I read an article today in the New York Times that I cannot get out of my mind.  Entitled “A Rabbi’s Enduring Sermon on Living Your Last Five Minutes” by Samuel G. Freedman (October 1, 2016), it is about Rabbi Kenneth Berger delivering a sermon on Yom Kippur in 1986 which he entitled “ Five Minutes to Live” (five-minutes-to-live-rabbi-kenneth-berger-z22l-yom-kippur-sermon-sept-1986 ). The explosion of the Challenger as it was returning to earth ten months earlier was his focal point. Evidently, the investigation into the crash determined that the seven astronauts did not perish immediately upon the explosion but only when their capsule hit the ocean several minutes later. They had several minutes to evaluate their lives before perishing. (Id.)

So…in his sermon, the Rabbi asks, “What If I had five minutes to live?” (Id.)

The response…. “if only…”. If only I had known, I would have cherished my loved ones more and expressed it; I would have cherished and appreciated what I had, realizing how lucky I was to have it; and I would cherish life, itself. (Id.)

In his sermon, the Rabbi quotes part of a prayer that is said during the High Holy Days:

                        Who shall live, and who shall die?

                       Who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not.

                       On Rosh Hashanah, it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. (Id.)

While we all recite these words, do we REALLY think about them? Imagine how horrific it is to be in a situation in which you know that within moments your life will be over? Your whole life flashes before you… and you think… If only I had….!

While on the surface, this blog may seem to have nothing to do with conflict resolution, in reality it does. Reading this article and the rabbi’s sermon brought to mind a reality checking tool that one of my first trainers suggested: the parties are at an impasse, quibbling over the trees in the forest or really getting caught up in the weeds over what any third party would call trivia. To stop them cold, (my trainer suggested ) ask them, suppose a Martian flies in from outer space and lands in the conference room; how would you explain the conflict to this being from outer space?

This hypothetical (or at least it was more than a decade ago when it was first suggested to me) is so far-fetched that it tends to “wake up” the parties, get them out of their mindless and repetitive advocacy and forces them to think about what IS really important. What IS really at stake, and what ARE the real issues that require resolution? In twenty-five words or less, how would you describe this dispute to the Martian sitting over there, and what resolution would you propose?

This hypothetical like the Rabbi’s sermon forces people to think about the really important stuff and how to escape the  swamp known as  trivia. Both force us to focus on the important issues and resolve them so that at the end, we have no regrets.

The ironic and horrible twist to the Rabbi’s sermon is that almost three years later, he and his wife died in a plane crash. From the time plane went into distress until it crashed, he had 40 minutes…! (Id.)

So- in resolving conflicts throughout your life, ask yourself, “If I only had five minutes, what would I do”? No doubt, your answer will be one that focuses on a quick resolution allowing you to get on with appreciating life for what it is and for what you have.

…. Just something to think about.

( Happy New Year and may you have an easy fast!)


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