America has a new celebrity. Esther Wojciciki is a mother, a grandmother and an experienced educator. Her claim to fame is that all three of her daughters occupy prestigious positions in male-dominated fields: Two are CEOs of major corporations and her third daughter is a professor of pediatrics in a leading medical school. She is constantly asked to share her “secret formula” for raising successful children. Her answers have evolved into a best-selling book, “How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.”
During an interview, she was asked what she emphasized the most while raising her children. She answered that she taught them to be kind to others. She showed by example how important it is to show that you care about others. Her children did not just hear her say that one must do for others; they also saw her practicing what she preached.
Wojciciki feels that what’s wrong with the way Americans are raising their children is that they are taught to believe they are entitled to whatever they desire—whichever school they choose, whatever entertainment appeals to them, whatever job they think they want. She sometimes feels that America is raising a generation of narcissists.
She also cites studies that show that teenagers who volunteer regularly, who willingly help an elderly neighbor, who don’t begrudge others’ possessions, are happier and better adjusted, and less prone to suffer from depression, addiction or other ailments that afflict today’s youth. The satisfaction that comes with doing for others is also a major factor in keeping kids out of trouble.
She then commented that Americans do not know how to rejoice in someone else’s success. “In fact,” she stated, “there isn’t even an English word to describe that concept.”
Every Yiddish-speaking Jew knows the word “fargin,” and even those who are not conversant in Yiddish often still know that it means to be happy when someone else is prosperous, accomplished or doing well.
A certain special ed teacher used the concept of “fargining” to address various issues in a problematic classroom. She had overheard a conversation between two little girls. The first one bragged about a new headband. Her friend, instead of replying with one-upmanship, e.g., “I have two new barrettes” or “My new headband has a bigger bow than yours,” just answered, “That’s nice.” This little snippet of dialogue gave her the idea to try this in her classroom.
She had her students take turns sharing something nice about themselves, something as simple as a new pair of shoes or relating that they had ice cream as a treat last night. The class then responded by saying “That’s nice.” The teacher could not believe the effect such a simple exercise had on the classroom dynamics. Each child knew that when her own turn came, she would get the same “That’s nice” reaction. Bullying, which had been a major problem, came to a complete stop. New friendships blossomed and sharing toys, supplies and snacks willingly became the norm.
It seems Jews use a different yardstick to measure success. It’s not the six-figure salary or the BMW in the garage that’s a gauge of self-worth (though we should fargin our neighbors if that’s what they achieved). If you raise God-fearing children who contribute to society by performing voluntary philanthropic deeds, you can feel confident that you raised your children successfully, and you can reap the nachat that comes with having your progeny be well-adjusted members of society.