Posted by Nicole Behnam
“Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character.”
-William Arthur Ward
Let’s be real here. You belong to a community. In fact, you probably belong to many communities that have formulated through several social interactions with the same people. If you are a parent, for example, you maintain social ties with other parents whose children attend the same school as your own kids—and then you have separate sets of friends; friends from work, from high school, from childhood, from temple, et al.
You maintain fervent opinions about each and every person, but refer to them in terms of what is most commonly acknowledged. Daniel is an oncologist, Janet is a pediatrician, Marcy is an entertainment lawyer, Simon is a friendly person, and Steve, along with his wife Jennifer, have two beautiful children.
Because most of the conversations we have with friends are superficial and “on the surface”—meaning they don’t penetrate into the depths of our lives—we have been trained, as a society, to talk about who we are in terms of what we do and what we have achieved.
The frequency of family parties, religious celebrations, dinners, and other functions coupled with a tangled web of business associations, leads to an imbedded desire to prove ourselves as worthy of belonging to the upper echelons of society—to always and forever be relevant in the eyes of others. In fact, this seems like a necessity for some people.
I have seen the woman who anxiously tries to win the approval of everyone she congregates with. She wears the latest Prada handbag one day, and the latest Fendi handbag the next. Her children do fairly well in school, but she scrutinizes them when they don’t win awards or competitions.
Her temper is out of control but she ensures that her husband donates over $5000 to her local temple, because her family name has to be on the Donor’s List plaque, not because she genuinely cares. Social encounters are a den of comparison during which she is actively evaluating people. When friends arrive, her smile always masks the sense of inferiority she feels. She denies any shortcomings. How is she? Each time, “great thanks, and you?” She wants to be perfect. She is obsessed with prestige.
At some point, this becomes problematic. At some point, society needs to draw the line between actual greatness and prestige. At some point, it is not worth it to kill ourselves in the hopes of being held to a high regard by our friends. It is worth everything in the world, though, to defy this mentality, and to achieve for the sake of achievement.
In her book, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand writes:
Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men.
He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion—prestige. A stamp of approval. Not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: “This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.” Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.
Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched. Those things which are sacred or precious to us are the things we withdraw from promiscuous sharing. But now we are taught to throw everything within us into public light and common pawing.
My belief is that we can undo what has been taught to us by society—by this particular type of society. If winning the praise and admiration of others is the only driving force behind our actions, we will never be happy. A man will never be happy, for example, if he goes to medical school merely to please his parents, to be able to say to his uncle, “I am a doctor.” If medicine is not his true passion, this achievement means nothing.
But once we recognize this fault in ourselves, we can appraise ourselves for who we are, not through society’s calculated criteria or expectations of us. We can begin to live for ourselves, to learn for the sake of learning, not for the sake of knowing, to laugh uninhibited, not just to act in accordance with social cues, and to succeed for the sake of self-esteem and advancement, not for a pat on the back.
4.22.13 at 8:29 pm | As for the bouncers and promoters whose only form. . .
4.12.13 at 5:40 pm | We weren’t built to sit at our desks or scroll. . .
2.5.13 at 2:33 am | He tried to cut himself off immediately. He even. . .
1.15.13 at 2:18 am | Are antidepressants being prescribed too often. . .
12.15.12 at 1:45 pm |
12.3.12 at 12:23 am | Leah passed away due to a sudden stroke. I. . .
9.25.12 at 12:26 am | “. . . the best hope of humankind is to. . . (213)
2.5.13 at 2:33 am | He tried to cut himself off immediately. He even. . . (55)
4.22.13 at 8:29 pm | As for the bouncers and promoters whose only form. . . (31)
December 4, 2011 | 6:51 pm
Posted by Nicole Behnam
“A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into.” -Ansel Adams
I am sure of three things: I wasn’t in Japan when the tsunami struck in March. I wasn’t blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes crashed on 9/11. And I also wasn’t present for Hurricane Irene, among other events.
Many of us look through graphic pictures of these events on news sites when catastrophe hits, clicking through the slide-shows and later watching the video footage of each event in its entirety. I always wonder: what if I was there?
I imagine standing blocks away from the Twin Towers. The sound of a loud, buzzing jet engine streaking above me, crashing, and then exploding would propel me to look back at the view I was likely admiring 10 minutes prior.
Broken windows with flames coming out of them would explain the smell of smoke perfuming the air as people ran around frantically calling their family members, hoping for an answer. I would never forget this. And how could I?
I would physically feel the shock of terror, hear the voices of fear and loss of hope, smell the destruction, taste the smoke, and catch a glimpse of the view—my own personal video footage, and essentially, my own snapshot.
With my camera phone—or camera if I had one—I would zoom out and take a picture of history. A woman next to me would be doing the same thing. And across the street, I would watch an old man take his own snapshot; each person with a different view, a different angle, a different encounter, and thus, a different story.
A picture can tell us nothing more than what we have captured in limitation. Every picture is evidence of how little our eyes permit us to see, and exposes us to what we may have missed.
The 45 Most Powerful Images Of 2011 by Buzzfeed virtually showcases pictures that have been judged to be the most powerful images of 2011. Photographs of destruction, riots, conflicts, massacre, death, and mourning comprise a plethora of the images provided. Very few pictures of victory and success are displayed, however.
What this tells me, is that as a people, we are more moved by destruction and loss than we are by achievement or tranquility. In my mind, there are two problems we are facing: Nature against people, and people against people. We cannot fight back against the earthquakes and the tsunamis, but we are always willing to fight against each other.
In 2012, I hope to see pictures of development, innovations, achievements—pictures of developing countries blossoming. I want to see pictures of starved children being fed, of shattered cities being rebuilt, of enemies shaking hands.
I want to be uplifted by stories, not saddened by them. I want people to be empowered and inspired, not despondent and defenseless. At the very least, I want to see the clouds spread and the sun shining.
November 21, 2011 | 9:25 pm
Posted by Nicole Behnam
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” -Meister Eckhart
If you’re anything like the people I know, you have a roof above your head, food to eat every day, health insurance, and several other luxuries—yes, luxuries. You have family members, you have friends, you have teachers, you have employers. Some of you even have employees.
Even with all this, you have experienced stress, you have experienced a cold, you have experienced sadness, and you certainly have experienced grief over your losses. But you are still moving.
We are all blessed in one way or another, but for some reason, it’s so difficult for us to express gratitude. Of course, when it’s a requirement, or an act of decorum, it comes easy.
“Thank you for having me,” we’ve been trained to say to our hosts. But life isn’t always a party. It’s a roller-coaster ride, and the people who are appreciative and thankful will never crash into the cement. That’s how powerful attitude is.
I raise my glass to those who can see beyond their sorrows, to the people who lose loved ones but make a concerted effort to laugh and spread joy, to the people who can hear the music in songs, to those who listen to prayers and strive to answer them, to the people who turn a moment into a beautiful memory that can last forever.
This Thanksgiving, I urge you to be thankful—to appreciate anything and everything you can think of. I asked some friends what they are thankful for this year. These were some of my favorite responses:
“I am thankful for having my dog Dozer for 12 years. Though he’s no longer here, he brought my family much closer. He changed our Shabbat dinners. He changed me as a person and taught me how to love. He taught me responsibility. The feeling you get when you rescue an animal is very unique. It’s almost like they know you are rescuing them. Dozer taught me unconditional love and friendship. It makes you realize that all the materialistic things people look for in relationships, don’t really matter. You can’t evaluate friendship with a Mercedes-Benz or a multi-million dollar home. It’s about unconditional love and support.” Joseph Simantoub
“In the entertainment and fashion industry, it’s hard to find like-minded positive people who push you to do your best. I am so blessed to work with a great team and have such supportive friends around me. I’m grateful to have a mom who has supported me through everything I have accomplished. I am also thankful for my ability to learn and work on my talents, and for my ability to give back. That’s the most important.” Natalie Yuri
“I have too much to be thankful for to fit it all in one sentence.” Jonathan Yagoubzadeh
“I’m so happy to have my mom who takes care of me when I’m sick, to have my dog who licks my face and plays with me when I’m sad, and to have my grandma who surprises me with sabzi and pumpernickel bread and chocolate. I’m also thankful for heat pads.” Soshiance Azadian
“I am thankful for all the people who have done something for me—who have helped and contributed to me and my growth this year.” Andrea Pazmino
“I recently realized how blessed not only I am, but how blessed everyone around me is. For the last few months I’ve been exposed to a different world—a world I read about in books. The fairy tales we read about are a reality for most of us. We should all be thankful for just being healthy. Some people don’t know if they will live until tomorrow, and what pushes them over is a mere pill or even several pills. This thanksgiving, I’m thankful to G-d for making me and everyone around me healthy and happy, and for my ability to be grateful for all this.” Josephine Aminpour
“I am thankful for my true friends, tight-knit family, my health, my happiness, and my amazing hairstylist Jordan Seban.” Lauren Dorfman
“I am thankful for having the leanest, meanest friends around me, and for my family, happiness, and health. I am also thankful for the amazing people who have allowed me to help them overcome their battles and fight for their rights.” Richard Pourgol
“I’m thankful for everything that didn’t go as planned in my life and for the challenges because they fueled me to re-route my path. I’m also thankful for all the opportunities that have been presented to me, but I’m more thankful that I was able to grab them.” Jessica Naziri
“I am appreciative and grateful for being given the opportunity to choose my own path in life, make my own mistakes, and pick myself up with a strong group of people around me.” Carolyne Amin
“I am thankful just to open my eyes and be able to see every morning.” Rodney Rabbani
“I’m thankful for love, for my five senses, for my dogs. I’m thankful for my education, for my loving and supportive family, my good health, having food and a roof to sleep under every night, and of course, to be alive. The list is endless.” Diba Mesriani
As I copy and pasted these, I noticed that each friend was thankful for something different. Andrea was inundated with work, but she was able to reflect on and appreciate the friends who stood by her this year. Soshiance was overcoming a cold, but she was still able to express gratitude towards the little things in life. Rodney simply appreciated the ability to open his eyes in the morning. Keep in mind, sight isn’t a luxury. Though most people are born with it, Rodney was most grateful for his ability to see.
I was progressively more and more inspired by each response. Joseph lost his best friend Dozer just days ago. Nevertheless, he was able to articulate his appreciation for that friendship over the phone for minutes on minutes.
And as for myself, I am thankful for parents who are concerned when I’m gone for too long, because I know I am loved; for a brother who expects more from me than I expect from myself, because it pushes me to set higher goals; and for friends who constantly reach out to me, just to make sure I’m happy and smiling.
Every Thanksgiving, there are several families who are not just thankful, but who are anticipating, yearning for, and excited to be receiving Thanksgiving meals from food pantries. It was disheartening for me to read that the L.A. Food Bank was having a tough time helping food distributors since donations went down 50% this year.
No, I am not an authority figure, but I feel qualified enough to declare that this is unacceptable. Leftover food is always on display at Thanksgiving meals. At the very least, people can donate that.
In addition to being thankful, and in light of the donation shortages this year, I would like to ask everyone to donate to food distributors, even if it’s just a 10 cent donation.
Here are some links to local organizations that feed families on Thanksgiving:
Donate to the Jewish Family Service Thanksgiving Food Drive
Donate to Help The Children
or Donate to the Los Angeles Mission
Wherever you turn, there are people who need you. Anything you do can make a difference. Remember the words of John F. Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Thank you, and have a happy, thankful, and giving Thanksgiving.
November 20, 2011 | 9:10 pm
Posted by Nicole Behnam
Charlie Sheen was out of his mind months ago. Web sites showcased his quotes from interviews, people were reposting his lines (words) as their Facebook statuses, and on Twitter, virtually everybody was #winning.
Although I laughed through many of his interviews as I watched him so eloquently try to convince Katie Couric and several others that he had tiger blood running through his veins, I found one of his interview responses enlightening, to say the least.
The concept of “winning,” as Sheen meant it was still unidentified and ambiguous to me, and to the rest of the world. What did this mean? Winning in what sense? A reporter from Radar Online attempted to demystify this term:
UNIDENTIFIED INTERVIEWER: Winning? Some would say that you`re defeated now.
CHARLIE SHEEN: They can say that, but what kind of car are they driving? What kind of girls are in their home? I said girls, yes.
My first instinct was laughter, but then I noticed that although Charlie Sheen’s statement was characterized by superficial thinking, he had a point. No, I’m not suggesting that fancy cars and attractive women determine the quality of a man’s life. Rather, that Charlie Sheen is equipped with a mentality that would dramatically transform anybody’s life for the better:
HE DOESN’T CARE WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS OF HIM.
Perhaps this statement doesn’t seem so powerful to you, but bear with me. Of course, we all care what people think. Even I care. I wake up in the morning, and I choose an appropriate outfit that matches the venue I’ll be arriving at. I’m not trying to impress anybody in particular, but I want to make sure, at the very least, to accommodate the “scene.”
What Charlie Sheen refuses to care about is different. He doesn’t care what labels are being used against him; he doesn’t care which reporter doubts him; and he will not accept anyone else’s definition of “winning.”
One of the greatest mental freedoms is truly not caring what anyone else thinks of you. Your actions will not be governed by a potential rumor or somebody else’s opinion or judgment. You can define the term “success” for yourself. You can live up to the standards you set. And most importantly, you can live in accordance with the values that comprise your personal code of ethics.
Nothing other people say will ever disturb your peace if you adopt the right mentality. And always remember: If you care what people think, you are their slave.
November 17, 2011 | 5:29 am
Posted by Nicole Behnam
Google and T-Mobile teamed up Wednesday night for the official Google Music release party at the Mr. Brainwash studio in Los Angeles.
Busta Rhymes opened for Google, teasing the audience with old-school beats before he announced his official signing with Cash Money Records and his excitement about Google Music’s presence on the Android market.
While Maroon 5 was performing, I listened to Paris Hilton ask at least three different people when Drake was performing. “I &*%#ing love Drake,” she kept repeating. Other celebrities were preparing their mobile video-cameras to tape his performance.
Within 5 minutes of Paris Hilton’s incessant and repetitive questioning, loud screams and shrieks from Drake’s fan-base made it clear he was performing. Meanwhile, Paris was texting her BlackBerry PIN to some guy she had just met. Who knows—maybe she didn’t notice Drake on stage. Maybe she was “on one.”
I was standing in front of thousands of people looking up at him. I looked behind me. I watched girls scream, raise their hands hoping for some acknowledgement—I even saw one girl tearing as she held her “Take Care” album up against her chest, as if she was praying to the beat of “Make Me Proud.”
Google Music will be available to customers in the U.S. for the next few days, but Google hopes to reach 200 million Android users globally.
Some of their music is free—other songs are priced at 69 cents, 99 cents or even $1.29 — the same prices on Apple’s iTunes. Adele and Jay-Z’s music will be available for purchase right away. Dozens of Busta Rhymes, Coldplay, and Rolling Stones tracks, however, will be available for free.
I wonder if Paris Hilton’s one-hit-wonder “Stars Are Blind” will be featured on Google Music. Ironic title for her song, no?
November 15, 2011 | 1:39 am
Posted Ilan Lakritz, contributor from The City of Los Angeles
As you have all probably heard (or purposefully ignored), NBA players rejected the owners’ latest offer. At this point, it is almost a certainty that David Stern will cancel the entire season as the players prepare to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
While this is unfortunate for many obvious reasons, the owners and David Stern’s incessant defamation and fabrication have reached new heights. How badly have their actions reflected on them?
Well, players just announced that attorneys Jeffrey Kess and David Boies, who worked on OPPOSITE sides of NFL labor negotiations, will represent them in their class-action suit. Kessler released the following statement to the Associated Press: “The fact that the two biggest legal adversaries in the NFL players dispute over the NFL lockout both agree that the NBA lockout is now illegal…speaks for itself.”
Since the lockout was initiated 138 days ago, owners and players have tirelessly bombarded fans with continual image campaigns. Owners have branded players uninformed, unorganized and greedy, while players have less assertively assumed the role of victim.
These messages, tailored directly for the fans, aim to amass support in this ever-dividing issue. In turn, it is up to the fans to determine the way we evaluate the aforementioned news.
Regardless of your inclination, thousands of protestors occupying cities across the country should serve as a reminder to the value of self-determination. While there are 30 less teams today than there were a year ago, there are still two sides very hungry for your support. So be a fan, pick a side.
November 12, 2011 | 11:49 pm
Posted by Nicole Behnam
“A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.” -Douglas Pagels
“Bestie,” “Partner-In-Crime,” “Other Half”—choose your preferred outdated cliché. We all have at least one, and if you’re lucky, you have at least one who maintains every characteristic that is crucial when it comes to being a good friend. In my Interpersonal Relations class at USC, an entire chapter was devoted to the topic of friendship.
Our friendships, according to the textbook, are indispensable sources of pleasure and support. Close friendships involve constant acceptance, support, enjoyment, caring, knowledge, trust, equality, and authenticity. Surely, not all of our friendships are comprised of all of these characteristics, which is normal. According to the book, here are some positive components of friendship to be thankful for:
Respect. We usually admire our friends and hold them in high esteem.
Trust. We are usually confident that our friends will behave benevolently towards us.
Responsiveness. Friends provide attentive and supportive recognition of our needs and interests.
Capitalization. Friends usually provide respond eagerly and energetically to our happy outcomes, sharing our delight and reinforcing our pleasure.
Social Comparison. We compare our beliefs and abilities to those of our friends in order to understand ourselves better.
Social Support. This comes in various forms, including affection, advice, and material assistance. Some people are better providers of social support than others are, and the best support fits our needs and preferences.
The first three components are crucial. The latter three are bonuses.
At this point in my life, I am grateful to have found the friends that I have. Without their support and recognition, my accomplishments would not feel as rewarding. I also love knowing that I have been a friend to many, that I have encouraged my friends to achieve, celebrated with them when they succeeded, and supported them during times of need.
And like every other human being, I have learned from the friendships I have lost.
A few months ago, my friend sent me a link to an article titled “Six Types of Toxic Friends and How You Can Deal with Them.” I began reading, and immediately, I thought to myself: “Wow, how wonderful it would be if we could all surround ourselves with only positive, caring friends—and eliminate the negative, unsupportive ones.”
It sounds harsh, but I can assure you that it isn’t. I’m not suggesting that you drop any and every friend who has ever made a mistake or offended you. Forgiveness plays a huge role in the maintenance of friendships, but there are some people who may cross the line—one too many times.
Something to think about: If you eliminated every person who has ever made a mistake from your life, you would have no friends left. Accept sincere apologies and believe that people can change for the better.
How to identify an unhealthy friendship:
Do you have a friend who consistently questions you or doubts you, to the extent that you begin to judge yourself? A friend who labels you or uses semi-abusive words like “idiot” or “crazy” in a cruel, non-joking context? Let these types of people deal with their insecurities on their own.
At the same time, make sure you are being a good friend to people. Be supportive because you never know what somebody is going through. Watch your language, not just profanity. Be sensitive to people’s feelings. Be the friend you want to have.
“Bad People?” They don’t exist. The people you think are bad are merely victims of unfortunate circumstances. There is no need to judge them, but there is a need to distance yourselves.
If you constantly notice your “friend” making statements characterized by comparison, jealousy, or doubt, get out now. Frankly, some forms of criticism are simply not constructive.
People can be supportive and loving, but they can also be cruel and condescending. I prefer supportive and loving.
Here’s an UrbanDictionary-type example of what a statement from a supportive friend sounds like, and what a statement from a condescending friend sounds like. Sense the tone:
Sarah: I’m so happy! I just passed the California Bar Exam!
Supportive Friend: Sarah, my love, I’m so proud of you! You’re going to be such a wonderful and successful attorney!
Condescending Friend: Sarah, hun, you passing the Bar Exam is great and all, but are you sure you want to be a lawyer? I feel like you’re better with kids than adults. Maybe you should just be a mommy and not practice law.
As my friend Joseph once advised me: Cut the fat out of your life.
Here’s the link to the article, by the way.
November 10, 2011 | 12:44 pm
Posted by Nicole Behnam
I am more than familiar with the persecution Jews have faced historically. My parents sent me to private Jewish schools since kindergarten. Chronologically, in first grade, I learned that Jews were once slaves in Egypt. It sounded horrific, but they were freed so I paid no further attention to that topic.
In second grade during Purim, I learned that the Jews were persecuted by Haman, but to be honest, it was more fun running around in funny costumes and eating the triangle-shaped pastries, so I didn’t care to delve deeper into the subject.
In fourth grade, however, I heard about how a man named Adolf Hitler killed 6 million Jews. And for the first time, I was not distracted by the happy ending or holiday associated with the Jews’ freedom. For the first time in my life, I was terrified by a story.
Even when I was in fourth grade, the Holocaust was disturbing on a number of levels. As I got older, the Holocaust affected me even more. In high school, I went on a trip with 6 Holocaust survivors and visited the death camps where most of them witnessed their family members brutally murdered by Nazis.
And two weeks ago, I walked through the interactive exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance with my dad. The experience was eye-opening, to say the least.
What stood out to me was their display of “The Hitler Letter”—a letter that changed the world. I read the letter several times as my dad went ahead and looked through short biographical displays chronicling the lives of individual Holocaust survivors.
I hate to use laudatory adjectives when describing Hitler, but he really was an evil genius. He was charismatic, intimidating, and very, very powerful. His political savvy helped him expel, segregate, and methodically destroy a majority of the Jewish population in Europe.
For the third time, I read the letter, and though I didn’t agree with any of Hitler’s statements, they must have been pretty convincing in 1919, six years before the publication of his book, Mein Kampf:
Everything which makes men strive for higher things, whether religion, socialism, or democracy, is for [the Jew] only a means to an end, to the satisfaction of a lust for money and domination. His activities produce a racial tuberculosis among other nations.
Essentially, Hitler is claiming that a Jew only values money, and that every expression of good or act of kindness is executed in pretense, as a front, or as a means to acquire more money than he already has. It’s unfortunate and upsetting that so many leaders were ignorant enough to believe this diabolical nonsense, but I can see why an uninformed leader would want to corroborate with Hitler’s despicable attempt to scapegoat the Jew.
Here’s some more nonsense from the letter:
If the danger represented by the Jews today finds expression in the undeniable dislike of them felt by a large section of our people, the cause of this dislike is on the whole not to be found in the clear recognition of the corrupting activity of the Jews generally among our people, whether conscious or unconscious; it originates mainly through personal relationship, and from the impression left behind him by the individual Jew which is almost invariably unfavorable.
How ironic that Hitler’s impression left behind HIM is utterly and invariably unfavorable in the eyes of every human being with a soul, with a mind, and with a heart.
Of course reading the letter is disturbing, but I urge you to visit the museum, to read the letter in its entirety, and to familiarize yourselves with the voice of cruelty, because it will never die out—but the least we can do is speak out against evil. Look what happened when we didn’t.