In reflecting on the book “Living a Life That Matters” by Harold S. Kushner, I found it to be very comforting and refreshing.  Harold S. Kushner was a prominent rabbi and author. Kushner has written several books about life while using examples and guidance from religion and literature. “Living a Life That Matters” is a short book of 8 chapters using examples of God and literature to explain how we can live a life that matters. This book was more specifically about what the title says by understanding what it means to live a life that matters. He focuses on the idea that we all have significance and how to see, understand, and use our morals to guide our significance in a world that is driven by success and power.

Kushner starts this book with a simple yet powerful opening paragraph in the first words chapter of the book. Here, the reader receives meaningful words of affirmation from Kushner where he lets the reader know that he believes in you and that you are important to the world whether you have already done something great or will do something great. I found this moving as many times, we do not hear those words, affirmations, and reassurances. I needed to read those words.

Kushner sets the tone for the book in chapter 1. Here he opens about there being two worlds in which we live in, the world where winners, productive, and attractive people succeed and a world where good, moral, and kind people are praised. Throughout the book, he uses various stories from Shakespeare, the Bible, and other literature to showcase these different worlds. He uses the analogy of a mother’s love where despite failing her love never changes versus a father’s love which must be earned through achievements. He explains that both are necessary, and I completely agree with the concept despite disagreeing in that being how each parent typically loves.

The focus of the next two chapters is about the process of transitioning from being selfish to being a good person. Kushner talks about the story of Jacob from the Bible and connects it to his thesis. I personally enjoy reading Bible stories from other perspectives as it allows me the opportunity to understand the story itself better. A brief description of the story is that Jacob was a terrible person who lied and cheated his way into everything he had but in his later years after being cheated and lied to Jacob’s approach to life and God changed for the better. Jacob wins by losing who he used to be. A cousin of mine told me “ain’t no lesson like a bought one.” I think this happened for Jacob as he was not given the wife he was promised, his turning point. Chapter 3, focuses on this idea that we must go through this part of life that will ultimately teach us how or why to be a good person, this opens up that world for us. Society invests so much energy in us doing the right thing the first time that it often makes many people including myself feel bad for not being on the pace society sets. Now, people would see me as successful but much like Jacob I bought many of my lessons which now have shaped who I am today.

Kushner then discusses revenge and using God’s voice. In living a life that matters there is room for justice but not revenge. He uses an example from Hamlet, as Hamlet did not kill the person who killed his father initially but at the end died at the same time, he received his revenge. Kushner talks of Hamlet’s death as him dying since his moral character had been compromised. After discussing revenge Kushner moves on to discussing people who use God’s voice to harm people, yet they believe they are using God’s appropriately because well, its God. We must understand the difference in hearing God’s real voice versus what we hope to hear or adding our own influence or bias.

In chapters 6 and 7, Kushner focuses his thoughts on how life amongst others is important to living a life that matters. He talks about the value of relationships. Relationships of all kinds are rooted in receiving so much but we also must give to have a relationship that matters. Kushner uses several examples of relationships of all types but uses one about God and Israelites where God wants to love people but also wants to be loved in return. This is important in all relationships and as I get older, I understand how to be good in relationships with people whether it is friends, family, or romantic because only focusing on success left me feeling alone. There is wealth in the exchange of love. Chapter 7 is something I have lived by in my career, that communal pressure is valuable. At a time where I managed employees, I found that people will follow the processes and work better in an environment where their peers follow the rules rather than cut corners. It only takes one good person to influence an entire department. This is the same idea Kushner writes about that a group of people doing good will do more to change bad behavior.

Lastly, Kushner told a second very important story about Gimpel the Fool. Gimple was picked on by everyone in town and was even forced to marry a mean woman who was also promiscuous. A rabbi told Gimple that despite them picking on him that he is better off being a fool than a mean person. Gimpel listened until his wife told him of all the wrong, she did to him on her death bed. After her death, he considered poisoning the entire town until his wife came to him in a dream telling him that she was paying for her wrongdoings in the afterlife. That dream caused Gimpel to change his mind and instead, he closed his bakery and left town. This story is important as many people struggle with the idea that bad things happen to good people and this story outlines being kind because it is the right thing to do so that you can peacefully live in the afterlife.

Overall, I enjoyed this book by Kushner and will read more of his books in the near future.

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