Friday, May 25, 2018

To End Child Sex Trafficking, Let God In

As a young woman I decided I could not — would not — give up my right to self-determination. I would not “mindlessly” conform to the strict Orthodox Jewish lifestyle within which I was raised.

Other people in my life, people very close to me, took another path. They weren’t mean about it, although some were pretty judgmental and still are. At one point I recall someone telling me that when the Final Redemption comes, with all its painful birth pangs, only the “Torah-true” minority stands a chance of being saved.

I remember going to the Orthodox synagogue nearby one Shabbos, very uncomfortable in my overly warm body armor of an outfit. Children in tow, I hid out in the furthest of the back seats in the back row — a habit I maintain to this day — and listened uncomfortably to the sermon.

“Beware of fake Jews!” the rabbi said, at some point, rousing me from my usual “eyes glazed over” stance. Instantly I was furious, as he continued to lecture from the pulpit about people who only pretend to live an Orthodox lifestyle, while secretly promoting immorality.

I say all of this to you to let you know how fully I get it. I grew up on all of the debates about hypocrisy and religion, how people seem to either observe the first half of the Ten Commandments (between humans and God) or the second (human decency between one another). My childhood was filled, filled filled filled with righteous anger at those who judged me, and judged my family, too.

Somehow, no matter where we went, we just…weren’t…good enough.

But over the past 4–5 years or so, and the last two in particular, I have come to see the world in a different way. As more and more victims of child sex trafficking come forward, I see that an immoral lifestyle is the “gateway drug” to this disgusting cancer on society — and that we, humanity, are in Stage 4.

What does it mean to be immoral? At the most basic level: Denying that we must obey God to the best of our ability.

If you are a Jew, and I’m sorry if this offends anyone, the “best of your ability” means putting the Torah at the forefront of your life, and assessing your worthiness by how many of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) you keep.

If you are a Jew, you are right to distinguish between a Torah-true lifestyle — one that centers around the observance of the mitzvot — and a lifestyle that does not.

Most of the world is not Jewish, and so your mileage may vary.

No matter what religion you are, of course, this doesn’t mean putting people into your convenient buckets of “good” versus “awful.” It is about assessing behavior.

Child sex trafficking is simply the natural extension of a world where people view God as optional. Without the fear of Him, without the need for a conscience, every extreme behavior can be explained and normalized.

How bad have things gotten? You don’t need a research paper or a lot of links. Just look around you, at the filth that populates your typical Hollywood movie nowadays.

Even the most seemingly benign family movie is chock-full of pedophilic symbolism, to the point where one film, “Show Dogs,” raised such an outcry that it was literally pulled out of the theaters to edit out some obviously inappropriate portions for children.

Today Harvey Weinstein was arrested for rape. Speaking to reporters, Weinstein lawyer Ben Brafman actually tried to argue that Weinstein is innocent because everyone else is guilty too.

It is a remarkable quote, because in effect Mr. Brafman is indicting the entire industry. Let’s read it in full:

“Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood, to the extent that there is bad behavior in that industry… Bad behavior is not on trial in this case. It is only if you intentionally committed a criminal act, and Weinstein vigorously denies that.”

In other words, forcing women to have sex (RAPE) because of your clout in providing a movie role is okay, because it’s standard operating procedure. Why should Weinstein pay for behavior that he didn’t perceive as wrong?

Unfortunately, most of us are uncomfortable with the discussion of what behavior is actually moral and what isn’t. Deep inside our souls there is that voice, that nagging voice: “Who are you to judge?”

It’s classic Western democratic secular thinking — you do your thing and I’ll do mine, and the only rule is “stay out of my business.”

A not-so-fun fact: “Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked” is #1 in the “11 Satanic Rules of the Earth.”

You don’t need me to tell you that things have gotten pretty bad out there — or as another rabbi put it in his sermon last week, “The world has gone off the deep end."

The insanity of a world without moral boundaries is corrected, he noted, by the giving of (and adherence) to Torah, a moral code. Doing what is right puts the world back on its axis; it bring sanity to all.

At the end of the day, you will be as good or as bad as you want: Nobody will know your deeds, except at the end when you meet your Maker.

But if you think that we can end the pervasive sexualization, sale and even cannibalization of our world’s young simply by engaging in a rational discussion about “win-win solutions,” I would have to politely disagree. You need very little godless genius to make seemingly “logical” points with their smooth-talking, prime-time punditry.

I leave you with this thought: God is real. And He will make His justice known to you, either while you’re living here or after you’ve passed.

The moment of His judgment is arriving.

Repent your sinful ways now, and speak up for the victims if you can.

Before it’s too late.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. CC0 Photo by Republica via Pixabay.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Very Vivid Dream

A few nights ago I had a very vivid dream, which seemed important.

I hesitated to share it at first. First of all, like most people, I don’t normally share my dreams (social norm). Second of all most dreams are only personally relevant - they connect to your unconscious thoughts. Third, it’s disturbing - it’s too much information.

But then a few things happened.
  • On this trip I had the opportunity to write about #pedogate, connecting some dots.
  • I reflected on something Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (a”h) said - that when one travels it is exceedingly dangerous, but that the journey is also spiritually important. That in each place you travel you have something spiritual to rectify. 
  • This morning, the day we’re leaving, the time on the clock was exactly 6:13 - which is the number of commandments in the Torah - and I had been seeing this number everywhere for a few years while undergoing a spiritual reawakening.
Putting all that together it dawned on me that the dream was a significant one and should be shared.

Also, I recalled just after posting this, I took the picture below before Shavuot (the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah) and posted it with a caption to Facebook  about wanting to save the children. In the photo, if you look closely at the top right, a ghostly childlike face appears in the clouds.

So here is the dream. It was divided into three parts. Not sure which came first or last anymore.
  • I had opened a complex puzzle to put together and had a question about the letter “B,” which I think refers to my last name, Blumenthal. I received back a wrapped (closed) puzzle with the answer inserted over the closed box. The whole thing had a clear wrapper over it, which I either could not or did not open.
  • A female toddler, which in the dream was Haitian (I knew this) was present. I had the feeling that “I don’t want to keep helping you,” like I had been involved in caregiving for her and wanted that job to be done. She walked over to me and took my hand as if to plead with me to keep going.
  • A group of American soldiers (for some reason I thought they were Marines) was in what seemed like a “hellhole” in a foreign place. It seemed like the Middle East. They stood at the door of what seemed like a bunker. Behind me were “bad guys” who I knew were child sex traffickers. It was dark and dangerous. The Marines set off a bomb and said something like, “Goodbye, f—ers.” I ran toward the door as the place exploded.
The dream seems self-explanatory to me — a combination of unconscious thought and a clear message — but you’re welcome to interpret it.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. CC0 photo via Pixabay.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May God Heal Us This Shavuot

Most Jews don’t even believe in God, or they’re agnostic. I think a lot of them don’t even know they’re Jews (it goes by the mother). But I was raised to be very, very religious, and I’m not anymore.

I mean I sort of am, but not totally. Not enough for the modern Orthodox yeshiva person, certainly. Maybe enough to let me in to the conversation — from a significant distance.

You leave there and you can’t go back anymore. And although I am mostly happy with my choices, every once in a while a deep feeling of sadness overtakes me. And it’s not something I can easily explain to you.

There is this shul we go to, every once in a while. The tunes are the same as when I was young. Just enough that I can sing them, and follow without too much trouble.

The rabbi and his wife, I think, pretend not to know that I’m not “really” religious. After all I know the words and I wear the long, sweeping skirt to the floor, when I go there.

But there is a veil in that shul, an invisible dividing line. Everyone on the one side of it, who’s part of it and never questioned or left, knows every other one. And you can join the club if you renounce your past life and take everything on without question. Even the things which aren’t necessary, the things which make no sense to you — just because the community decrees it.

I left all of that a long time ago. The fabric is on the cutting room floor. And every Shavuot I have to ask myself, as we receive the Torah again and I am standing there as I supposedly did on Mount Sinai, what portion of that book is really left for me?

In real life I try to be a good person. I’ve taken on a cause, have I mentioned that? Human trafficking and child sexual abuse. Did you know how many kids, including Jewish kids, suffered from it? Probably not.

But it doesn’t make up for the void in my heart. It doesn’t heal the cracks. And even if I wanted to go back to some semblance of “that,” whatever I was supposed to have learned growing up, it wouldn’t really work for me.

I don’t fit in anywhere.

The rabbi read the Ten Commandments in shul (synagogue) today, not once but twice. I listened with intent, and reflected on how little I know of even those few instructions after all these years.

Here’s the main one, as far as I’m concerned: “I am God.” Everywhere I go, and everything I do, involves and rotates around that central, basic commandment. To know that God is real.

Building on that, I’ve been listening to other people a lot more this year. It’s been hard to get out of my own head, and empathize with their experiences. But every time I do it — every time I put down my own helmet of preconceptions and just listen to what others are saying — it is so damn worth it.

God, I selfishly ask You for healing this year. Draw me closer to You. Help me to know and understand Your commandments better, so I can do a better job of observing them.

Help me to be more empathetic to people, and in doing so to help them heal, so they can also draw closer to You.

I can’t go back to being innocent. I wish I could; it makes me cry; I just did not understand things back then.

If I could go back to my younger self, and hold her hand, I would explain to her that God gives us many tests of faith. And that one of them is encountering other Jews who are resolutely, determinedly evil — despite their social standing and superficial observance of the commandments.

But that isn’t going to happen. What’s done is done and over.

And frankly, whatever I’ve been through, it’s far less bad than so many others.

God, this Shavuos please heal us. So we can accept your Torah wholly, and be Holy for you.

The way a newborn infant is.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by eyelyas via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Deconstructed Branding & The New Economy

I’ve been on Twitter a lot for almost two years now (@drdannielle), really thinking about what’s going on in our world and what I see and how I feel about it.
And I guess, all this time, operating under the paradigm that if you’re doing something heartfelt you shouldn’t be asking for money for it.
Money Is Not The Root Of All Evil?
Someone challenged me about that paradigm and said,
“Why shouldn’t you be making money doing the things that you’re good at and that you love?”
In the moment, I responded that for certain things I do, like self-help blogs, I really felt that God was kind of speaking through me, and that it would have been antithetical and even heretic to try and squeeze money out of something that came from a place of purity.But at the same time, I had to really ask myself whether something is wrong with me, that I can’t seem to come to grips with the issue of money in certain ways. And we went through a couple of examples of people who make money from inspiring other people — Pastor Joel Osteen came to mind. And that that’s perfectly fine.
Similarly, people make money from doing journalism, and that’s perfectly fine too, even though it’s supposed to be a kind of social function, in the public interest.
Social Media Fuels The Ethics Discussion
This kind of ethics discussion, around the morals of money-making and the public interest, seems pervasive on social media as people continually are challenged about their motives.
In particular there is a deep contempt for shills, people who pretend to be part of the truth movement, but who are “really just trying to make money for themselves.”
I don’t really want to get into names here or point to specific feuds, but there have been several noteworthy bust-ups over the course of the past few years, and they all seem to boil down to the same thing:
  • Is this person legitimately trying to support themselves through contributions to their research?
  • Or are they just a liar and a cheat, claiming to have important “insider” information for the rest of us, while furtively just building up a self-serving, highly monetized brand?
No-Contradiction Personal Value Creation
When I thought about it — when I put my thoughts into conscious words — I decided that it’s fine to make a living honestly, even when that means making money in association with a cause you care about. That in fact, if you care about what you’re doing, all the better.
Getting paid to do good research or journalism, for example, is not a sin. It is, rather, exactly what we should be doing.
As workers, we should not celebrate living a society where we have this kind of false divide between the corporate world, the world of work (which is not necessarily bound by the principles we share) and the world of personal endeavor (which is, and which is driven by passion).
It seems to me that it’s not even healthy to live like this.
I think of it from the perspective of the New Economy: In the non-bubble-based society, value creation is a virtuous circle, where I give you something of real value, and you give me something of real value in return. It is a place where 1 + 1 is exponentially greater than 2.
How Bad Branding Took Us Down
I think where we went off the rails — as a society, as a country, and as a world — is to fall for the worst possible use of branding. And that is to create the perception of value where none really exists.
Good branding, of course, is when you develop a relationship with your customer that is based on actually providing the products and services you promise. They trust you, not because you’ve lied to them, but because they know that you will truly deliver.
Bad branding is a pyramid scheme, where you come up with a name and a logo and a tagline and a mission and a value statement and a set of rules for speaking to people. Nobody really believes any of it. But everybody likes making money. And at the extreme, it is the money they promote and not the many human, beating hearts that power it.
When you spend your time promoting and building and building this image and focus on image alone (or even mostly), it isn’t very long until the whole thing collapses, because your bright idea was copied and picked up by someone else who does it better. In this fake brand world, the best you can hope for is to develop an idea with promise, work it to the point where an investor actually believes it, and cash out quickly and profitably to them.
This is not sustainable. The same way that living on credit leaves all of us as debt slaves, and leads to the wanton printing of currency, which becomes little more than worthless pieces of paper.
Sustainable Value & Time as The Ultimate Currency
Before our economy collapses, we have the chance to rescue real value, but not before we get out of the “get rich quick” way of thinking.
What does work is a model of sustainable wealth, where the ultimate currency is time, because time is the only thing that is finite, that cannot be replaced.
What would you do if you had unlimited time?
I know what I would do.
  • Write, draw, and take photos. And give a lot of that away for free.
  • Spend more time with my family. Take care of them, properly. Help out my kids, to help pay for their life, to get them going, to take care of future grandchildren as much as possible.
  • Make a nice Shabbos table.
  • Give more charity, and volunteer.
  • Go back to school, to teach more, write academic papers, and maybe even get a second Ph.D. myself.
  • Learn technology — all kinds of technology — because it’s absolutely wondrous.
When we deconstruct the worst, most unethical kind of branding — taking money for nothing — and substitute the generation of exciting, useful, life-affirming products and services by trusted providers — there is no contradiction between people doing valuable work that matters to them, and achieving financial freedom. There is no psychologically unhealthy schism between doing drone work that squashes your soul and makes you uncreative, and pursuing for a profit the things you currently do as “hobbies.”
What This Means for Employers
As full-time jobs become a thing of the past and the entrepreneurial economy grows, how do employers retain their most talented employees — people who generate more value for the organization than they consume in salary?
The bottom line: Let them be entrepreneurs while staying on the payroll.
This is not a new idea, but it has so many ramifications that have gotten lost with the notion that employees should be at their employers’ beck and call almost 24/7/365.
Thinking about your retention rate, recall that you are not focused on all employees but rather only those whose presence in your organization is critical. You want to be investing in them, and in particular their time — time to pursue families, personal interests, hobbies, and yes, even their own businesses (as long as they are not using your intellectual property to do it).
From a risk perspective alone, most people would rather have a steady source of income and a community of colleagues they know and care about. And so if they know that their employer is going to support them, they are more likely to stay and deliver value for the long term than cut all ties.
If your workforce is more “disposable,” meaning you do not rely on their intellectual or emotional labor, then the question really becomes why you’re hiring these people in the first place and not automating their jobs.
The Employee’s Perspective
Flipping the perspective now, how do you develop the skills to finance your life?
I’d say this really means re-conceiving your education in a very fundamental way.
Because the economy is moving so rapidly, you need a few things:
The capacity to operate technology in a skilled way — because technology-based jobs pay significantly more than their non-technology-based counterparts.
The capacity to do practical things, like be a locksmith, a tutor, a dog-walker, or anything where you can step in and fulfill an immediate need. Again, you do not know where your income will need to come from in unpredictable times.
The ability to learn new skills rapidly, to seek out providers of training at low or no cost (better yet, ways to learn on the job) — to learn how to learn.
The fact that most people will have multiple types of careers over the course of their lives — both paid and unpaid, as they are caregivers for children and/or the elderly — is another reason why personal branding really is dead, as I’ve said a few times lately, and why we should very definitively nail its coffin shut.
Encourage Yourself, Encourage Others
In the New Economy, there is no shame associated with earning money by openly and honestly declaring what you do well and using it to provide others with real value — as opposed to spending your time “building brand equity.” By default when you are an ethical value generator, you are doing just that.
But many people are still enslaved by debt, and if not debt then a debt mindset. So one thing you can do — not just to be a decent human being, but also because increasingly we want to work with people who demonstrate basic human values of integrity, respect and kindness for others — is to encourage other people to realize their potential in the workplace.
It is important that we create, together, a world where money becomes a source of socially positive ambition, and is not associated with the need to sell out, be corrupt, or trick people into buying things.
Wear your agenda on your sleeve and you’re fine. Hide it, and the New Economy won’t tolerate you.
Have a good day and may God guide you to do what is right.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by the author.