Monthly Archives: December 2020

Be Well…


by | December 22, 2020 · 10:07 am

Nothing New Under the Sun

He benefited from the wealth bequeathed by his father.  He inherited a politically stable country that was militarily stronger than its enemies.  His country was at the heart of a vast trading network that made it wealthy and spread its influence across the world.  Its’ fertile soil provided so much food that it exported the excess to neighboring countries. 

He set out to destroy all that.  He felt only contempt for the competent, experienced government officials he inherited and replaced them with sycophants loyal only to himself.  He built a new capital city in a remote location where he lived in an echo chamber surrounded by his supporters.  The working class that built his new city were underfed and overworked.  They died young while he lived in a palace and treated himself to the best food and wine available.

He created his own cult and demanded that everyone worship his new god.  Traditional religious leaders were unceremoniously tossed aside, and their treasures confiscated to fund the new cult.  His wife and children slavishly followed his lead.

While he was busy dismantling the existing order, his country’s enemies grew bolder.  Other great powers began expanding their territory.  His country’s allies begged for help but he ignored them.  He was too busy attacking his real and perceived enemies at home to notice or care about the threats at his own border.    

When he finally left the scene (due to his death), his country’s hegemony had faded.  Society was fractured, the economy was in decline and his country had lost about a quarter of its territory to other great powers.  His inattention ruined his country’s alliances and its allies shifted allegiance to others, including the new great powers.   

His surviving opponents moved quickly to restore order, reinstating the traditional government structure.   His cult was abandoned and replaced by the former religion.  His name was erased from the written record as was his wife’s name.   His children repudiated him and his cult in a desperate effort to salvage their own lives.

His name was…..Amenhotep IV, better known to us as Akhenaton.  He ruled Egypt at the end of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom.  His son, Tutanhkamon, was the last of that line of pharaohs and died young.  Ancient Egypt never again attained the cultural, political, and military hegemony that Akhenaton inherited.

Today, as we debate good versus bad leadership, Akhenaton is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle ( which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (

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The Other Side of the Couch – What It Costs Us

The woman was talking to her son, age seven. He was in tears. “I’m sorry, Robbie, but you’re just going to have to learn to control yourself. You can’t dissolve into tears over every little thing.”

Two little boys were having an argument over a toy. One child hit the other one. A parent standing nearby said, “Hit him back, Johnny.”

The little boy had fallen and skinned his knee. He began to cry loudly. His peers, slightly older and already wise in the ways of the world, taunted him. “What a crybaby – he is a girl.”

The preceding stories are typical interactions that happen every day, every week, every month, every year in our society. They represent pervasive attitudes toward raising young boys to be men. The message goes something like this: “It is not good to let boys grow up to be too sensitive. They will be ridiculed: they will not have what it takes to succeed in a competitive world. It MAY be all right for them to express some feelings when they are very young, but they should not be coddled. The last thing anyone wants is a son who is a sissy.”

Sensitivity to the experience of others, the ability to feel with another person in his/her joy or pain, is often regarded as suspect when it is displayed by boys or men. This attitude presents a significant barrier to improved world community.

A central task that faces human beings is that of maintaining a balance between self and other. Human as we are, we can neither live alone nor together; we are caught in an ongoing tension between yearning for connection and affiliation and yearning for autonomy and independence. The experience of empathy – a process during which a person experiences the experience of another AS IF it were her own and AT THE SAME TIME is clearly aware of her own self – clearly mirrors that ultimate humanity.

The empathic process calls on the individual to perceive affective cues, both verbal and non-verbal, which serve as indicators of the other’s emotional state. The individual, perceiving these cues, takes the role of the other, experiencing the other’s feelings vicariously. Empathic ability is complex, requiring a clear self-concept, the ability to connect affectively, and flexible ego boundaries. Empathic ability has been posited to be a strong indicator of effective human functioning and maturity. A major component of effective parenting rests on parental ability to empathize. Inability to empathize, on the other hand, has been linked with a variety of antisocial behaviors (narcissism, in particular).

When empathy is broken down into its various components (perceptual, affective/cognitive, communicative) boys and girls do well on all aspects of tasks other than the motivation to attend or perceive. In other words, girls notice the non-verbal and verbal cues necessary to arouse empathy. They seem to be more perceptually attuned to pick up on these cues. Boys, when trained in research settings in doing this, were equally able on the other parts of the tasks. Differences in measured empathic ability diminished with direct teaching of perceptual skills to boys.

The implications of these findings are both heart-rending and hopeful. The ability to empathize is an essential human skill. Our culture encourages girls to have it because it fits with our definition of female. Boys, who need it just as much and who benefit from direct teaching of how to pick up on perceptual cues from others, are instead taught to deny their own feelings and to ignore the feelings of others.

Boys may require actual specific teaching of skills that girls acquire as part of their identity. Boys seem to be deliberately trained away from acquiring this set of skills because of well-intentioned parents’ fears for their future success in an out-of-balance society. Young boys are placed in an emotional
catch-22 by this process -subject to deep emotional arousal, yet not given the tools to understand it or to release it into altruism or prosocial behavior.

Our world is poorly served by this unfortunate situation. Something little boys and men need – full emotional, flexible responsiveness – is being withheld from them, through no fault of their own. Knowing that it can be and must be directly taught is essential information for our world’s future functioning.

Parent: “Johnny, you hit your friend. What is he doing? “
Johnny: “He is crying and holding his arm.”
Parent: “If someone hits you, how do you feel?”
Johnny: “I feel sad and mad.”
Parent: “How do you think your friend feels right now?”
Johnny: “Sad and mad.”
Parent: “What can you do to help?”
Johnny: “I can give him a hug and say I’m sorry.”
Parent: “Good job, Johnny – I am proud of you for noticing that your friend is sad and mad and needs help.”

This little scenario is an illustration of two-step perspective taking that helps a child understand the beginnings of empathic connection. It works! As we enter a New Year, as we leave behind a year fraught with pain and distress, may we all take heart from the good and decent men and women who are learning and teaching the lessons of empathy and care needed by all human beings.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at .

Contact me at

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Tagged as boysempathygirlsHopemasculinitymental healthnarcissimSusan Hammonds-White

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My December Dilemma

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

Every year, right around this time, I start to feel stirrings.  All around me I begin to hear holiday (actually Christmas) music, decorative lights appear on the houses in my neighborhood and of course, there are the sales.  It’s hard not to be drawn into the frivolity and cheer.  My religious tradition however, has little, if any, public displays involving our winter holiday of Hanukah.  Traditional Hanukah music runs to the minor key variety and, let’s face it, “The Dreidel Song,” just isn’t particularly sexy.  Not to mention the home décor of the holiday is, well, let’s just say in order to stay away from the tacky, it’s crucial to use a LOT of imagination!  The traditional foods might be the best part; anything cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight nights, rather than for just one, is on the menu.  Jelly donuts and potato pancakes are a highlight.  It’s enough to make any nice Jewish girl yell, “Oy!” and, “Bah, Chumbug!”  (Imagine that in Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s voice and you’ll get the picture). 

Every year I try to write something meaningful, spiritual and educational about my Jewish traditions.  There are, after all, a lot of lessons to be learned about bravery, perseverance and hope in the Hanukah story.  During the darkest days of the year the candles we light encourage us to look for the light in our hearts and our souls.  But this year has felt like one long, dark night.  Much has been lost to all of us.  My usual sunny disposition has felt clouded by fear and sadness.  Can eight little multi-colored candles really do much to lift my spirits?  Can they do more than a 10-foot, pine smelling, Christmas tree filled with sparkly ornaments and blazing lights?  (I’m not suggesting I’d get a tree lest my parents rise up from their graves in a hellish nightmare of a, “Goldie’s Dream,” from, “Fiddler on the Roof.”).  It’s no wonder Jews of all ages sometimes feel a touch of envy at the glorious, festive and public spirit of Christmas. 

But, and here’s the deal, the fried potatoes, the jelly donuts, the chintzy homemade decorations and the simple candles, are all part of MY tradition.  They are the outward expression of thousands of years of suffering, courage and survival.  This has been a year like no other in recent memory, for sure.  But my people are no strangers to coping with tough times.  Jews comprise less than one-quarter percent of the world’s population and yet, our numbers are increasing, albeit slowly.  Perhaps this is due to better health outcomes and longer life spans.  But perhaps it is also due to the observance of traditions like lighting Hanukah candles and singing in a minor key.  In the midst of chaos, illness, death and fear, holding onto familiar rituals helps us all, regardless of religion, remain standing.  Tacky paper decorations and greasy food marks the passage of time and serves to remind us that this, too, shall pass.  My December holiday may not be flashy or glamorous, but the memories it evokes do lift my spirits and carry me both back in time to happier days and spin me forward into an unknown, but surely different, future. 

I still sometimes feel like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, just able to look but not go inside.  Thankfully I can appreciate the music, I can visit places with lights and a tree, and I can celebrate another year surviving the darkness that has surrounded mankind.  I can also take comfort and pride in a jelly donut or a paper chain and know that I come from a people who survived the worst of times and still manages to celebrate eight crazy nights with some little colored candles.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at .

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