Passover -- the ancient Hebrew exodus from Egypt -- has been a rallying cry for freedom for thousands of years. In our own country, even though the Declaration of Independence proclaimed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "unalienable rights," it was the the Passover story about slaves who found freedom because of divine intervention that inspired the African-American exodus from slavery and gave courage to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. This is well documented.
What is not documented is that Passover is a powerful message for Dults. For those of you who don't know what a Dult is, here's an explanation. The Passover Seder, the meal during which Jews throughout the generations follow the biblical commandment to "tell the story" of the Exodus to their children, centers around the story of how the Ancient Jews came "out of Mitzraim" (Hebrew for Egypt). But Mitzraim also means "narrow straights." Commentators have interpreted this dual meaning as indicating that the slaves didn't just come out of the country where they were held captive. They found freedom from a more vicious slavery -- the captivity of their minds that restricted their vision, potential and purpose.
We all know people who hold themselves back because of fear, addiction, anger or just not having vision. In Project Love, the character-development nonprofit my wife Susan and I co-founded 18 years ago, we have seen inner-city children who don't achieve their potential because they don't believe in their potential. Our Believe to Achieve program has helped these students break through the barriers and limitations of their own minds to find freedom and promise, starting first with graduating from high school.
For all people, not just Jewish people, Passover is meant to break through the current-day "narrow straights" that restrict us from achieving the potential that can bring us happiness and help the world. But that potential rests on becoming a Dult.
That's right, a Dult. When my son Steven could barely read (he's now 24), Susan and I would often refer to people as being adult or juvenile. Age wasn't the measuring stick -- their behavior was. People were adult because they acted in mature ways. Like many parents, we proceeded to define those adult ways of behavior to our children.
Back then, Steven thought that people were either juvenile or Dults. He thought that a Dult was a kind of person, like being American or Christian or Jewish. As a result of his innocent wisdom, we started referring to a person who actually acts like an adult as "a Dult" and those -- regardless of their age -- who acted immaturely as "not a Dult."
Because Passover is meant to get someone out of their own barriers or negative behavior, the focus at our Passover Seder is on what it takes for each of us to become a Dult.
For those of you who are having Passover Seders, I hope that you find that the transformative story of slavery to freedom also inspires you to become a Dult, as well. For those who are not celebrating Passover -- whatever your background or faith is -- I encourage you to become a Dult, because the world needs more Dults.
If there were more Dults in the world, these are some of the rules I believe they would embrace. Some of these have been adapted from a list that "Jennifer in Colorado" presented to Dear Abby and that was reported several years ago in her column.
0. Respect - Respect others, even if they don't respect you. What goes around does come around. Maybe you can set a new trend. 1. Love - Love even where you've been disappointed or heartbroken. Tell people you love them. Love is like the lone candle that can illuminate a dark room. You can light a candle or curse the darkness. Love can stomp out hate. 2. Goodness - Even when others are not good to you, be good to them. Don't give them an excuse to view you as the perpetrator. 3. Gratitude - Be grateful. For life and for people -- and tell them that you're grateful. Life is a blessing, but unless you're grateful, you may never know it or see it. 4. Good News - Be a purveyor of good news. The morning newspaper, the Internet and talk shows spread enough venom to go around. You can present a better version of the world by paying that positive version forward. 5. Friendship - Be a friend, not just to your friends, but also to the stranger, the awkward, the disabled, the ugly, the disadvantaged, and the lonely. Being a friend just to a friend isn't altruistic or selfless because you know you'll get it back. 6. Honesty - Truth is the glue that makes relationships and the world work. 7. Empathy - Care for, help, and go the distance for others. When you're down -- and we all are sometime - you'll need others to return the favor. 8. Responsibility - Do what you say you'll do. Don't rain on someone's parade or dreams. Don't be a bystander, watching negative things happen that bully or hurt others. 9. Humanity - we can help, hurt, heal or do nothing. We all live in the same country and world. How that world evolves depends on us. Individually or collectively, we can stand for something or fall for anything.
In 1995, I attended a workshop in Auschwitz on how to build a better world in the next 50 years. One of the presenters, Dr. Daniel Kim of MIT, gave me a principle that empowers me to this day. He said that we each change the world positively or negatively by how we treat people every day. Each day, he said, we influence at least four new people. We can flip them off in traffic or give them the benefit of the doubt. We can smile or scowl, curse or applaud, build up or tear down. Either way, we each create a chain reaction because those on the receiving end spread either our goodness or our meanness. The small acts we do everyday is how Dults can change the world.
As I sit down to my Passover Seder for Dults, I will be dreaming about peace in the Middle East and a civil presidential election here at home. But I'll also be focusing on how I can be the best Dult I can be. Then, maybe, I can start a chain reaction.
To see America's shared values, go to www.Purpleamerica.us.