The False Intimacy of a Facebook Friend

"Well hello Dannielle Blumenthal," she said to me, a complete stranger.
I stood there for a moment, bewildered. Am I supposed to know you? If I am, I can't remember your name.
"Hi, uh..." I replied, trying to buy time and avoid having to say her name in return. But before I had to say anything else, she said something else to me.
"I loved your post on the donut," she said.
"Uh..." Who is this woman? What is the post she's referring to? 
I tried doing an internal Google search of my brain of all posts on all media with the keyword "donut" somewhere inside. 
Not an inkling, and it showed.
"We're Facebook friends," she said, which made me turn red as I obviously did not know who the hell I was friends with on Facebook whatsoever.
"It was your post on the struggle not to eat the donut. How you Googled 'emotional eating.' You must know that one, it was just the other day."
She looked a little worried about me, or maybe she was suspicious. Who the hell are you again?
Suddenly I did remember, "Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah!" I said brightly. "Oh that post. I know. What a struggle. Yeah."
I really wanted out of that hallway conversation. And fast.
It reminded me of another time I was sitting in a Starbucks, late for a meeting.
The place was jammed that time of day, and I was grateful to have gotten a seat in the corner. I plopped my bag up on the little circular table.
It took a few minutes to get my email off the phone because reception was bad, but when I looked up I saw an acquaintance I'd known for many years. I guess we were sort of "close," you could say, the kind of "close" where you act like you're great friends when you see them, even if you never go out of your way to make plans.
She was sitting in the far opposite corner from me, also with her bag plopped on the table, also checking her phone.
I thought she saw me, but then I guessed she hadn't, because wouldn't she catch my attention if she had?
What is her name? I knew I knew what it was, but at the same time I'm one of those people who remembers a face faster than a name.
Quickly and surreptitiously I looked her up in my Google Contacts, imagining a thousand deaths of embarrassment over her stopping by and me not knowing her name. Her, an acquaintance of more than fifteen years!
The clock struck five to three and I had to go. Figuring she must have been really preoccupied, but determined to be friendly and say hello, I purposely made my way toward the side where she sat.
At some point, it seemed, she'd picked up the phone. Was she on the phone the whole time and I missed it? I asked myself. That's strange.
Yes, she saw me. I gave her that smile, that big phony smile you force out when you see someone whose appearance should make you cheerful. 
I paused thinking she'd wave me down, and we would sit and chat for a couple of minutes.
But when she waved, it was a wave of goodbye, a wave of get the hell away from me, I'm pretending to be on the phone, and I felt it in my shoulders. Like a push with two hands, like being shoved facedown into the snow.
I pushed the metal doorframe out and felt the freezing air all around me.
It was a cold day in D.C., and it wasn't just the single-digit temperatures.
I realized all at once that of all the interactions we have in a day, maybe half a percent of them - like 1 out of 200 - are actually real, with people who'd come running in the middle of the night if you were stranded and needed fifty dollars.
The other 99.5% percent are social media friends you don't really know, or other.
Good for keeping you out of solitary.
Bad for substituting for the real thing.
___
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole.
Photo by Nguyen Hung Vu via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Why Aren't You Happy Already?

This morning I was trying to find this coffee shop in uptown D.C., in the freezing cold.
The entire job consisted of walking southbound on Wisconsin Avenue. Four blocks from the train and I would have been there.
I took out my iPhone just to be sure. Aha! Go that way!  I love this thing! 
Gleefully I skipped along the cobblestones. It is freezing out here, effing freezing, I said to myself, but I am so, so happy that I will be there in five. 
Ten minutes later I was standing on a street corner, thinking angry things. 
I hate Google!
I hate this stupid phone!
I hate Washington, D.C.!
I can't even feel my fingers!
I HATE COFFEE!
(OK, that last part I definitely did not think.)
With a sigh of resignation, I realized that I cannot get directions off of any phone. Because I am directionally challenged. 
But somehow I figured it out and there it was. I virtually breathed it aloud: Oh, what a lovely coffee shop!
Coffee Nature in Washington, D.C. (4224 Fessenden Street NW)
It was early in the morning but there were already people there.
Mercifully the line was short and I ordered a coffee and espresso, extra light.
They knew enough to serve it in a mug.
The vibe in that place was so relaxing. One guy was sitting in a beat-up cloth-covered chair that looked like it had been rescued from someone's grandmother's attic. Next to him was a giant glass window.
He was older, and reading the paper with great intensity. His reading glasses fell forward on his nose and he didn't bother to move them back where they belonged.
"Coffee with espresso?" someone said and I turned around. 
Oh goodness look at me, all nervous...long heavy coat scraping against the sides of rickety chairs, balancing a heavy knapsack laden with too many computers. 
Why do we carry so many ways to get connected to the Internet?
I took the coffee gratefully and somebody cleared out a seat. The table was ill-balanced and the $4 liquid spilled a little this way and a little that.
It didn't bother me at all. 
I wiped up and looked out the window as I waited. What a peaceful scene this was.
Next to me a couple of people were talking about something or other. I was so close to them that the three of us might have been sitting together.
But we weren't, and I didn't care what they said. It was putting me to sleep, a kind of meditative, heavy daze.
My friend walked in and she yelled, "Coffee! Coffee! Don't talk to me until my coffee!" 
I laughed a big hearty laugh because I knew exactly what she meant.
"I totally hate people who don't love coffee!" were the words that jovially came out. And though they sounded stupid when I said them, and even stupider as I write, in my voice there was a kind of joy that is very hard to describe.
Kinship.
She got her coffee and they'd made a little teddy bear out of the froth. 
"How do they do that?" I asked. "Is that for real?"
"He's a MASTER," said my friend. And together we marveled at the coffee. 
The conversation went on, to here and from there, and if you ask me what we said I couldn't tell you. 
But I will always remember the thrill of being lost and finding my way, and this charming little place. And time out with a friend who gets it.
Are we happy? Who is happy? Who can really point to their whole entire life, or even a segment of their life, and say: Damnit was all good?
No one.
If there are happy moments they are only fleeting snippets, we're happy without even realizing we were feeling so good, and then it's over and we tell ourselves, Look at all the problems there are, you really need to do much better. 
Maybe we're chasing the wrong things.
Maybe the happy moments are already there, all around us. And all we need to do is shut down our brains and feel them.
Some advice I got from my smart D.C. friend.
___
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Cover photo by Andrew Taylor via Flickr (Creative Commons). Coffee collage screenshot from the Coffee Nature website.  

Brand Management: It's A Marathon, Not A Race

I've been on a healthy lifestyle plan for five weeks now. Basically a New Year's resolution.
Got on the scale yesterday after a two-week break.
Nothing had changed.
I tried to tell myself that it must be the blazer I was wearing. Also the shoes and the fact that it was nighttime. You know you lose 5 pounds between nighttime and morning, right?
But soon enough my resoluteness faltered and I was tempted to go home and fix myself a gigantic bowl of noodles. And cheese.
Fortunately then my rational mind took over and reminded me:

"It's a marathon, not a race."

I realized that having green tea and spinach and avocados was a long-term investment in my health, and it's not so much about weight loss.
Whereas eating a lot of noodles with accompanying muenster, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses would definitely result in getting seriously overweight.
I realized that the key metric for wellness is not weight but whole-self wellness. And that the right habits are going to get you there: healthy eating, drink green tea and water, meditate, sleep, and walk a little.
The same thing goes for your brand. It's not about rising to the top meteorically. It is about doing the right things every minute of every second of every day: most importantly, establishing a great organizational culture.
Sure you can rely short-term metrics as an indicator of how your brand is doing. But they're no good.
Just like you can go on a crash diet anytime and lose five pounds - maybe even 50.
But underneath the weight loss is a crack in your body's health system. You've strained it.
In business and in life, slow and steady and logical wins the race. Hire good people and treat them well; do the same with your body.
The kind of success you build won't be easy to dislodge.
You really don't want to be bragging today, and falling down off that wall tomorrow.
______________________
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole.

Handling The Difficult Questions - A Comment On Parshas Mishpatim

This week's Torah reading, Mishpatim, has a lot the reader may find troubling. "How can the Torah say such a thing?" is a natural response. But there is a difference between asking in anger and asking in faith. The truth is that there is always a good answer to your question, and it is the greatest pleasure to find it.
The joy of a real Torah insight can't be beat by anything.
Which brings me to Point 2. I am not fully observant, i.e. I use the iPhone on Shabbos as in right now, from an Orthodox point of view, what right do I have to speak about anything related to Torah?
My feeling is that too many people feel this way. Remember that just because some people observe some mitzvos like Shabbos to the full letter of the law, that doesn't mean they observe all the commandments. No human being can make that claim.
Renee Garfinkel my wonderful wise aunt brought me back from the brink of abandoning Judaism altogether. It was 2009 and we were taking a walk in D.C.
Renee said, "Dossy, don't give up your heritage. It is for you to claim and explore. That is your right as a Jew."
How many Jews feel they cannot speak up about anything Jewish because they aren't qualified? Well I'm calling b.s. on that.
The important distinction for me is not justifying what I don't do. Meaning, I accept the halachic definition and approach to observance as religiously correct. I do not say that the Torah is obsolete or has to be altered.
What's nice to see, in modern halachic discourse, is a growing emphasis on confronting difficult issues in a way that makes modern life livable, integrated with the secular world and pleasurable.
It is possible to live joyously in faith despite admitting imperfection. And despite the fact that the Torah will always say things we do not understand.

Halacha Is Not The Problem - It's The Approach

As I think about the issue of agunot and related matters that the Orthodox seem to have such a hard time grappling with, I realize like Freud says that most problems are overdetermined not to mention unconscious.

Meaning, the flaws in the system have nothing to do with the Torah and everything to do with the way some frum traditions have unknowingly distorted it, thinking they're doing the right thing.

These voices are strong because most Jews have walked away from observance, leaving it to the extremists to define what's in and out of the bounds.

Here are the characteristics of extremism that are troubling. All of them relate to one another.

Most important is a hyper obsessive detail focus - Looking at halacha as being about categorizing and sorting things and people into right behavior and wrong behavior. Talmudic knowledge, memorization and debate over the fine points precludes energy and emphasis on the big picture.

While this is great for people who enjoy learning the finer points of bugs on broccoli, this is a turnoff to people who think completely differently -- philosophically, emotionally, holistically, taking the big picture into account. Is all of this nitpicking really necessary? I mean do we really think the Jews coming out of Egypt were checking broccoli for bugs?

On the flipside of this almost OCD like approach to observance there is the inability to integrate ideas and practice. Looking at mitzvos the way a diamond dealer views a diamond, with their head in a microscope, picking apart the details, is good for grading the diamond but bad for understanding the principles of what makes one.

Related to the detail focus and inability to integrate is a deep suspicion of those who seek to provide a deeper meaning to the mitzva. Purveyors of Kabbalistic and Chasidic philosophy are viewed suspiciously, as cultish.

Generally, emotions are viewed as suspect. There is only dry logic, only this hyper-rational but illogical approach to life.

Which leads to a further problem. Beyond the literalism and the hyper macro obsessive focus is a tendency to dehumanize people by labeling them. And then, just like you throw out a rotten apple, you throw out the ones who are deemed "not kosher" and so a bad influence.

You throw out feminists because they don't conform to the Torah's images of a good wife (remember that Mishpatim had us selling our daughters as slaves and had Jewish slaveowners knocking out the eyes of their Jewish slaves and keeping them...so these images really need updating for the times.)

Or forget feminists...you throw out any woman (girl) who isn't thin and pretty and highly made up and a knockout with tons of money. Why? Because that's what guys want. And if you don't believe me look at the yeshiva forums. I do not believe the rabbis are sitting in yeshiva teaching young men about what a real Aishes Chayil is - because relationship stuff is covered in a very limited way in halacha, it's about rights and duties.

We used to have parents who actually told their kids what to do in very serious terms but their authority has been displaced by these so-called religious authorities who went to Israel for a few years and now everything they say is chapter and verse.

...continuing on, you throw out nonwhite Jews (although you pretend not to, it's okay if "there are just a few of them") because they don't conform to the Ashkenazic stereotype of a pale White guy starved half to death leaning over a Torah half the day and getting beaten up by a Russian peasant on the way home.

Again, time to update the thinking since there are millions of Jews (tens of millions actually) from Africa and elsewhere who are actually part of our people. We need to acknowledge and incorporate diversity, but we can't even get a handle on whether it's okay to put a disposable Tupperware in the office microwave.

In fact the modern ultra-Orthodox have a lot of trouble handling just about everything. When I was growing up things were much much different. There was a common definition of "normal" that went unsaid 99% of the time. We ate tunafish at the diner, but we didn't eat pizza at the pizza place. Normal! We walked to shul on Shabbos, but we didn't have a mechitza up at the Bat Mitzva. Normal! And so on.

Today we do not have great Torah sages to tell us to get over ourselves. Here is what I would like to see.

Understand that the literal nitpicky narrow observance of the law is NOT THE POINT.

Understand that the goal is to engage with the halacha so that it is a WAY OF LIFE. That means it's on the learned ones, the rabbis, to do what they can to MAKE IT LIVABLE and not just livable, A JOY. Just the opposite of being machmir (strict) about everything, look for leniencies within what is generally accepted as the law today.

And then go a step beyond to ACTION HALACHA. That means that if the current understanding of halacha is allowing an untenable situation to persist - YOU HAVE TO LOOK FOR WAYS TO APPLY THE PRINCIPLES OF HALACHA DIFFERENTLY. For example it used to be "snitching" to report child sexual abusers to the police. Yes! Can you believe that! But it's true. Now it would be horrifying if any Orthodox person said such a thing.

Similarly there are many young people who date in their twenties but aren't married yet. They are sleeping together. The halacha needs to pull its head out of its ass and find a designation for these couples. Maybe they are considered married. They should probably get a kind of divorce when they break up. Either way just telling them to "keep negiah" isn't dealing with it.

Also something is very wrong with the system when so many people are unmarried and yet they have to submit "shidduch resumes" and get genetic testing and get reference checks up the wazoo and on and on. Listen people we have to procreate, things change over time, and the focus should be on helping Jewish families learn basic values and earn a living and be part of a thriving community.

There is way too much obsession with Orthodox and Conservative and Reform and all the other denominations. It's almost like the one has cooties from the other. Just say, "halachic vs. non halachic" and be done with it. It's okay to admit you're not following the halacha at the moment. That is part of the problem, everybody has to be right and not only right, superior.

Here is another example, when a woman gets married and her husband knocks the hell out of her, that marriage should be annulled immediately. The woman needs protecting and a financial settlement from the man. And the same goes when it's a woman doing the hitting!

Other examples. When a rabbi takes young men into a sauna and stares at their private parts over a period of decades, he should be fired instead of provoking shul debates and continuing to write Torah opinions for a mainstream university.

What else. When a family kicks out their child because he or she is not religious enough, the community should have the brains to turn the local yeshiva into a dormitory for at-risk youth. Certainly it should not be the yeshiva itself that is kicking kids out because their sleeves are too short or they read secular books.

ACTION HALACHA. When it comes to putting on light switches on Shabbos, now there's technology that lets lets you do so in a manner that's halachically feasible. Instead of downplaying and discouraging it, SHOW PEOPLE HOW.

Covering your hair. It's a nice thing to do when you get married, but let's be honest the thing with shaving your head and wearing a shaitel and then a cloth over it is insanity and the rabbis should say so!

Come on!

The bottom line is that if you are Jewish then Jewish law belongs to you. Even if you aren't the most learned or observant person in the world get involved and speak up. If you don't do it then who will?

-- There is a lot more to say on this subject. --

Your Own Very Personal Rocky Moment

The Rocky myth is about Rocky winning.
That is why the classic Rocky poster shows him with his arm upraised, literally on top of his world. Philadelphia, known as "the city of brotherly love," but which he had to conquer through "blood, sweat and tears."
But Sylvester Stallone, who produced the most recent Rocky movie, Creed, has a different view of the character.
If you watch that movie closely, it's not about dancing around the ring - not at all. Rocky tells his best friend's son not to go into boxing, period. It's too dangerous.
The spirit of Rocky is your back against the wall. It's blood all over the boxing ring. As in the lyrics to the movie's theme song, Eye of the Tiger:
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive
Your personal Rocky is not the moment when you win the fight.
It's the moment when you're down on the floor of the boxing ring and the guy is yelling STAY DOWN STAY DOWN...
...and then the camera does a closeup on the bloody boxer's face, and we go into his head, and he's thinking I WILL NEVER STAY DOWN, I AM A FIGHTER AND I HAVE COME TOO FAR FOR THIS TO BE MY END.
Rocky is not about knowing you will win.
It's about knowing that you will probably die.
That's what separates a fighter from a fraud.
Is it fair? Well life is not fair.
Don't you dare stay down on the ground.
Gather your strength now.
GET UP.
___________
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole.
Cover screenshot via Rocky Wiki. Screenshot of Rocky with upraised arm via Wallpaperfo.com

Suggesting a New Global Brand: World Peace Cafe, by McDonald's

Very briefly: I was thinking about how Trader Joe's can't keep riced cauliflower in stock.
And about how McDonald's is always struggling to stay relevant, and reinvent itself.
About how McDonald's is a global symbol of America.
And about Bridge of Spies, where Tom Hanks (playing a lawyer defending a Russian spy) says that we have to follow the law, because the law is what makes us Americans.
All of this came together in my head and it occurred to me that a concept I've thought about many times - the World Peace Cafe - would be ideal for McDonald's to implement.
Think about it:
  • McDonald's is uniquely able to produce tasty, nutritious, cheap food on a massive scale.
  • McDonald's has already shown the capacity to adapt to domestic and global trends at its outlets all over the world.
  • McDonald's has experience purchasing and further commercializing standalone brands, as it did with Chipotle.
  • McDonald's brand values are "food, folks and fun" - perfect for a worldwide gathering place where we can focus on being diverse human beings who simply want to relax, grab a cheap meal, and let the kids hang out and run around a bit.
  • McDonald's is uniquely able to create a new brand that exemplifies American leadership concerning the world's biggest priority right now - which is for everyone to stop fighting, come together, and install some sanity so that we can plan our global future in peace.
McDonald's can unite the world around food.
And while they're at it, they can make the food inclusive - meatless, gluten-free, kosher-supervised, and halal - so that everybody can come in and enjoy it. So that the pipeline of food is both cheap and sustainable.
There is so much more to say here - we're just scratching the surface with this brief post.
I hope McDonald's sees this idea and decides to explore it. 
(Incidentally, if freelance help is needed...my rates are most reasonable :-)
___
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Logo concept by Dannielle Blumenthal; global peace sign art by GDJ via OpenClipArt.org (free for commercial use).

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