I have adopted a new mantra: 'No Unfunded Mandates.' We should accept no new projects or tasks, without allocating adequate resources. In our personal life, we should not add anything new, without taking away an equal burden.
The congregants (at our temple in Everett) have provided their own examples for this 'solution' as they did for the term to describe the problem, the state of our lives, 'overwhelmedness.' Of course, taking on unfunded mandates is a primary cause of overwhelmedness. If you do not suffer from overwhelmedness, then you are an exceptional Jew. If so, please contact me to help me understand how you manage.
We often fantasize that we can add more, with no cost. We will simply become more efficient. Usually, we recognize this as fantasy. Most of us manage our time about as well as we can. Most of us are fully booked, or overbooked, already. So if we add something, we must give up at least an equal something else.
Quite often, we do not choose what to give up. In those cases, most of us make the same sacrifices or trade-offs. We lose our health, such as sleep, exercise, stress, and rushed eating; our quality time with family and friends; and the one most of us forget ' our work on our highest priorities ' those projects which we always intend to do, because they should be our legacy, how we want to be remembered.
We always fund our mandates. My hope is that we choose the funding, instead of defaulting to health, family, and our most precious goals. Later, I will discuss some of those precious goals.
I do not pretend much expertise at implementing No Unfunded Mandates. My own life is full of them. For me, this is a New Year's resolution, and this column is a plea for help in implementing this in my life, as well as encouraging you to bring it into yours. If you already do this, please let me know how. You seem to be the exception.
One other 'by the way' ' the best responses I've learned, so far, to the trap of unfunded mandates are regular Shabbats and regular daily prayer. Shabbat (whatever non-negotiable length of time we can designate for rest and refreshment) and daily prayer (a non-negotiable ritual, at our chosen time and content) give us time and focus to seek perspective. They remind us of our limits, as human beings, who are not God, despite our never-ending tendency to pretend that we are infinite.
Shabbat and daily prayer can even provide us with a community of supporters, who will remind us that 'just this one more time' is a recipe for even more overwhelmedness.
Why now? Adar, our month which started this year on March 1, is as good of a month as any to implement No Unfunded Mandates. This month features end-of-winter parties, blow-outs to soothe our cabin fever such as Purim, St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras, and the aptly named March Madness. They enable us to survive to the freshness of April, the start of a new year, paralleling what our Torah terms the first month, aviv ('spring') or Nisan, celebrated with Passover, the birth of our people, newly free.
The freshness of spring draws us to dream anew ' freed from the restraints (Pharaohs or the 'narrow place' of Mitzrayim) of past failures, habits, and guilt (as if Jews are ever bothered by that). The new spring dreams, even if revised versions of old ones, are as vital as our New Year's dreams, whether it's January or Rosh Hashanah.
Yet each year, spring dreams crash against this wall. To transform our dreams into reality, we must make new commitments. How can we, who are already overwhelmed, add new commitments? Most of us already need to subtract from our existing commitments. So, our first commitment needs to be No Unfunded Mandates.
And if not now...
Consider the consequences of one example of what happens to those of us overwhelmed by unfunded mandates. We rarely work on those public issues, which we usually describe as our 'highest priorities.' Most of us would describe our national and global status quo as horrendous. We are so sickened by so much suffering that we struggle to find the energy merely to contemplate the level of pain. Just considering well-known examples can overwhelm our senses.
Consider: massive starvation, global disease pandemics, oppression of women and minorities, devastating pollution, abuse, war, and growing poverty amidst rising concentrations of wealth.
Thank God, we Jews do not intimidate easily. The classic Jewish reaction to this state of the world is neither optimism nor pessimism. Optimism implies the confidence that improvement is inevitable. Pessimism implies the conviction that improvement is impossible. Both attitudes lead to passivity. Jews react with 'meliorism.' I thank science fiction authors Arthur Clarke and Michael Kube-McDowell for their book, The Trigger, which taught me this term.
A meliorist believes that our status quo is awful, but we can do better, and we need to start now. We Jews often describe the prime purpose of our lives as 'creating' our world. On the human level, to create is to improve. We never make anything new. Whether God can do so is a subject for theological debate. For us mortals, we can only work with what exists, and either create/make it better or destroy/make it worse. God plays the role of reliable Partner. The fate of our world depends on our choices. Since we tend to be meliorists, we often engage in improvement, creation and tikkun olam.
Yet even meliorists can be overwhelmed by our backlog of unfunded mandates. We can be horrified at our world and even possess the expertise, resources and talents to fix it, but still do far less than our priorities would demand and our capabilities would allow.
The well-being of our world depends on us reducing our overwhelmedness. So does our own shalom.
I wish us all a March/Adar of simcha and shalom and no unfunded mandates.