You've Got To Have Skin In The Game

Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr

Let's be honest, Rosh HaShanah service is pretty boring most of the time (Penelope Trunk made me laugh with her High Holidays social media tips). Yet shofar blowing always rocks.

The sound of the horn is literally supposed to be a wake-up call, and it is. "You screwed up," it says, "wake up before it's too late." And then we believe that G-d "closes the book" on Yom Kippur: "Who shall live and who shall die," the prayer says.

Serious stuff - but it isn't sad. The mistakes are painful to admit. But the screwing up matters. There is some master plan, we're all a part of it, and it's about being engaged and not giving up.

Where there is meaning, there is struggle but there is also peace.

This weekend, battling a horrendous cold that left me feeling goopy and brainless, I watched the entire Season 2 of HBO's show Girls"the most discussed show on TV." I had heard it wasn't so good this season, but the reverse was actually true: Lena Dunham is a genius, completely true to art. Her characters are so real it's actually painful to watch them.

At one point the main character Hannah is falling apart with anxiety over making a book deadline. But the worst part is, nobody cares enough to save her. She says:

"You know when you're young and you drop a glass and your dad says like 'Get out of the way' so you can be safe while he cleans it up? Well, now nobody really cares if I clean it up myself. Nobody really cares if I get cut with glass. If I break something, no one says 'Let me take care of that.' You know?"

So when the season ends with Hannah's ex-boyfriend Adam literally running through the streets to rescue her, it is completely sublime. Because having other people you love and care about gives meaning to one's life.

And work does, too. No it's not as important as family. But it has to be a battle for something that matters. If you're just going in to the office every day like a robot, serving up widgets and getting dollars in return, what meaning is there in that?

I don't want to ever end up like the people Malvina Reynolds wrote about in 1962. Do you?

"Little Boxes"

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

You have to fight for what's in your life. It's easy to take your family for granted too. I like what Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has said -- that when people come to him complaining about their marriage, generally all that matters is do you love your partner or not. It's that simple. Yet instead of struggling for a better relationship, it's too comfortable for people to go through the motions. They disengage, then say it isn't working. 

Religion is the same. According to one poll, more than half of Jewish people don't believe in G-d, but 16% go to services once per month (or more). I just don't like synagogue; I've learned to pray in my living room with devotion rather than to go and send out those negative vibes.

Why are people content to live their lives robotically, rather than engage with what's troubling them? Some would say they're stuck inside a clash of views that simply can't be reconciled. I don't think that's true. If you care, there is some passion that can be engaged and redirected some other and better way.

In fact, learning to live inside a stalemate is exactly the cancer inside so many relationships, businesses, religious institutions and political parties. When you withdraw into dysfunctional stasis, what are you left with? Exhibit A: Washington, DC.

It's hard to jeopardize what you have by getting into a conflict with others. Nobody wants to make a mistake and lose what they have. But a certain amount of risk and stress is healthy. It keeps the blood moving. We're alive!

Acting like a zombie may be the only thing that gets you through a bad day, a meaningless routine, or a relationship that's somehow gone moribund. But the only thing that matters in this life is to care or die trying. Whatever else you're doing to survive, take the time every single day to find your passion and fight for it.

* All opinions my own.