Ari Sytner

Is Religion Something to be Ashamed Of?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Religion often gets a bad rap. We live in a world where moderate religious folks rarely make the headlines. It is the radical extremists that always seem to get the bulk of the attention, making the rest of us look bad.

With such a negative light cast on religion, why would anyone wish to be involved with faith or a religious community?

Even in the mental health arena, religious people have historically been viewed as “unwell”. Sigmund Freud himself established this fundamental belief in the field of psychology. After all, if a person truly was normal, healthy and well, why would they turn to some invisible, magical higher power to run their lives? This ultimately suggested that people of faith are somewhat crazy!

Yet, I recently surveyed a number of research articles that tackled this very notion as to what a life of religion means for one's wellbeing. Not surprisingly, the research shows that people of faith are actually far better off than Freud suspected.

When it comes to dealing with stressful and painful life-crises, people of faith are found to have a higher level of “stress-buffering”. This basically means they have a higher threshold for dealing with life’s challenges, particularly, those of high-intensity pain and trauma.

For example, when comparing the coping mechanisms of couples that have tragically lost a child, those who have strong religious beliefs have reported far better outcomes for coping and healing than those who do not.

Why might that be?

There are a number of explanations for this phenomenon. Some suggest that when a person has faith,faith community it gives them hope and optimism. Rather than falling into the grips of despair and depression, the person who has faith, can be carried through hardships, simply by holding on to the knowledge that they are not alone. They live with the comfort that they can be rescued by God from their darkness.  Furthermore, they find comfort knowing that everything in life happens for a purpose – even hardships which cannot always be understood. Their relationship to a higher being, also allows them to channel their feelings through prayer, which can be a meditative, cathartic and healing process.

Additionally, the research suggests that a person of faith is often connected to a religious community of like-minded people. Therefore, when a hardship may strike, they are supported by a church, synagogue, temple or mosque – filled with friends, family, and a community of people to help get them through difficult times.

On a family level, religious families report having higher rates of satisfaction in marriage, improved physical and sexual health, lower rates of divorce, domestic violence, suicide and substance abuse.

On a societal level, it is often through religious Soup-Kitchen-1communities that charity, philanthropy and social capital emerge. In other words, so many of the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and educational initiatives are born in religious institutions, aimed at improving the world around us.

When I was a child, I recall that religion was something to almost feel embarrassed about. If I proudly wore a head-covering in my personal life, I might hesitate before wearing it at school or in the workplace for fear of being judged or discriminated against. Yet today, we have moved beyond those feelings. We have evolved to a greater level of tolerance and acceptance, where we can better support and respect the diverse religious needs of those around us.

Unfortunately, extremists of many varieties have hijacked the good name of religion. Too often, there is a stigma of irrationality, anger and fanaticism associated with religion, which may prompt many ordinary religious people to feel the need to conceal or subdue their religious lives. When those among us who are more "enlightened and progressive" look down upon the religious community as being antiquated and outdated, or as something we are just stuck with and must tolerate, it stands to push the many benfits of religion away. Yet, as a truly progressive society, it behooves us to turn to the successful models found within all faiths and religious communities and explore ways to learn from them and collectively support society around us.

There will always be extremists and religious fanatics who hog all the attention. Society, however, must rise above that, and keep in mind that those are the exceptions, and perhaps the ones that Freud was most concerned about for being emotionally or psychologically unsound.

While each religious community must maintain their distinct viewpoints and values, the common strengths and benefits that we share should be recognized and celebrated by all people.

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Here’s a Quick Way to Stop Those Embarrassing Texts

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

The pen was once mightier than the sword. Today, there is something even more dangerous – the send button.

I am not afraid of the words I write, for they are easy to edit, undo and delete. The part that scares me is that little send button. It represents a tiny, but dangerous window between myself and the rest of the universe.

Who hasn’t experienced the embarrassment of watching a text message being sent, just as your brain registers the autocorrected version of your text? Instead of telling someone, “ I love you”, you might have just accidentally said, “I loathe you”. Slight difference, right?

What about those times where you sent the right text, but to the wrong person? As one of my clients explained, “My neighbor Jody was really annoying me, texting me day and night. I was so frustrated that I texted my sister to tell her how much I can’t stand Jody. The only problem was that instead of texting my sister, I accidentally sent it to Jody”.

Who hasn’t been copied on a group email from their manager, but inadvertently “replied-all” when responding to their colleagues regarding their ongoing frustrations about the boss?

I shudder to think about how many relationships have been derailed, how many jobs have been lost and how many people have been devastated by such impulsive and silly mistakes. All of these could have been prevented if only a little more restraint was exercised before pressing send.

Abraham Lincoln was famous for composing scathing letters to his critics, where he would unleash his wrath against them. The only caveat was that he would seal the envelopes and place the letters in his desk, never to actually be delivered. He found this exercise to be cathartic, allowing him to say what he felt, but to take great care to not hurt the feelings of others. This form of restraint is a perfect example of how one should pause before pressing the send button.

I have implemented a practice of my own, which I call, “The Slow Send”.

Whenever I am sending a text, Tweet or email, I press my finger on the send button, but I do not let it go for a few seconds. Often enough, during that brief moment of reviewing my message, I will notice an error in what I have said, or to whom I am saying it. Without lifting my finger, I can then slide it over to the side, which resets the send button and prevents the message from being sent, allowing me to correct it before it gets away from me.

While we are so blessed to have so many forms of awesome communication, we must be careful in how we use them. The fast pace and impulsive nature of life around us is aimed at tripping us up and, therefore, requires extra pause. I am glad to hear a lot of awareness regarding the dangers of texting and driving. Perhaps the conversation should start by realizing how dangerous texting could be just while standing still.

Consider using a “Slow Send” and please share below to comment and let me know if it works for you! 

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How to Have a Business You Can be Proud of: Why Venture-Philanthropy is a Game-Changer

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Years ago, an older man visited our synagogue once each month to make a modest donation. Although I thanked him each time, he always gave the same reply, “rabbi, please don’t thank me, I do it because I am selfish. I just enjoy the way I feel when I give charity”.

Whether helping individuals or organizations, everyone has different motivations for why they donate, volunteer or help out. In the corporate world, there are new massive trends which encourage charity and volunteerism.

Why would a company care whether their employees donate to charity? Why would corporations like Apple and Google offer programs, where they match the charitable contributions of their employees?

It could simply be because they want to be a part of the culture of “do-gooders”. It might be because industrial psychologists have suggested that employees are more productive when they feel that they are helping the world (not just selling technology). Or, perhaps they give so generously to avoid the extra tax burdens, which will inevitably hit their multi-billion dollar bottom lines.

Regardless of their ulterior motives, you have to admit that great things are happening as a result of these corporate trends which encourage kindness and philanthropy. But, let’s be clear, most companies do not exist, nor were they created just to bring social welfare reform to the world. Only as a result of their incredible success, are they able to give back to the community and help the world.

Imagine, however, if we flipped the model. What might it look like if a company were formed exclusively to help the world, while also yielding a profit?

I recall once partnering with a very generous oral surgeon, who invested in an ice-cream franchise. I curiously asked him why he was expanding into this market, if he was already maintaining a highly successful and lucrative medical practice. He responded, that he works as hard as he does just to be able to give more charity. However, he was frustrated by his own financial limitations.

Therefore, instead of donating $200,000 to charity, he invested it in a business, which was going to yield more than double his initial investment.  Then he would donate every penny of the annual profit to charity. Additionally, his kindness was bringing a family-friendly business to the community, as well as offering employment to a number of people. Many other small businesses will equally allocate a tithe of at least 10% of their profit to go directly to charitable causes. Thus, the more successful they are, the more they can give back to their community.

It is this win-win-win model of Venture-Philanthropy, which puts the desire to help others as the foundation and motivation to running a successful company.

I was recently introduced to another such inspiring company called Book Bugs (www.bookbugs.net). Their motto is, “where reading meets giving”.

They are basically a monthly book club for kids, where children can receive a brand new book each month to help inspire them to read. Here’s the best part - for every three books that your child receives, a brand new book is donated to an underprivileged child.will

When I heard their mission, I simply could not resist and immediately signed up. While three of my kids love reading, I have not been able to motivate my youngest 3rd-grade daughter to read. I’ve tried getting her all the “usual” books (Harry Potter, Babysitters Club, Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, Judy Blume), none of which kept her interest for more than 10 minutes.

When I joined Book Bugs, they had me fill out a form telling about my child’s interests and hobbies. I was shocked when a few days later a book that I had never before heard of arrived in the mail. It was absolutely perfect and she could not put it down! Clearly they know more about what 8-year-old girls like to read than I do!

Now, my daughter looks forward to a new book every month. But more importantly, I love that I am also helping the world, by supporting a company that is giving the same gift of reading to a less fortunate child. (Its good to note that the company is running a promotion now, where you can get your first month for free with the promo code: GIVEBOOKS2015).

I hope that more companies will embrace this model of Venture-Philanthropy, where their business model will foremost aim to do great things in the world, beyond the wonderful products or services they offer.

While it feels great to donate and help other people, I would hardly call any act of charity selfish! Anyone who helps others is doing a good deed. But if we could direct our entrepreneurial motivations to be built upon compassion and altruism, perhaps we could inspire and help more people in the process. I am not suggesting that a company earn less and report smaller profits to their shareholders. Rather, to change their definition of success altogether.

Perhaps the very success of a company should be measured, not my how much they bring in, but my how much they can give back.

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