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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘North Americans’

Can Too Much ‘Pressure’ Turn You Into An Ostrich?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

In my case, the answer to the above question is, “Yes, too much pressure (in my case blood pressure) led me to indulge in not so smart (actually stupid) “avoidance” behavior. Thus this column is not about the pressure, stress or aggravation part and parcel of having a pulse, but rather about our pulse and other parts of the human physiology that can go awry – and how we deal with that reality.


Those fortunate to be currently breathing experience daily excitement of both the bad and good variety – like getting a flat tire, missing the train by a few seconds, or kvelling over a child’s or grandchild’s latest achievement. All this bad and good stress can wreck havoc on our bodies over time. And sure enough, family genetics and life’s daily grinds, plus a few extraordinary, long-term, out-of-the-park aggravations over the years, have taken their toll on me. I have now joined the ranks of the millions of North Americans who have high blood pressure.


In retrospect, it is not surprising that such a stress-related affliction finally caught up with me. What is surprising is that it took so long. I got the news of this status change back in September when I underwent a routine checkup. My doctor took my blood pressure three times to ensure that there was no mistake. And there wasn’t. My numbers were quite high. Really high.


He told me to wait and see if this was an isolated incident due to some stress factor, or if indeed genetics or some underlying medical issue had caused this new reality. He advised me to have my blood pressure checked for several weeks. I knew that I could easily buy a blood pressure monitor and test myself without having to schedule office appointments.


So I obtained a blood pressure cuff – and left it unopened for months.


I had taken on a “head-in-the-sand” approach, not too uncommon with people facing potentially bad news. This silly behavior is very likely a leftover from our childhood manner of dealing with “monsters.” You close your eyes in the irrational (for an adult) but logical (for a child) belief that if you can’t see it, then it’s not there; and thus it can’t “hurt” you. The adult equivalent is, “if I don’t know about it, it does not exist.” Hence, the comforting but totally baseless belief that if I didn’t take my blood pressure, I have nothing to worry about.


This very childish way of thinking would be amusing if its consequences weren’t so tragic. I have friends who died or became invalids because they thought that closing their eyes (being oblivious of the facts staring at them) would make the “monster” disappear. And so they ignored the lumps, the headaches, the shortness of breath, the pounding heart, the tingling in the fingers, etc.


Unfortunately, refusing to face a possible “nasty” situation does not make it go away if it’s there. However the relief you get when you deal with a potential problem is incredible. Most of the time, what we were terrified of finding out wasn’t even there. The mammogram, colonoscopy or prostate exam that men and women loathe having, or the blood work or urine test we anxiously undergo, usually results in good news. “You’re fine, come back next year, or in two years, or in 10 years ” we’re often told.


But if the news isn’t so good, finding out earlier rather than later (or, God forbid, too late) can mean that although you may have a tough “parshah” ahead of you, you will triumph over it. And you need not feel guilty or grieved that your lack of due diligence caused extra tza’ar (hardship) and burden on your loved ones.


I know that I wasn’t so much afraid of finding out that I had high blood pressure (after all, it’s treatable); rather it was the inconvenience and investment of time in finding out why. While hypertension often has no discernible reason, with aging and genetics being the likely culprits, sometimes there is an underlying medical factor that needs to be uncovered. Baruch Hashem,I am in thebubbe parshah, and since my kids live in three different states, I have become somewhat of a “wandering Jew” – trying to be an “equal opportunity bubbe” by lending a needed hand to pre- and post-baby daughters-in-law. So going for tests was not a welcome diversion.


But mild headaches and a heart I could hear beating while sleeping convinced me to start using the blood pressure monitor. And the numbers were even higher!


I am now on medication, which,Baruch Hashem, is helping, and I plan very soon to go for tests – increasing the odds of my being a helpful bubbe for even longer.


It was time to take my head out of the sand, and stop being a stupid ostrich. The same goes for you too!

Borders And Boundaries (Conclusion)

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

         Two weeks ago I wrote about a culture of self-indulgence and instant gratification that seems to have permeated Western society. It is so prevalent that North Americans have thrown financial caution to the wind and many are drowning in debt. (The luckier ones break even, but are not setting aside or saving money for emergency situations like unexpected unemployment.)


 

         If something catches their eye, they buy it – with no thought of the consequences. I attributed this self-indulgent, even reckless, behavior to two factors – a lack of boundaries due to secularism, and low self-esteem.

 

         With religious observance becoming passé, people are growing up with no restrictions, no limits and no boundaries to guide their impulses. There are no “can’t,” “not allowed,” or “it’s forbidden” in their lives. Hence many never had the opportunity to develop such life-enhancing attributes as patience, self-control and self-restraint.

 

         In this column, I will focus on the issue of low self-esteem.

 

         Human nature is such that no one wants to feel inferior. No one wants to think they are a “loser” and that they don’t measure up to their peers. Everyone likes to see himself or herself as being “cool,” or a winner. How else do you explain sports fans? Often their lives revolve around the game and the outcome of each one can affect the mood of an entire school, city, and even country. If your team wins, you walk around elated, feeling superior.

 

         But if you think about it, why is that? Why should the performance of a group of strangers affect a person’s mood? Why should Joe Average be so emotionally invested in how his team does? It is because being associated with a winner (famous people fall into this category as well, no matter how messed up their lives are) makes a person feel good about himself or herself. For someone with poor self-esteem, his or her sense of inadequacy is replaced with a sense of superiority, if only for a short time – until the next game or season.

 

         Likewise, people equate possessions as indicating that they are winners. The bigger, the newer and the pricier the item, the more the consumer feels on a higher madreigah than the “have-nots.” Shopping makes people who have a poor self-image feel better about themselves. Marketers know this and build on people’s insecurities. If you buy their product, you will either get the girl/guy, the job/promotion, your life will become exciting, etc. In other words, you become a “somebody” by dressing according to the latest fashion (even though it may totally not suit you) or by acquiring the newest gadgets.

 

         However, this sense of “coolness” is fleeting because almost overnight there is a new and improved version of whatever it is you bought – and got into crippling debt over.

 

         People who have a healthy sense of self don’t need to artificially make themselves feel good. They don’t need to buy and spend to know their true worth. They don’t need to be snobs, or ingratiate themselves with people they perceive as being superior because they are wealthy, popular or have “yichus.”

 

         How do you recognize someone who has positive self-esteem? They are the ones who are modest and unassuming, and who do not chase kavod – despite achievements they justifiably could brag about. Their modesty is a reflection of true yirat Shamayim because they know that all they have is a gift from Hashem; and not because they are so special or better.

 

         Those who live Torah lives know that the authentic and long-lasting way to feeling good about themselves is by giving, not by getting. Ask yourself this question: Who feels more positive about herself – someone who sent a meal over to a family whose mother is in the hospital, or the person who bought designer shoes with an inflated price tag, shoes that likely will be out of season around the time the credit card bill arrives in the mail?

 

         Do you ever wonder why we love our children so much, even though they complicate our lives so drastically? They take away our leisure time, interrupt our sleep, and drain our finances and mental and physical stamina. You’d think we’d resent them. But in fact the very opposite occurs; we love them fiercely. Why? Because they make us give and give and give, and we feel so fulfilled and so good about ourselves. And our self-esteem, our sense of worth soars.

 

         Sadly, shopping till we drop, in a subconscious desire to elevate our sense of self, is a temporary fix – at best. At worst, you’ll really be down in the dumps when the bill collectors come knocking.

Borders And Boundaries (Part 1)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

          Recently, I came across a talk show whose topic of discussion was about managing personal finances. Several people asked the show’s guest, a financial expert, for advice. Most of them were financially in what my parents, a”h, referred to in Yiddish as gehakte tzurris (deep trouble). All were sinking in a quicksand of debt. Most had maxed out their credit cards and some faced the loss of their home.

 

         A break from the litany of woe being expressed on the show came from a woman who stated that she had, over a period of several years, managed to repay over $40,000 of credit card debt. Members of the audience cheered and applauded her- but I couldn’t help wondering how this seemingly intelligent, well-spoken woman had allowed herself to get into such a mess in the first place.

 

         The circumstances that led to her debt were not discussed. Perhaps it was due to circumstances beyond her control, like medical bills not covered by insurance. But based on the little that I heard, my impression was that she, like so many North Americans, just wanted it all – now.

 

         Today’s society seems to be about immediate gratification with no regard for future consequences, a culture beset with a seemingly contagious lack of self-discipline or self-control. If there is something you want, you get it – regardless of affordability.

 

         I feel this chronic self-indulgent behavior is fueled by two factors – low self-esteem and an absence of boundaries.

 

         Most people don’t have what I call a personal “border control.” They have no boundaries. There are no “nos” in their life. Restrictions and limits that were the norm just a generation or two ago are viewed as old-fashioned and seemingly obsolete.

 

         I remember a time when it was a booshah and a charpah (shame and embarrassment) for an unwed girl to have an intimate relationship, let alone be an unwed mother. Pregnant girls were sent out of town to have their babies, thrown out by their families or forced into “shotgun weddings.” Nowadays you are considered a freak and an object of ridicule if you exercise restraint until you’re married. As for single motherhood, it’s become quite fashionable and even respectable in many circles.

 

        Behavioral “fences” have been removed, and I believe one of the reasons for this is the secularization of society. Religious practice for many, both in the Christian and Jewish worlds, has gone the way of the buggy whip.

 

         I remember as a child in Toronto that on Sundays, the city was closed for business. Very few stores were allowed to be open on Sunday – a situation that caused a great deal of financial hardship for Shomer Shabbat businesses that had to remain closed the entire weekend.

 

         Today, however, North America is buying and selling 365 days a year.

 

         The beauty of religion, especially Orthodox Judaism with its myriad rules, prohibitions and regulations, is that it promotes self-discipline. From a young age, children raised in religious homes are taught they can do some things sometimes, but not everything every time. Immediate gratification is not on the agenda in religious homes. Children learn patience, self-discipline and self-control because they must. And eventually, it becomes second nature to wait for what they want.

 

         The ingrained habit of holding off from getting what they want immediately can only serve to maximize their ability to avoid self-destructive behaviors like gambling, drinking or overspending.

 

         For example, obesity in North America is becoming an epidemic – and it is no surprise. When you grow up without restrictions, when you eat what you want whenever you want day after day, you do it – and the consequences are dire. When you’ve never had to hold back or when you aren’t used to doing things you’d rather not do (like awaking early to daven) it is unlikely that you will have developed the discipline to, for instance, hold back on fattening foods or exercising daily.

 

         Sadly, there are Jews who do not believe in a Divinely-given Torah and reject its rules and regulations. Of these Jews, most were never given the opportunity to experience Yiddishkeit. Some, however, were brought up religious, but for various reasons went off the path.

 

         Yet by virtue of the borders that a Torah life provides – because of the boundaries and the resultant self-control that is the life-enhancing gift of a Torah lifestyle – they should reconsider their attitude and do themselves and their families a big chesed by embracing Torah for the magnificent blueprint to life that it is.

 

         There are no guarantees of a perfect life. Torah-observant Jews are still human and subject to human weaknesses and frailties, and some – despite being raised in homes with Torah “borders” – still indulge in unfortunate destructive behaviors and activities. But living a Torah life with its promotion of self-discipline will greatly improve your odds.

 

         In my next column, I will speak about the role negative self-esteem plays in and out of control behavior.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/borders-and-boundaries-part-1/2007/11/21/

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