Spheres of Influence

Through our modern 24-hour news cycle, constant Facebook posts, and countless tweets, we are relentlessly deluged with negative stories about the drug epidemic, murder, violence, bigotry, discrimination, racism – you name it – and it’s exhausting! I ask you: how does knowing this information make your life better? Although we could join organizations, or otherwise work toward making a difference to improve some or all these issues, most of us can’t seem to fit the actual doing something into our day; and yet, when we hear or read this information, we probably feel depressed, unsafe, and powerless – maybe even angry. So, ask yourself, why do you use Facebook or Twitter if it makes you feel bad or hopeless? Why invest time in those activities? Is there a faster, better way to get that information that doesn’t have the built-in negativity? Do we need to know that “news” at all? The truth is we are not powerless; in fact, we are very powerful, However, we give up our power when we use our resources in pursuits which take time and energy away from what we truly can change within our spheres of influence.

We all have limited time and energy, so what we choose to give our time and attention to tells a lot about who we are and what we deem important. We are fortunate to have choices, though. Some may feel they don't have that luxury because the kids need to be driven some place, or work requires longer hours, or there is homework that needs to be done. But the truth is, that you can choose to do all or none of these things. Action has consequences, sometimes negative, sometimes positive. Why do we choose to do the things we do in our lives? We must get something out of it or we would stop doing it.  Wouldn’t we? Every Shabbat, our faith asks us to stop for 24 hours and review the week we just experienced before we rest. In that period of reflection, we’re to ask ourselves what we did well and what we could have done better. Because so much of our lives seem to be on auto-pilot, this is an amazing opportunity to reassess how, to what, and to whom, we allocate our resources.

Caring for ourselves, our family and our friends, both mentally and physically, and those activities we participate in, these are the spheres of our influence - and what we influence is people. The way we speak to ourselves and to one another, our actions, the time, the attention we give, these are where our power lies. Instead of looking at Facebook posts, you could have had a cup of coffee with friends. The time spent reading Twitter could have been spent checking-in on a friend in need. It’s a matter of where we put our focus. By reallocating your time and energy away from activities that deplete you and into reaching out and building family and community, you create a feeling of safety and belonging – reenergizing. The Sh’ma talks of G-d as one, and if you believe that there is a soul in you and a soul in others and that all souls come from and are connected to G-d, then each of us is connected through that common source. Therefore, when we affect one another, we are affecting ourselves.

One beautiful and sometimes difficult concept of Judaism is that we don’t abdicate, we co-create. Yes, things happen to us, but we have the power to decide how we respond. We are not only affected by the world, but we can affect the world. Seeking to understand the tenets of Judaism, attending services, studying Jewish works, being a friend, helping others, and doing good are all diverse ways of reminding ourselves of the power we have to create our world.

Becoming more aware of how your time and energy are being depleted, changing your habits, and refocusing your time and energy is a gradual process that takes work and patience. Be gentle with yourself, becoming something new takes time, but the investment is worth it.  Make a commitment now to take back your own power – like it says in the Pirkei Avot, “if not now when?”

As we cycle through this year, let the holidays echo this question, “Where are you choosing to spend your time?” Passover reminds us that we have been released from slavery and that every day we must release ourselves from what enslaves us. Shavuot reminds us that we have a blueprint, the Torah, to help guide us and remind us we are not alone. Sukkot reminds us that, although our structures might be fragile, we are given a bounty to claim. And the High Holy Days asks us to open our book of life, review it, and make choices for what we want to become in the new year.