SMF: How could it be that “working for a worthless cause” could help a person develop meaning in his life?
Shimon: The Rambam says that to improve one’s middos it is not enough to study; one must act. That is why he says that it is better to give one coin to charity a thousand times than to give a thousand coins at once. Each time a person gives of himself, he becomes accustomed to giving and the new behavior slowly becomes automatic and natural. One thousand small repetitions are more effective than one grandstand play. If a person is in a dysfunctional state, quite often everything about him becomes dysfunctional; I assume that we have all seen this or can at least imagine what it looks like. If a person can start working at a job or for a cause, no matter how spurious, the external trappings (waking up in the morning, achieving an acceptable appearance, arriving on time, relating to coworkers, being entrusted with money or to meet deadlines, etc.) will create a fully functional framework which then permits the individual to ask, “My life is going so well, do I really want to dedicate it to ‘Save the Mosquitoes’?” At that time, a reevaluation will lead to a more meaningful life which can be actualized thanks only to the life skills learned while working for the “worthless” pursuit.
SMF: What role does a mentor take in couple’s therapy?
Shimon: Dr. Ernest Rossi writes that therapy in general “usually requires many roles for the therapist: counselor, confessor, guide, advisor, good parent…” I would like to add to that list: a good trusted friend, a shoulder to cry on, a personal trainer and, above all, an objective strategic planner. For couples’ therapy specifically I think what is most important is what the therapist is not: the therapist is not an umpire or a referee. If couples want to fix or improve their marriage, they cannot come to the mentor with the plan of keeping on doing like they have done until now, just this time they will “win” because the mentor will certainly “take their side” or “prove that they are right.”