Friday, September 4, 2009


By Sheldon Stoff and Barbara Smith Stoff

We have attended a “town hall” meeting. It was a long evening. There was much noise and emotion, seemingly no understanding, and little reasoning. Positions seemed to have been firmly taken even before anyone had spoken. We had innocently thought that there would be an honorable presentation of thoughts and facts and that this meeting would offer an opportunity for deeper understanding of the healthcare reform issues. This was not to be. If only for our own self-therapy, we are writing about our thoughts about this experience, while still recovering from a kind of sick feeling.

There were three wonderful speakers...don't know who they were. One was a man who stood up to share with us the reading he had been doing of the actual bill. The crowd laughed at him, and the congressman interrupted him to call for a sudden expression of yays and nays from the entire assembly. Exactly what they were yaying and naying about, I was not sure. Once the shouting subsided, the man was allowed to continue. At this point I began to feel some anger that this man, who had attempted to do his homework and become informed, was laughed at and basically prevented from speaking. Another was a man who brought a five year old girl with him "to see how democracy works"...He spoke of our need to learn to care for each other. And then there was a woman who spoke movingly of her feelings in response to the irrational fear and selfishness stirring in the crowd. Other than that...the atmosphere was just plain toxic and irrational. We have tried to write something of value to counterbalance...a feather in the wind.

The Republican congressman who had called for this town hall meeting presented his position, but did not present “the other side of the argument” for rebuttal or even discussion. There were posters, signs and slogans, and even loud cat-calls by some attendees. Those supporting President Obama were in the minority, and seemed more reasonable in their behavior. Those siding with the congressman seemed absolutely sure of themselves, and their opinions and were very passionate in their spontaneous vocalizing. Very few seemed to take notice of the realities, or points of view, of the others. There was no meeting of minds, no reconciliation, no understanding—just a hardening of positions. It was an experience in futility.

That night both of us had a very restless sleep. Even our dreams seemed to be invaded by all those wildly gyrating placards… “What would Jesus do?” … “No socialized medicine.” …”Healthcare is a right.”… “Don’t take away my freedom!” Often, in our meditations, as we ask for clarity, our inner guidance somehow offers an answer. This morning, after some time, it came:

“You are responsible to your brothers and sisters. Let that responsibility guide you on this path.”

So, for us, this is the answer. This is a moral responsibility, a mutual and communal responsibility. We need to join quietly together, as a nation, to forge a new path toward Healthcare Reform. It must meet the test of responsibility to our brothers and sisters. We emphasize responsibility to…Responsibility includes responsiveness to our brothers and sisters. There is a difference between responsibility for and responsibility to. There is a difference between giving the man the proverbial fish and the proverbial teaching him how to fish.

It seems that the direction of the looked-for solution to the problem is guided by the basic assumption about the nature of our human society. One thought, or assumption, is that it’s everyone for himself or herself. Another thought, or assumption, is that it’s “we’re all in this together.” Both assessments say something about the basic belief about what is possible for humankind, and whether we as individual participants have some say in the direction humankind takes for the future. Together, let us create a more benevolent path.


Robert Reich's blog on the subject of these 'discussions'....

Wendell Potter | Against Wall Street's Health Care Takeover
Wendell Potter, Common Dreams: "I would like to begin by apologizing to all of you for the role I played 15 years ago in cheating you out of a reformed health care system. Had it not been for greedy insurance companies and other special interests, and their army of lobbyists and spin-doctors like I used to be, we wouldn't be here today."

Editor’s Note: Now Professor Emeritus at Adelphi University, Sheldon Stoff taught a course on the philosophy of Martin Buber while he was studying for his doctorate at Cornell University. During in his long career as an educator and spokesperson for Humanistic Education, with inspiration from Dr. Buber, he established the International Center for Studies in Dialogue. He also received the Outstanding Educator of America Award in 1974. He is author of The Two Way Street, The Human Encounter, The Pumpkin Quest, Universal Kabbalah: Dawn of a New Consciousness, and the newly released The Western Book of Crossing Over: Conversations with the Other Side. As well, he is co-author, with Barbara Smith Stoff, of the forthcoming Partnership Community: Listen to the Gathering Voices. Barbara Smith Stoff, teacher, painter and poet, is producer of Emmy Award winning “Poems of Wonder and Magic.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


By Sheldon Stoff (Excerpted from Universal Kabbalah: Dawn of a New Consciousness)

As I begin this, I write with a heavy heart. It is October 12th 2001, not long after the destruction of America’s World Trade Center in New York on September 11th. This horrific deed has been attributed to Osama bin Ladin and his Al Qaeda network. It would be easy and much safer for me to bypass that tragedy and define “freedom” in an abstract way. It would also miss an opportunity to shed light on a very misunderstood concept. One that holds immense opportunities in our daily lives. An understanding of “freedom” is an understanding of who we are and what we are really about.

We could react to such hatred in a typical way, a superficial way, a way that is often used to define freedom in America.
1. Have the desire to accomplish your goals.
2. Have the ability to accomplish your goals.
3. Have the power to accomplish your goals.

Acting in this way, we would be performing an action little different than that of the drug addict or of Osama himself (an individual who has no understanding of the concept of freedom). It would be an act of vengeance, hardly a response of freedom of thought as I know it. It would be an act based on hatred for the individuals and their ideals. You cannot act in both freedom and hatred at the same time. Osama was pleased with the loss of so many human lives even though they were guilty of no actions deserving such a fate. Understanding a more significant level of freedom is what this chapter is now all about. It will also enable us to fully appreciate the depth of insight in Rabbi Abraham Kook’s statement that “…the greater the freedom, the greater will be the level of holiness.” [Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, Lights of Holiness (Paulist Press, New York) 1978, p. 213]

The concept of freedom entails more than physical movement, more than physical action, even more than the absence of mental compulsion. Freedom is, essentially, spiritual activity motivated by love. Even as I write in the midst of war and great uncertainty we can, by inner effort, rise above revenge. Our thoughts can soar, regardless of these external circumstances, into the pure air of freedom. The many examples of noble thought during and immediately after the destruction of the Twin Towers attest to our ability to transcend physical conditions. For you and I to be free we must overcome inner and outer conditions, whether favorable or adverse. We can become our own person! We can act out of our essence! We can act as we really are! Our spirituality cannot be lost in a time of great need. It is our key to both growth and action.

When are we, as individuals, free to be ourselves? We become masters of ourselves when we have achieved a harmony of thought, action and Being. If we respond automatically to any action, horrible as it may be, we act without control of our own will power. There is then little of the individual in such response. Such action ignores who we are and what our values are all about. In its undue emphasis on externals, it loses sight of our inner quest, our primary need for self-conquest, to never act in hatred, to act out of our core, our spark.

The finest guide in our quest for our higher self, the only self which suits the individual and benefits the world, has always been found in the self-forgetting concepts of sacrifice and active service to humanity. Without our willingness to sacrifice any limited self advantage for the whole which becomes dearer than self, we are doomed to pursue the kinds of self-aggrandizement that has always ended in self-defeat.

Throughout history our great sages have sought to lead communities of people to the light and power of such ideals as that of rebirth through the giving of ourselves. Today, each of us must discover these ideals anew if we are to progress on the path of decency, maturity and spirituality.

For each of us to think in freedom is to overcome stereotype and tradition, religion, regionalism, nationalism, gender and peer pressure. It is for the individual to consider how the pure ideal can be imaginatively, efficiently and lovingly realized in action. It is to overcome our bias of self-importance in order to truly know who we are. With the help of our inner spark we can execute that which is knightly and just for all. We can act in freedom. We can act in love. We can act out of our spiritual core. They are one and the same.

On this level of experience our intuition is awakened. The person using only intellect as a guide is alienated from those about him or her. That individual becomes simply a spectator in life. When we combine intellect with loving intuition, the balance brings about wisdom, freedom, responsibility and creativity—the goal of human achievement.

A society of free individuals, capable of rising at critical moments above inner and outer compulsions, becomes the goal of an enlightened civilization. The individual who searches for meaning in life comes to feel the pain and joy of the hour’s claim on his or her soul. Such a person begins to chart his or her own course and to shoulder social and spiritual responsibility.

Ours is the beginning of an age in which external restraints are crumbling. In such a situation we have the rare possibility of making our own decisions. We can walk on the thin edge of freedom that rises between the abyss of self-immersion on one side and the abyss of self-abandonment on the other. We were born with free will. Whether we use it for good or evil is our responsibility! We are completely responsible for our actions.

An aspect of the growth toward freedom lies in the development of independent thought. Society must not be afraid to help each of us confront the ultimate questions:

Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life on earth?
It may well be that the most relevant challenge the individual can face is the time-honored one of learning to know who he or she is. The inner spark can be found. We make progress in this encounter as we come to recognize our essence within: a spirit in a physical body!

Out of clear thinking each of us must determine where we ought to go and what we ought to do. The individual can experience himself or herself as both commonplace and sacred. Our consciousness can expand until all about us comes alive and we can experience our oneness with all that there is. We can experience the reality of oneness, of unity. Each of us, and all the world, is symbol and the symbol is to be penetrated. Reality is to be known! When loving intuition joins intellect in the complete act of thought, a realization of the wonder, sacredness and beauty of the earth becomes the joy of the free person. When we resonate with the spark within only then are we acting in freedom! We have always been given free will. When we act from the spark within, our essence, we are acting from our core. We are fulfilling our essence. It is our identity. When we surrender to another, even if it be to a perceived God, we have lost our free will and the reason for incarnating. We have given up our perceived identity to another. We have never identified with our essence. Surrendering our will is the opposite of freedom!

Today, it is vital that the extremists weigh their passions. Action based on hatred or lust is base and unworthy of humankind. It is never free. It can never favor the cause of free men and women. Buddha’s words are as true today as when first spoken:

He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me: In those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.

For never does hatred cease by hatred here below: Hatred ceases by love; this is an eternal law.

Each of us must understand our motives. Our action can result from the balance of intuition and thinking if it is to be a step forward on the path. The conquest of our base self is the painful, laborious task of our time. It is also the gateway to our upward climb.

The concept of freedom means, essentially, acting out of spiritual motive, not religious motive. Freedom is permeated with love. Without a spiritual love for the deed there can be no freedom of action. Mark this truth, we are, each one of us, destined for a life of love, a life immersed in spirituality, a life of freedom. They are one and the same.

To fail in this quest is to miss the meaning of our time. To fail in this quest is also to guarantee individual and social disaster.
Freedom of action and action resonating from the spark within are the same. Our actions are free actions when they are based on our essence. Our essence is our spark within, placed there by the eternal One. It is also called the soul, always connected to the eternal One. It alone is always our center. It brings sanctity to each of us. It tries to help us on the climb to spiritual awareness, awareness of our unity with the eternal One and of all creation.

Since our soul is always connected to the eternal One, as we seek to act out of our essence, out of what we now recognize as our soul, we are also thinking and acting out of our source, the source of our creation, the eternal One.