Since the Jewish holidays remind us of mortality, I thought of our 14 ½ year old pup Leo. Yes, he’s at the end of his life expectancy, but his constantly wagging tail is proof that he still loves life.
Leo’s casual caretaker believes he has acute FOMA – fear of missing out – which she claims is the secret to his longevity because he loves me more than himself. With a teen in the family, it’s nice to know that at least someone is always happy to see me. For example, imagine if I locked my son and Leo in a trunk. Who would be most happy to see me when I opened it?
I hate glorifying dogs, but there is something godlike about their ability to love and forgive – virtues that are meant to inspire this time of reflection and renewal. As Hunter Thompson put it, “Everyone has two lives. The second begins when you realize you have only one. ”This is why mortality is life’s greatest gift, for confronting death reawakens the vitality and aspiration that slumber under the covers of complacency.
Since we all have a chance to think again, how can we become as good as our dogs think we can inspire others to wag metaphorically while also helping to make the world a better place?
I offer three thoughts inspired by dogs and some Jewish sages.
First, the underrated art of listening. In truth, dogs speak, but only to those who know how to listen and hear a dog’s love that is infinite.
To prove the power of listening, consider this story about Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the most important books of the 20th century.
One of Frankl’s patients called him at midnight to tell him that she was going to kill herself. Frankl persuaded her to be depressed and offered innumerable reasons to carry on as she promised.
Frankl later asked what reasons had convinced her. No reason, she replied, only that a world in which someone was ready to listen to someone else’s needs seemed to her a world in which it was worth living. It’s an important lesson – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So if you want to be as good as your dog thinks, listen. It can make all the difference.
Second, the power of hope is eternal for dogs who live with joy every day, unconditionally love and protect their families. Dogs testify to Friedrich Nietzsche’s insight: “Anyone who has a ‘why’ to live can endure almost every how.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks believed that hope, as opposed to optimism, is an active belief that together we can make things better. Hope requires courage and faith, optimism does not.
Consider Todd Beamer’s 9/11 story, which exemplifies the power of hope. In his 14-minute chat with an Airfone operator, Beamer coolly shared what was happening, including a plan to overtake the hijackers. Before hanging up, he asked the operator to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him and she could hear passengers joining in. Then he recited Psalm 23 and concluded: “Yes, although I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be afraid.”
In his TedTalk, Rabbi Sacks explained why he considers the last sentence of Psalm 23 to be the most moving in religious literature because it means that “we can face any future without fear as long as we know that we will not face it alone” .
It was the hope for a better future for mankind that prompted Beamer to say his last words – “Ready? Okay, let’s roll. ”- Saving the US Capitol and Countless Lives.
Hope is also what moved righteous Gentiles to hide Jews during the Holocaust. This prompts firefighters to rush burning buildings and brave souls to enlist in the military. This forces a class to shave their heads on graduation day in solidarity with a classmate suffering from cancer. This inspired Mr. Rogers to break the color barrier on national television by inviting African American Police Officer Clemmons to cool their feet together in a kiddy pool. And it is hope that moved Anja Ringgren Loven, the Danish charity worker who adopted and nursed an abandoned and dying 2-year-old child in Nigeria.
She called him Hope.
So, if you want to be as good as your dog believes you are, you have a strong why and hope to achieve it.
Finally, there is gratitude, which is not just a token; it is necessary for happiness. Think of our dogs, whose tails wag in appreciation for the smallest of deeds. If we were half as grateful as they are, wouldn’t we be twice as many people as we are and happier on top of that?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin observed that someone who feels gratitude cultivates a feeling of being loved. Conversely, “an ungrateful person shows not only an emotionally stingy disposition, but also how deeply unloved he feels …. There are people who are masters at remembering every nasty thing someone did to them. Do you know how much happier you will be (and feel more loved) if you walk around remembering the nice things people have done? “
Like gratitude, forgiveness makes our lives easier because we don’t expend energy feeling anger. Not forgiving someone is like swallowing poison while expecting the other to die. They are untouched while we are less happy.
So, if you want to be as good as your dog believes you are, listen, let go of grudges, forgive and ask for forgiveness, practice active hope, and be thankful for blessings. This makes us more like our dogs and God, which is why dogs are so divine.
When our reinvention moment begins, remember that you cannot waste time in advance. What you do with your morning is your choice. How are you going to vote?
Many believe that the resurrection of the dead is the greatest miracle imaginable. But the Rabbi von Kotzker believed that the real miracle is to revive the living and move us to the life we should lead.
Thank you again – If we live this life and God grants us as many years as Leo, we too can experience FOMA because the world is better because we were in it.
Melanie Sturm, founder of Engage to Win, would like to change communication sustainably through training and writing. Encourage readers to “Think again, you could change your mind”. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.