Finding the Edge in an Ethical Life

Finding the Edge in an Ethical Life

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Dentist recommends rooting out your inner vision of yourself

Dentist Irwin Becker, the father of Sandy Springs dentist and Temple Sinai member Daren Becker, had a longtime yard man when he lived in southern Florida.

The man, named Guy, had a college degree in the field of landscape architecture, but he made his living cutting and trimming grass. He was an expert at it, handling a whole block of homes at a time, and through hard work, he built a sustainable business.

What he wanted to do, however, was take his kids fly fishing in the Everglades, just as Becker did with his children. But he never had time.

Dentist Irwin Becker says he has found that for him, living an ethical, balanced life leads to happiness.
Dentist Irwin Becker says he has found that for him, living an ethical, balanced life leads to happiness.

Becker said he planted all sorts of landscape plants and trees, but he needed someone who knew how to take care of them to make his yard look its best. He pestered Guy to do the work and offered to pay whatever price would make it worth his while, but he refused, always saying, “I don’t have time.”

Eventually, Guy agreed to do the work once and did an excellent job, but rather than take the assignment on a permanent basis, he stuck with his cutting and trimming all the yards.

He never moved into the more lucrative landscape architecture business, and he never got that skiff to go fly fishing with his kids.

Why didn’t he ever do what he wanted to do? “No one can answer,” Becker said.

His point was that people often get off track and find themselves out of alignment with their goals and their values because they don’t see themselves accurately. Guy saw himself as a lawn man and nothing more, so he never became more, Becker said.

The story of Guy the yard man was part of the annual Alembik Lecture on Thursday, Dec. 3, at Temple Sinai. The lecture, established 20 years ago in memory of Michael Alembik, focuses on topics of the soul, psyche and well-being.

Becker, who combined the trip up from Florida for the lecture with attendance two days later at the SEC Championship Game, which his Florida Gators lost to Alabama, spoke about “Spirituality, Ethics and a Code to Live By.”

“I think of spirituality as not so much religion, but more of a deep, personal feeling about certain subjects,” Becker said. He added that “ethics is ethics,” and a code to live by simply has to be part of your approach to living if you want to be true to your values and achieve happiness.

Nothing he said over the course of about 90 minutes was dramatic or surprising, but it all came together to provide an optimistic approach to achieving life happiness.

He celebrated the examples set by the Hebrew Bible because all of our heroes are flawed humans, and he explored the problems an Orthodox dentist had with following his teaching to provide optimal care to each patient.

He addressed the importance of emotional intelligence compared with IQ, which doesn’t point to success in life, and he advocated a focus on conscious discipline, which involves taking a few breaths and responding to situations rather than reacting.

Becker summed up his secrets to success:

  • Achieving a clear vision, something Guy the yard man lacked.
  • Displaying dogged determination.
  • Understanding your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Taking advantage when the door opens.
  • Maintaining balance.
  • Working hard.
  • Finding your purpose.

He told his own life-changing story about taking advantage of opportunities by leading an ethical, principled life.

He was serving in the Army as a new dentist in the 1960s, and during the first phase of his service he was doing basic dental repair work to enable fresh recruits to ship off to Vietnam. It was routine, assembly-line dental work.

But a new officer arrived who was doing a study, and he wanted crowns done a certain way that Becker didn’t consider complete. Becker did one the right way, polishing everything to a bright finish, and the quality of the work and the dedication impressed the study officer enough that he recommended Becker for a better position that moved him in a better direction in his dental career.

“I simple did what I thought was the right way to do it,” he said, and he was rewarded.

Ultimately, he said, each of us must define success for ourselves based on our values and our recognition of who we are.


read more: