This article was published by the Authority Magazine by Alexandra Spirer.
Listen. We were given two ears and one mouth to teach us that we should listen twice as much as we speak. Listening allows us to experience new perspectives and ideas. It broadens our horizons. This is especially true when we listen to someone with another approach than our own. Listening is also the key to love — to sense and connect to the needs of another.
Respect: Show respect to others at all times. Respect their soul. Never define a person by their behavior. Each one of us may at times do something wrong, but that does not define us. We are defined by our sacred souls, created in the divine image. As such, every person deserves respect, even if their choices and ideas may be flawed. Additionally, all humans are part of one larger organism. So when we dismiss or hurt one person, we are actually harming ourselves in the process. Think about that.
Aspart of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Simon Jacobson.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson shares emotional, psychological, and spiritual skills to help people live their most meaningful lives. An “engaged sage” with an open, empathetic, and non-judgmental approach, he provides clarity, solutions, and new perspectives based on timeless teachings. He is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life” and Founding Dean of The Meaningful Life Center. Learn more at www.meaningfullife.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Rabbi Jacobson! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Iwas born and raised in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Both my parents immigrated to the USA from the former Soviet Union after WWII. My upbringing was quite unique by virtue of it combining two extremes:
On one hand, I grew up in a family and community of Chabad Chassidim, who follow strong and strict Jewish traditions. I received an intense Torah education, studying in depth Biblical and Talmudic studies over 12 hours a day in Chabad Yeshivot. On the other hand, my home was utterly non-dogmatic and non-conformist. My parents were extremely open-minded. They instilled in me the confidence to explore a wide range of ideas and different schools of thought. The encouraged me to be a critical and independent thinker and to “own” the beliefs I would choose to embrace, instead of imposing them on me. My father was a journalist, a global citizen and a free spirit, who by example taught me to create a poetic balance between faith and reason, strong foundational values while remaining utterly non-judgmental and open to all types of thinking.
My upbringing has shaped my life and provided me with the courage and vision dedicated to the labor of love of my life: applying the universal truths of the Bible and mysticism to the contemporary challenges of people of all backgrounds.
This has been the driving passion of my life since my late teens until this very day. Beginning over forty years ago, with my work in remembering verbatim hours of my mentor’s talks and then publishing them, and then authoring Toward a Meaningful Life and other books, and then establishing the Meaningful Life Center — I would not be the person I am today were it not for the influences of my early formative years.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I will mention two — very different type of — books, which contributed greatly to my life and my work. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. Hemshech Ayin Beis by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson.
The former was the first book that gave me a perspective on the spectrum of different personalities in every society, from the naïve innocent ones to the shrewd manipulators and everything in between. How different people, especially when under pressure, gain happiness and security by being either selfless or selfish. How vanity and self-interest often hijack the true meaning of life and turn it instead into a “comedy” or “tragedy.” Vanity Fair crystallized for me the stark choice people have to make in life whether to serve themselves or serve a higher purpose to transform the world through goodness and kindness.
The latter book — actually a series of esoteric psycho-spiritual discourses — expanded my spiritual horizons in ways that are hard to describe. It provided me with the broadest panorama one could ever imagine: An x-ray of the soul and the cosmos, exposing the very spiritual DNA and building blocks of existence and beyond, offering a comprehensive blueprint for life, a type of life operators manual. It is in this magnum opus that I discovered a holistic perspective on every dimension of life — a unified field principle, integrating and fusing psychology, spirituality and science/physics.
As a young seeker, a type of “rebel without a cause,” these books, among many others, excited my soul and ignited my passion to want to make a difference in this world.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
If I had to choose among many powerful quotes, I would focus on this one: “Words from the heart enter the heart. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
I heard this line once while participating in a panel discussion on how to cope with pain and suffering. One of the panelists was responding to someone in the audience who had suffered a terrible loss, and was in an obvious state of deep grief, struggling with the big questions “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “how does one find the strength to carry on?” The panelist, a proficient philosopher, was pontificating on the topic, analyzing it from every angle, but clearly remaining quite cerebral and aloof, with a visible lack of empathy, and even being condescending at times. In middle of his lengthy presentation, the grieving questioner interrupted him, and says: “Sir. You sound very bright and well read. Have you ever suffered? Because with all due respect, I have no clue what you are talking about. I don’t feel that you are speaking to me. Don’t take this the wrong way, but always remember: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
The audience was stunned. I never forgot that moment of truth.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership means taking the initiative, being proactive instead of reactive. Leadership does not just belong to those individuals deemed as “leaders.” Every person is meant to be a leader — a leader of your own choices and decisions; a leader in your home; a leader in your community; a leader in your corner of the world. A leader means someone who is not part of the problem, but always striving to be part of the solution. A leader is someone who doesn’t wait for things to happen, but makes things happen.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
Two people come to mind. My great mentor — the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known by many simply as the “Rebbe” (teacher). He impacted my life forever, not by his powerful presence and sheer charisma, but by believing in my potential — and in the potential of all those he came in contact with. My soul was ignited through his encouragement and teachings. I came to feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to, and that I have a unique and indispensable mission to accomplish in my life. The second person was my father. His unwavering non-judgmentalism, his patience and restraint, his broad-minded ability to hear out even jarringly different views than his own — left an indelible impression on me and my interactions with people of all backgrounds.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
How to communicate and disagree without hate.
How to turn the current upheavals into forces of growth and redemption.
This crisis/issue resonates with me deeply for several reasons:
- The root of so many of our current challenges and problems is our inability to communicate and disagree effectively.
- At the heart of much of my work in helping bring purpose, love and healing to people, and building healthier relationships, is cultivating and training us to interact and communicate in more sensitive ways.
- Good communication is a direct outgrowth of our fundamental respect for each other; the inherent sacred dignity of every individual life.
- A great part of my early training was learning how to listen and absorb ideas of my mentor. The ability to suspend my own ideas and opinions, my biases and preconceived notions and stereotypes, taught me how to transcend my own subjectivity and listen to and communicate with people I may fundamentally disagree with. This in turn has shaped how I train others in effective communication: Good communication is knowing how to listen.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
We lost sight of the foundational principles stated in our own Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. There are a number of reasons that have contributed to the obfuscation of these self-evident truths, which have evolved into today’s boiling point. These include: 1. An erosion of our belief in a truth that is greater than our own interests. 2. A declining sense of humility and embrace of common purpose. 3. Prosperity and comfort, which has ironically led to apathy and complacency, and an exaggerated sense of entitlement, taking for granted our gifts. 4. A disproportionate worship of materialism, while ignoring our spirituality and higher value system. 5. Overstimulation of our senses by the unrelenting flow of information coming from the media and marketers, inundating and overloading us with their agendas.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
A cornerstone of the work I do — together with my wonderful team at The Meaningful Life Center — is focused on reclaiming the very core of our souls and our souls’ mission in this world: To refine and spiritualize your corner of the world by rising above your own self-interest and serving a higher good. Respect for each other and healthy communication is a critical component in fulfilling our calling. This message resonates with people everywhere and always. But it has taken on a new urgency during our current upheavals. As people’s material lives, schedules and routines have been disrupted, they are seeking inner resources and returning to the essential values that define us as humans.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Listen. We were given two ears and one mouth to teach us that we should listen twice as much as we speak. Listening allows us to experience new perspectives and ideas. It broadens our horizons. This is especially true when we listen to someone with another approach than our own. Listening is also the key to love — to sense and connect to the needs of another.
- Respect: Show respect to others at all times. Respect their soul. Never define a person by their behavior. Each one of us may at times do something wrong, but that does not define us. We are defined by our sacred souls, created in the divine image. As such, every person deserves respect, even if their choices and ideas may be flawed. Additionally, all humans are part of one larger organism. So when we dismiss or hurt one person, we are actually harming ourselves in the process. Think about that.
- Be proactive through positive action: In every conversation you have ask yourself “how can this lead to some positive action?” In times of crisis, victims of circumstances throw up their hands and always assume a reactive position — reacting defensively to the curveballs that come their way. In stark contrast, leaders are always proactive. Their best defense is offense. Be a leader. Navigate the vicissitudes. We cannot control what happens around us; but we totally control our attitudes to these events. Good swimmers don’t fight the tide; they ride with and through it. Positivity breeds positivity. Cause and effect. Action reaction. When you do a positive act you release empowering energy, which in turn activates and generates more such energy. Be proactive. Be a living example and speak to your family and friends about the need to reach out and show kindness to others.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Comfort zones are very… comfortable, but they also keep us trapped in our habits and routines, including unhealthy ones. Comfort zones stop us from growing and reaching greater heights. When your regular schedules and patterns have been disrupted, like in the present pandemic, allow these challenges to serve as an opportunity for personal reflection and deeper introspection. Use them as a catalyst and springboard to push yourself beyond your conventional regimens and behaviors. Dare yourself to dare. Do something extraordinary. And emerge as a greater person in the process.
- A negative pandemic has to be transformed into a positive pandemic of goodness and kindness. No less will do. Like the crack in a shell allowing a new chick to emerge, every disruption and setback has to be seen as a transition to a better world order. Indeed, the very destabilization shakes up the past and opens up new opportunities and possibilities. Ask yourself: How can the present pandemic be used for the good? With this global wake-up call, what can we do to turn it into a pandemic of kindness, with viral, ripple-effect impact?
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Five CTA’s — calls to action — corresponding to the five ideas above:
- LISTEN: Make it a habit to listen closely to another person you are communicating with, especially someone who disagrees with you. Repeat to them their opinion and ask them if you clearly understood their position.
- RESPECT: Show respect to others at all times. Contemplate daily on the fact that each of us was created equal, with inalienable rights. Seek out the divine image in every person you meet — look for and identify something good in their personality. Avoid herd mentality and stereotyping others,
- BE PROACTIVE THROUGH POSITIVE ACTION: Ensure that all conversations at home and at the meals are positive, and not focused on criticizing others. Do the same in your interactions with friends. Innovate ways to be kinder and gentler. This can be done as a family or group project. Incentivize your children to participate. Always avoid getting embroiled in divisiveness. If you see a disagreement evolving into an endless, unproductive — and vitriolic — argument, disengage immediately, and try to steer the conversation toward a positive and productive resolution Minimize your exposure to online media. Cutdown on your viewing time. Especially upon awakening and before going to sleep, make sure to silence out the “turbulence” outside of you. Instead, begin and end the day with a soulful prayer, song or reading.
- GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE: Designate time each day for an internal accounting. Identify areas that can use improvement or healing. Seek out new friends, especially ones who have different perspectives and backgrounds. Go beyond your usual good deeds by adding in them both quantitatively and qualitatively. Nurture your soul. Resources to help you discover your most meaningful life are available at www.meaningfullife.com. Immerse yourself in a spiritual SPA by increasing in Study, Prayer and Action.
- PANDEMIC OF GOODNESS: On a daily basis, in an email and/or on social media, post/share with your contacts a kind and hopeful message. Ask them to do the same.
Persistent healthy behaviors accumulate and release positive energy, ultimately have their impact and bear fruit, which can and will shift the course toward healing the country.
Here are a few things that the community can do to help us promote these ideas
- We all need hope, encouragement and inspiration, especially during trying times. Subscribe to The Meaningful Life Center’s Soul Gym at https://www.meaningfullife.com/subscribe/ for practical insights and step-by-step exercises for personal growth and self-mastery in all aspects of life, including the areas of relationships, anxiety/depression, identity, self-esteem, balance, self-discipline, empathy, forgiveness and prayer. Just as we need to work out our physical bodies to grow stronger, we need to work out our spiritual muscles.
- We want to share with as many people as possible the life-affirming message that every human being has intrinsic and immeasurable value, and that we are all in this together. Please let us know about any influencers who would be open to spreading this message of love and hope.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Absolutely. Michelangelo famously explained how he sculpted such beautiful angels of marble: I saw the angel trapped in the marble. I carved and carved until I set the angel free. People at heart are good and pure. By virtue of your birth you were created in the Divine image. But your beautiful soul, like the angel, can get trapped in marble or concrete or other substances, that conceal its presence.
I firmly believe that the spirit of each person will ultimately emerge. I am therefore absolutely confident that as we carve and carve and continue to perpetuate the message, our better angels will emerge and we will heal our world. We will transform the current upheavals and see them give birth to a personal and global redemption.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You are unique and indispensable. You have a contribution to make in this world that you and only you can make. Your soul was sent to this world for this mission. The entire purpose of your existence is to do a favor for another and to illuminate the world with your special light.
Oliver Wendell Holmes writes in The Voiceless: Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them! Allow your voice to sing your exclusive song. You were born an original; don’t become a copy.
We are presently experiencing a historic moment. This may be the life defining event of our lives. How we respond today will be etched into the annals of history for eternity. Let us be known for not having been silent in the face of such upheaval. When this story will be told by our children and grandchildren, let us be remembered as having done everything humanly possible to mitigate the crisis, emerging a much stronger people in the process.
Though our bodies may be quarantined, we are certainly not quarantined in our souls — we have enormous ability to reach deeper into the hearts and souls of our loved ones, our friends and strangers too. Indeed, these crazy times have opened up new unprecedented opportunities — and a great need — for just such soulful connections.
The pandemic has exposed many cracks in our society. Let us use this unprecedented opportunity to transform what may appear as a “distancing” and “isolating” experience, into a connecting and unifying experience — a global unity revolution — uniting and bringing us closer together than ever before.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
If allowed, I would like to meet every single person on this planet, and share the above message with. Barring that, I would seek to meet the President of the United States (whoever it may be) and discuss how we can turn this wake-up call into a global movement — a worldwide viral pandemic of goodness and kindness.