniacally fanatical to ascertain that the cake is cut perfectly straight.
And although any appetite that is not curbed is a liability, when it comes to food the worst consequence is obesity. Regarding money, an insatiable appetite can result in thievery and murder.
The way to cope with our insatiable nature is to distinguish between our needs and wants. If you feel that you need something and you don’t receive it, you feel deprived. The advertising world is built on instilling the compelling sense of need and dissatisfaction.
Hence consumers are convinced that they need toothpaste that sparkles, glows in the dark, tastes like bubble gum and comes out of a shpritzer. It’s not good enough anymore out of a tube.
Likewise, it used to be enough to have a Barbie Doll. Now you need a Barbie Corvette, Dream House, Winter Collection, Pink on the Green, Barbie tote and Ken and…
Mercedes used to advertise that they “are here to fulfill all of your needs.” This would only be true if they would have boasted, “We at Mercedes are here to fulfill all of your wants.”
My kids are drilled on this all the time. If they say to me that they “need to go out and play,” they are promptly reminded that they need to eat and they need to drink and they need to breathe; but they want to go out and play.
(To be continued) Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!
Rabbi Hanoch Teller
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