Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Four Children in a Garden

I was listening to a podcast recently where Rabbi Lawrence Kushner was being interviewed by NPR. He related a fascinating story which blew my mind:
I was leading a tour of the sanctuary, of the prayer hall with the children in the congregation’s preschool. [..] I’d have them come onto the bima, or the little prayer stage up in front of the room, where there was an ark where we kept the scroll of the Torah. It was accessible via a big floor-to-ceiling curtain. And I got them up on the stage, and I was about to call them—’Open the ark,’ but I saw the teacher at the back tapping her wristwatch, which as you may know, is an old Talmudic gesture, which means your time is about up, bucko. So, I said, ‘I tell you what, boys and girls. We’ll come back when we get together again in a couple of weeks, we’ll come back here and I’m going to open that curtain there and show you what’s behind it.’ [..]
Well, the next day, the teacher shows up at my office with the following story. Apparently the preceding day’s hastily-concluded lesson has occasioned the fierce debate among the little people as to what is behind the curtain. They didn’t know. And, the following four answers are given, which is I think pretty interesting. One kid obviously destined to become a professor of nihilistic philosophy at a great university opined that behind that curtain was absolutely nothing.  Another kid, less imaginative, thought it had a Jewish holy thing in there. A third kid obviously a devotee of American game show television subculture, guessed that behind that curtain was a brand new car. And the fourth kid, [..] said no, you’re all wrong. Next week when that rabbi man comes and opens that curtain, behind it, there would be a giant mirror. From a four year old. Somehow, that little soul knew that through looking at the words of sacred scripture, he would encounter himself in a new and a heightened and revealing way.
I was completely blown away from this little snippet. I think that very often in life we look at Hashem and the Torah through some of the same lenses that these children saw it. We sometimes view it as if there is nothing there and he doesn't really exist. Sometimes we view Hashem as holy, untouchable and separate from us. We sometimes view Hashem and avodas hashem as the answer to our dreams and desires. And sometimes we see Hashem as a giant mirror of who we are and want we want him to be.

Have a listen for youself here

Friday, July 11, 2014

Heeeeeeeee's Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack

LeBron James has announced his decision on which team he will be signing with. One guess on where:

Friday, May 02, 2014

Donald Sterling and the Power of Gossip

For all those following the news over the past few days, you may have heard about the comments which Donald Sterling made to his girlfriend. The repercussions of  the comments have been swift and harsh and will likely lead to a protracted legal battle. However, it brought to mind a podcast by Freakonomics which i listened to a few weeks ago. (Transcript can be found here)

The podcast looks at the role of gossip in society and who does and for what reasons. Although there is some segmentation as to what people gossip about, what was the most interesting to me about this topic was the comments of Nick Denton, the head of Gawker Media:
I’m always astonished by…when I come across someone who actually doesn’t use gossip as a tool in their corporate infighting.[..]The lower class people who are more associated with gossip is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that they talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives, it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, or money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class. 
I am not insinuating that this was a concerted attempt by someone to take Mr Sterling down. However, whether one gossips intentionally to "take someone out" as Mr Denton describes, to teach a lesson, because they were hurt, or whether they do so unintentionally I do however think that one should look at this story as a way that can teach us a real lesson in the power of gossip/lashon hara.

Just my thoughts

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Greatest Guests

Over the years at Casa SerandEz (I, II, III, and now IV!) we have been fortunate enough to have hosted hundreds upon hundreds of guests, many of them having stayed over - from the couches in our one-bedroom apartment to the beds in the girls' room or couches in our two-bedroom; to their own room or the basement in our New York "house" to having their own floor (and bathroom!) in our house in Cleveland.

In just the 8 weeks* since we've arrived in Cleveland, we've had over a dozen sleepover guests (including a few family members and a lot of visiting friends), and while our friends are always awesome guests, I think I have noticed it a lot more here because they have their own floor that we theoretically have to prepare and clean up after... and it's theoretically, because we've basically done nothing at all.

While talking to one of those guests recently after they had gone home we discussed what makes guests great, and really, it's about not being a guest at all - the greatest guests are the ones whom you never need to actually host. They come, and they feel right at home (within reason), not making the hosts constantly feel like they need to cater to their needs or feel horrible afterward upon realizing that they forgot to give them some essential items.

With that, here are some basic tips for being a great guest - and if someone could tell us how to better hosts, we'd really appreciate it!
  • Be a friend. If you're coming over to someone's house, odds are they are your friends (or family). And they want to treat you like friends, not like guests - they want to feel like they're having a great time with you, not worry about you. So just be what you are: Friends! Even if you are just staying at a random person's house, be friendly, not a hideaway they're wondering about.
    • A great example of this was a couple that we're close with who stayed here the Shabbos we moved in (for an aufruf). Some people were surprised we'd host that soon, but we didn't have to do anything. When we were up we schmoozed; when we wanted to sleep we did. We didn't have to "host" them. 
  • Ask if you need something. No host deliberately didn't give you towels or doesn't want you to have toilet paper. If something is out, ask where you can get from. They won't be embarrassed (for more than a second, anyway) - they'll be appreciative. Better to get someone a roll of toilet paper now than to realize after they left that the bathroom was bare.
  • If you're crashing somewhere for an extended time, chip in and be somewhat scarce. Every family needs some private time, and when you're all at work doesn't count, so stay out a bit some evenings. And if you see something you can do to help out, go for it.
    • We had a friend who unfortunately had to crash by us for a long period of time... and yet somehow we didn't hate her afterward. She did a great job of not being in the way, and often offered to do things like make dinner (even if we decided to go with simpler fare usually) and she babysat a couple times when we had to go out. I don't think it's ever perfect when someone stays over for a long time, but our impression is that it's often a disaster - and this was not.
  • Don't arrive or stay out too late, unless you've already worked it out with them. Nobody wants to be the person whose house is locked even though they're *sure* they checked to make sure it wasn't. And nobody wants to worry about a guest being stuck out in the cold. If you're saying somewhere, show up at a reasonable hour unless the specific plans were to come in late. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help, but don't over ask. Asking for a ride to a nearby bus on the way to work or when someone's available is generally reasonable; asking for a 45-minute airport run when they have other errands, far less so. Again, they are your friends, not your hosts; but that means you ask them to do stuff you'd ask a friend to do, not a hotel worker.
    • Especially when I worked in Manhattan, I'd often offer rides back to Stern to guests who slept over. They were usually really good about not assuming that I could give them a ride, and were generally very thankful when I did. I believe I once made a girl take the subway when I thought she was asking a bit much - I'm mean like that. 
    • A friend once mentioned that by doing favors many wouldn't do, we set a standard for hosting that was a) too hard to live up to and b) caused some guests to become spoiled or expectant of them to the point that they ask other friends for favors they really shouldn't be. Perhaps this is true, though we tried to never do too much simply because a) that would be too much, as defined, and b) we didn't ever want to regret hosting. Also, we'd hope that people realize what is and isn't fair to ask of someone. (To our guests' credit, we generally offered and they rarely asked, and when they did they were generally clear that they knew it was a big favor to ask.)
  • Help out. It doesn't - and shouldn't! - be over the top, but try to help out in some way. It's like being a friend - you'd help your friend if you saw you could, so help your hosts. Our guests have been incredible with this over the years, which is probably another reason we love having them.
  • Be honest. If your hosts ask you if you were comfortable, tell them if you weren't (nicely). They actually want to know, so they can host better. They might not realize the room gets freezing cold and needs more blankets, or that an old mattress is... well, really old and not worth sleeping on, because they don't sleep in the guest room. 
    • This is one people are so hesitant on, but we felt horrible to find out after months that the pull out bed we had for guests was really, really bad. (After all, we had never lied down on it.) My mother came and we found her sleeping on the other couch and she told us. We still sometimes had to put people on it, but at least we could warn them (and fixed some springs underneath so it wouldn't be too bad). 
I'm sure there are more; these are just a few that came to mind in the middle of the night. And to all our friends, thank you! The reason we have always had so many of you so easily is because you made it easy. Y'all are the greatest 'guests'.



* It's amazing that it has been so short; it feels as if we've been here and known all our new friends here for so much longer. Also, really flattering that so many friends have already come to visit...!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

In Praise of Free Time

...and Facebook doesn't count as free time.

Out of less than sixty e-mails in my inbox*, there are still a few articles at the bottom of my inbox from years ago that I saved for some future thought, blog post, or whatever. Two years ago today, my mother sent my sister-in-law and myself a great piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams on "The Benefits of Boredom". In the piece, Adams argues that boredom is a necessary precursor for creativity, and that modern technology's constant interactivity negatively impacts our creative minds by not allowing us the time to enjoy true boredom. It's interesting, funny, and also a little sad.

Our kids, thank God, are extremely creative. That said, they're also kids. They get bored. When they're bored, they get annoyed. They want to watch TV (ugh) or want us to think of ideas for them. But when we refuse and tell them to use their imagination, they (often, not always) do - and it's incredible to see what they come up with. The past month or so, for the first time since we were first married (??), both Serach and I were home for extended hours every day - and it wasn't because we were unemployed when we didn't want to be. Serach wasn't working this summer as we adjust to Cleveland, and I was unassigned. While we were still quite busy for the most part between the move, unpacking, settling in, and getting all the little things done that go into living in a new state, we also got to take the kids out and have some fun - and we got to stay home, let the kids get bored, and watch them be creative.

Earlier today, Serach suggested that since I begin work at a client tomorrow, perhaps we should take the kids out to go do something. It didn't work out for other reasons, but part of me couldn't help but feel that it was more desirable to do absolutely nothing. For weeks, I had been able to on occasion do absolutely nothing - and it was liberating. My mind was able to be somewhat at ease, a feeling not felt in years. One Shabbos afternoon recently I took Kayla (5) to the playground, and at one point since the playground was nearly empty, I took the swing next to her and started to swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It was exhilarating. Not because of the swinging, though that was great; but because when you're swinging fast enough, the world around you is really moving too quickly for your senses to take in fully without getting dizzy, so either you can try and concentrate on something - or you can just zone out and let your mind go. I chose the latter.

A few people asked me recently if I was 'itching' to get back to work, and I answered that I was - while it was great to have the time to unpack and settle in, at some point most people wish to contribute and not simply be on the sidelines. At the same time, I also couldn't help but appreciate the need for more free time; time to sit back, relax, and let my mind wander.

Hopefully now we will be able to have both.


* I am a "zero inbox" person who also never really deletes emails, but instead archives them. On Gmail, this means that every email or conversation is stored should there ever be a desire or need to find it. This also means that I use my inbox as a storage place for items that need to be returned to - if it's still non archived, an email is likely either a bill, an email that needs a reply, a task that needs to be completed, or an article I'm saving for some reason.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Focus on the Merits (Yair Lapid interviewing R' Yitzchak Dovid Grossman)

Hat tip: Yankie

One of the most fantastic interviews you will see in a long time. If more of us would try more often to focus our view of the world and people on their merits and not their negative aspects, perhaps we really could impact the world positively.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

No School Is Perfect

We recently moved to Cleveland from New York, and while at first we took it as a given where we would send our kids to school, after talking to a few people we gave the decision a second, much longer look - going through a similar process as we'd done two years previously in Queens. Ultimately, in both instances, we ended up sticking with our first choice; but in both processes, we were forced to think about what deficiencies the school we'd ultimately send our daughters to would have.

A friend recently pointed out an interesting article from the Jewish Week that touches on this point, albeit in a different context, that of special needs:
In short, there is a tension between our demands that our Jewish day schools be able to compete with Sidwell Friends and Choate, while deeply covering Jewish subjects, as well as comprehensively addressing special needs. There is no way around it. [...] 
When I was a kid, and went to Jewish day school, my parents made a major financial sacrifice, and accepted that they were not going to get 100 percent of what they wanted from one school. I got a decent Jewish education if not the best secular education (I did supplemental work with my parents and a tutor out of school) but on balance am grateful for the experience. It was compromise, and a lot of my education -- Jewish and otherwise -- but the goal was to imbibe the mesorah and to participate in the construction of the next generation of the Jewish community.

No school will ever be perfect. As parents, we need to determine which school is best for our children; for some, that is the school that is the most like them. For some, it is the school that provides the most specific approach, for others the most open approach; for some, it is the school with the strong Judaic or secular education; for others, it's the school with the best middos, or some combination of the above. And for many, it's "Which school can give me the best tuition break!?" All of these are valid approaches when applied correctly.

For us, though, it was less about a specific trait than about an approach: What aspects of our children's education are we least and most equipped to supplement? I bumped into an older supporter of one of the schools whose children had gone to both, and who had grandchildren in both as well. The first words out of his mouth were that I was making a mistake, and should definitely send the girls to the school that we had not chosen. (He is nothing if not open about his opinions.) We ended up having a fantastic, if quick, conversation on the subject, and he noted at one point: "I will acknowledge, [the school we picked] does a fantastic job of ingraining X." For us, it is easier to supplement our child's (say) math education than supplement X - and therefore, we chose to put ourselves in a situation where we can supplement any potential problems.

By placing children in schools which match the parents, while it helps with consistency, it also can create a redundancy - both positively and negatively. While the school's strengths may be further enhanced by equally strong parents in a given area, any lacking the school may have would only be compounded by the parents lacking the same. But by viewing the school more as a teammate in a child's upbringing, where the strengths of the school and the strengths of the parents help overcome one another's deficiencies, it can help a child become a more complete person.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How I Met Serach, Part XVI: It's Shidduch Time!

This is Part XVI of a series about how I proposed to Serach. To see the series, you could simply use the guide link under the header of the blog or this link right here titled "How I Met Serach".
Ezzie's note:  In Part XIII, I explained the difficulty in writing this series. Some details may be a bit off; it's been a decade... 

Where we last left off, Serach and I were really getting pretty serious. One night when I was discussing it all with my "sister" B, she noted that of course, she had to meet Serach. And lo and behold, she was coming into New York soon to check out a college, and would probably be in town around Chanukah. We made up to go together to a concert (I believe it was Blue Fringe, Lanzbom & Solomon, and maybe the Solomon Brothers?) over Chanukah that Serach and I were going to, another friend ("Y") would be meeting us there, and B'd bring along her friend - let's call her B2.

For this story, we have to rewind even further back, to April 2002. I had recently switched dorm rooms at OJ, moving from the room of one good friend to another. The friend whose room I moved into was standing in the room one night, late at night, and I was on the phone with B. Suddenly, it clicked in my head: "B, I know who you're going to marry." 'Huh? Who?' "Don't worry, I know who. One day, I'll introduce you." After I got off the phone I told my roommate: "JB, I know who you're going to marry." He looked at me like I was crazy, shrugged, and that was that.

On this cold night in December 2003, I planned on sleeping at JB's dorm in YU, since it was a lot closer to where Serach would be staying in the Lander women's dorm on the Upper West Side. As it was getting close to time to go, I said to JB "Hey, why don't you come along? We can drive there (JB had a car), and you can hang out with us." 'Who will I talk to? You'll be talking to Serach the whole time.' "Yeah, but we'll still talk to you, and Y (who he knew) is coming, and there will be other people there. You'll have a great time." After a few minutes of back and forth, JB relented, and we drove to the concert.

At the concert (which as I recall was a bit of a snoozer), Y ended up running into another friend, and to my not surprise, JB hit it off with B and B2. At one point during the night, B comes over to me as Serach is schmoozing with JB and B2, smiled, and said "Ezzie, she's a keeper." For some reason, while before then I had already made up my mind, this put my mind completely at ease. I subconsciously needed B's approval, and now I had it. By the end of the night, they were fast friends; I, meanwhile, was just... calm. Happy.

At about midnight, we walked outside B.B. King's and were talking for a bit in the freezing cold when B said they'd be taking a subway back to Brooklyn to B2's relatives. I insisted that this was not safe, and that instead, JB should drive them. After a couple of minutes trying to convince them it wasn't safe for two beautiful young ladies who are not from NYC to be on the subway to Brooklyn alone at 1 o'clock in the morning, they relented, and JB drove them home. Meanwhile, I dropped Serach back at the LCW dorms and headed up to YU.

Right after I got back to YU, B called me. "Hello?" 'OMG Ezzie should I have given him my number!?!!?!' "...{sigh}...did you like him? [Note: Neither one knew this was who I thought they'd marry.]" 'Yes! He's so nice! I can't believe he drove us all the way home. Should I have given him my number so he can call me??' "...yeeesss..." 'AAAHHH!!! He's SO nice. I hope I didn't just blow my chance. I have to go.' Click. A few minutes later, JB walks back in, exhausted. He apparently had called Serach on the way home and told her "I really liked her, she's really cute." 'Which one, B2?' "No, B!" As soon as he came into his dorm room he says to me, "Should I have given her my number?" 'ARRGH! You BOTH stink!' I then explained that she'd just asked me the same question. I gave him her number, he called her right that minute to ask her out the next night, and they dated I think almost every night she was in town for the next week. A few months later, I reminded B about how I'd told her two or so years prior that I knew who she'd marry; "Oh yeah! Who was that?!" 'JB.' "WHAT?! Really!? That's crazy!" (The next year she wrote a piece in her college paper about it.)

...and that completes the story of How JB Met B, and finishes up Serach and Ezzie's dating, circa 2003. So we're still less than a decade removed...

Next time on How I Met Serach: Meet the Parents.

Learning Strength

הוא היה אומר: בן חמש שנים למקרא; בן עשר למשנה; בן שלוש עשרה למצות; בן חמש עשרה לתלמוד; בן שמונה עשרה לחופה; בן עשרים לרדוף; בן שלושים לכוח; בן ארבעים לבינה; בן חמישים לעצה; בן שישים לזקנה; בן שבעים לשיבה; בן שמונים לגבורה; בן תשעים לשוח; בן מאה כאלו מת ועבר ובטל מן העולם. 
My family and some friends know that when it's their birthdays, I often have fun by using whatever number it is to make them feel a little... well, older. For example, when a friend turned 27, I said "Happy 1/3 to 81!" Or when I turned 29 last year, my brother (who is exactly eight and a half years older) turned 37-1/2, so I wished him a happy halfway to 75. Who doesn't love a little mortality?

Later this week, I'll be turning 30. While the math for thirty is definitely easy to have fun with (downhill to sixty, in the middle third toward ninety, a quarter of the way to 120...), I recalled the above mishna in Pirkei Avos and wondered about it. What does koach mean? Koach is not the same as gevurah, but is it so different that it is not until eighty years old that a person achieves gevurah? Looking around a bit, there simply is not a lot written about thirty. Ten to mishna, fifteen to Talmud? Plenty on those. Eighteen to chuppah - sure, there's tons of discussion on that one. Forty to understanding? Yup, lots on that one. But thirty? This is the most to be found, and it's somewhat depressing even when trying to view it positively: 
Thirty is for strength. It the age at which a man's strength is at its peak -- both physically and emotionally. At that age, we see our lives ahead of us, and we feel up to its challenges. We can still solve the world's problems -- not to mention our own.
Well, that part resonates, but it's immediately followed by this:
By forty and the later years, our vigor -- as well as our outlook -- is older and wiser. We've experienced the difficulties of life (beginning of course with teenage children) and recognize the intractability of human nature and of life's problems. As the decades progress -- in ever faster procession -- our physical will and desires fade, and -- to end on a poignant note -- we truly understand life only when we no longer have the strength to live it nor the years to take advantage of it. (And the next generation is not about to listen to our sage advice either. They're still exhausting all the alternatives.)
"It's all downhill from here, boys!" Even when trying to say "No, no - I'll be different. I'm going to keep trying to make an impact", the other part of your brain says, "Pffft. That's the 30-year old in you. That'll pass soon."

But a part of me refuses to give in to this idea, and instead, chooses to understand this idea of koach in a positive way, one which also leads me to read the mishna in a different way. The mishna is somewhat vague and simply lists ages and what they are for, but most discussions change how each line is interpreted - the first lines are what one should learn, but later it is what traits a person acquires. What if instead each line is about what one should be learning at that stage of his life?
  • At five years - learn mikrah; understand where we come from and who we are.
  • At ten years - learn mishna; understand there is more to our tradition than what is written; there is also what we pass down from generation to generation.
  • At thirteen years - learn the mitzvos; understand your responsibilities both positively and negatively in this world.
  • At fifteen years - learn Talmud; understand that nothing is cut and dry; there needs to be thought, logic, discussion, and not everyone will always agree, though decisions must sometimes be made.*
  • At eighteen years - learn marriage. Learn how to interact and communicate properly, learn how to listen, learn how to treat someone, learn how to be responsible... geez, just learn everything
  • At twenty years - learn pursuit. Learn to work hard, whether at (especially at) one's career, one's marriage, raising children... pursuing children! It is the pursuit of one's goals - or goals together with a spouse - that are key to present survival and future success, especially as life throws its curve balls.
At thirty years, learn strength. I'm still learning this, and surely there is yet a lot to learn. To start, though - at least to me - perhaps as one starts to clear the hurdles of their twenties, and now has that ability to begin being strong, this is a reminder to use that strength properly. There are times to apply step forward and apply strength; and there are times when being strong means doing nothing. There are causes that need one's koach behind them; there are situations where people need you to have koach for them; and there are situations where perhaps you just need to find that koach for yourself. In all of these, understanding how to apply this koach appropriately is essential.

...

As I'm writing this, so much of what has occurred in our own lives over the last few months has become much clearer. Certainly we have needed - and expended - an incredible amount of koach, both for happy times and sad, for good causes and for troubling times... koach that even as little as one or two years ago we simply did not have. 

May we all learn what we need to in life at the appropriate times; and perhaps it is worthwhile to use the wisdom of this mishna in Pirkei Avos as a guide in helping us to do so. 

* A very apropos and related discussion written years ago by Nephtuli T. on this both as it pertains to belief and to halacha is here; in particular, this portion is worth noting as it relates to the above line: "Halacha isn't about searching for truth and is determined by the majority. Once the majority decides a question, the "right answer" is that decision. There is no ontological gap between the decision of the majority and the correct answer."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't Be Detroit

As a native - and now current - Clevelander, an old joke is that however bad things might be in Cleveland, "Hey, at least we're not Detroit*." And certainly, that joke is even more apropos this week, after Detroit applied for bankruptcy. While it would be easy (and entertaining) to write about this from a political point of view (particularly to fisk Krugman's pathetic dismissal of it, done already here), it is more useful and instructive to learn something from it, instead, whether as individuals, families, or communities.

The key lesson: Don't be Detroit.

  • Don't overspend on education, especially if it's not that great. Detroit spent more than the national average on education, yet had a 47% illiteracy rate.
  • Don't spend money on stuff that doesn't work, no matter how 'necessary' it seems. Detroit's police force solves 10% of crimes committed.
  • Don't buy more house than you need. About 1/3 of Detroit's 140 square miles are empty.
  • If people like you can make do with less, so can you - and so should you. Detroit has twice as many municipal employees as same-size cities
  • Don't pay for stuff you don't use. Detroit's city water and sewer department employs a “horseshoer” although it keeps no horses.
  • Don't use credit cards. Detroit has $20 billion in unfunded liabilities
  • Don't assume you'll always have the same income, or two incomes, and especially two growing incomes. Detroit's population fell from 1.85M in 1950 and the highest per capita income in 1960 to 710K and rampant unemployment.
  • Always have a backup plan. Detroit had 296,000 manufacturing jobs in 1950. Today it has 27,000.
It is impossible to stress enough the difference between those who pay for the future now and those who pay for now with the future. While the first group may not have all the luxuries of the second group for the first few years, they will also not have the stress, poverty, and decay of the rest of the years. It's the difference between buying a mansion off the bat, but not being able to keep it up, vs. buying a modest house and continually upgrading. In the beginning, the person with the mansion may seem better off; but within a few years, they have a big, run-down house, while their friend keeps expanding and enhancing.

Be smart, be frugal, and plan. Don't be Detroit.


* For all those who don't get the reference, these are a hilarious must watch: 12.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's (Not) Always About Race

Earlier today, I went with an old friend to buy a couple big items from a large Costco in the area. As if often the case in Costco, there are employees (either of Costco or other companies) pitching various items to you as you walk through the store. As soon as we entered, someone immediately pitched my friend on DirecTV, pushing him to switch from AT&T U-Verse. After a few seconds of this "drive-by" pitch as we pushed our cart past the employee, the friend said he'd have to think about it and we moved on. Later, as we were getting to the area we wanted, another person pitched us on window glass, promising 10% off and a quote good for a year, all he needed was my friend's name. Again, he said he'd think about it and perhaps circle back later.

 When we reached the checkout counter, as the friend was about to pay for the rather large and expensive items, the cashier suggested he become an Executive Member, entitling him to 2% back on all purchases. My friend once again replied that he'd think about it. The cashier then said - "Look, you want to do this before this purchase. You're spending a significant amount, and the 6 months prior to this you'd already have earned back the difference in price between the regular membership and Executive. You should do it today, before I charge this." "I'll think about it." "And in the six months prior to that you also spent that much. Clearly you're spending well over the threshold needed for it to be worth it, it's a no-brainer!" "I hear what you're saying, I just have to think about it."

At this point the cashier - who had been somewhat annoyed throughout the discussion - was clearly frustrated, and said in a bit of a dripping tone, "Perhaps if someone else explains it to you you'd do it", and turned to the Executive Member Services employee nearby, at which point my friend interjected, "No no, you explained it just fine. I just need to think about it." The EM employee then repeated the same, along with the 'bagger', pushing the same point (that it's an obvious buy), and again my friend replied, clearly wanting to leave, "I need to talk it over with my wife and I need to think about it." The cashier turned to me as we started to walk away and said "You understood it, right? (I nodded) You explain it to him."

As we walked away, I turned to the friend and said "For what it's worth, he's right." "Yeah, I figured he probably was, but I'm not familiar enough with it and need to think about it and discuss it with my wife. I don't want to make a decision just like that." "Right, I hear that. They just were pushing it especially on a big sale because you'd be making back a nice chunk of the difference right then." "I understand that."

He then commented on the same objection I had to what had occurred. "What really bothered me, though, was that he immediately assumed that the reason I wasn't doing what he said was because he's black." I replied, "Yeah, I noticed that, and I thought it was sad." "It IS sad! Unfortunately, though, that's what he's been taught [that race is a motivator for the actions people do or don't do], so even though race had nothing to do with it, he thinks that the reason I didn't want to do it is because of race. It's very sad!"

Until the cashier made that comment, race was non-existent. There was an employee of a store, making a pitch, just as many other employees had made pitches for other items earlier. To each, my friend had the same polite reply: "I have to think about it." But this employee unfortunately made the assumption that the reason this white, Jewish male was choosing not to listen to his pitch could not be because it was a pitch; after all, it was a seeming no-brainer to upgrade to Executive level. Therefore, the employee concluded that my friend wasn't listening to him because he's black, and that perhaps bringing over a white male would work better.

Perhaps this automatic assumption of racial bias is due to education, as my friend suggested; perhaps it's based on personal experiences; perhaps it's some combination of the two. But this automatic assumption by people (of any race) that others' actions are always motivated by race* is not only itself the very definition of racism, but it exacerbates the issue of race it is usually trying to end. We will never end racism if we presume race always plays a role.

Racism can only end when we treat everyone equally - actually equally, not "let's adjust for race" equally. Until we stop assuming people's actions are always about race, we are effectively forcing people to act based on race; and that's a cycle we will never be able to end.

* As an example - in the recent Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, there were two primary issues that were most troubling to me. First and foremost, the media portrayal of the event to the point that calls were altered to make the case about racism was despicable. Zimmerman should easily win his case against NBC for defamation, and he should. But also troubling is the assumption that Zimmerman - who undoubtedly was overzealous and irresponsible - followed Martin because he is white and Martin was black. Zimmerman - whose prom date was black; who mentored black teens; who complained about the Sanford police because of how they treated a homeless black man; who according to the call transcripts was not even sure Martin was black at first when asked by the dispatcher, and is clearly focused on Martin's suspicious activity throughout the call; and who was deemed by every investigator and every person questioned - even his ex-wife who had filed a restraining order on him - to not be a racist, is assumed to have acted because of race. This portrayal became so heavily accepted, to the point that should anyone dare suggest otherwise, they are often themselves painted as bigots or racists, because, well, "obviously" it was about race, even if there's nothing that demonstrates that to be true.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Coming Soon: The Revival of SerandEz?

Hi all, I'm strongly considering reviving this blog, but could use some help cleaning the place to make it look nice. Anyone care to help me out? Not looking for anything fancy - just clean and easy. The Management

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