Dena Schusterman on Forgiveness
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Dena Schusterman on Forgiveness

Dena Schusterman is the director of Chabad Intown Jewish Preschool

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, a Jewish educator, and a founding director of both the Intown Jewish Preschool ( and the Intown Hebrew School. She and her husband, Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, are native Californians living in Atlanta for 20 years with their eight children.

Adults who are in the know, parents who have composure, folks who seem to have a handle on their relationship with their children and friends, have a certain strength that can be described in one word, “Q-TIP.” It has nothing to do with a white cotton swab, but we are repeating this word under our breath and in our minds, hundreds of times a week because it is a mnemonic device for our sanity, in a word:

Q-TIP is a simple reminder to Quit Taking It Personally. Our CD-Rom would have us believe that other people’s actions are a statement about our self-worth.  When we Q-TIP we free ourselves to shift our attention, calm down, and see the situation differently.
—Conscious Discipline

These four words are magic in the relationship with children and, I would say, relationships with everyone. Rarely do I have time, enough information or the brain space to understand the motivation of people’s actions (nor do I need to), so the most helpful thing to do is to depersonalize: this is not about me.  That person was rude, ignored my texts, talked back, didn’t invite me, etc., because they are going through something in their life. Not about me.

When you take things personally, it becomes about your ego and your hurt, but when you think about the other person and recognize that they have a complicated life and might be going through something, you feel empathy. Not everyone will act on their empathy to actually inquire or help, but surely empathy will stop any escalation in the fight or insult.

Example: When your child is rude, instead of thinking about how much you have done for this child and how unacceptable their tone of voice is, think about how tired, hungry or worried your child must be to talk to you this way. Give the benefit of the doubt; your response will be much different. Instead of “Don’t talk to me that way,” or, “Do I deserve to be spoken to this way?” (young and adult children alike – and we all know where this conversation ends), you could offer a hug, or say “is everything ok?” This not taking it personally changes your interactions and deepens the relationship.

Think about how much more peaceful our world would be if everyone would Q-TIP.

The Q-tip theory comes from the scientific brain research of Dr. Becky Bailey.  Torah takes these concepts even deeper.

The High Holy Days is the time that we ask G-d to grant us life, prosperity and happiness. To begin with a fresh start, we ask G-d to forgive us for our misdeeds and, as Jewish custom goes, we ask our friends for forgiveness for our interpersonal misdeeds. G-d cannot forgive something that was not directed toward Him so we need to make amends with the person we wronged.

When we are practicing Q-tip, we should have less to forgive and less to ask forgiveness for. People are more chill, less uptight. And so too will G-d be. G-d’s behavior toward us mirrors our interpersonal relationships. If we are more forgiving, so is He.

When you acknowledge that everything is part of G-d’s master plan, you are also more forgiving. This does not absolve a person who wronged you from personal accountability or responsibility, but it separates the issues: The person who is emotional and taking their upset out on others has self-work to do, for sure. But that’s not your business.

So, when I am not taking things personally, I have ironically freed my mind to think about myself. What nugget of truth about my own self-growth can I extract from this unpleasant interaction?

I remove the person who is insulting me from the equation, and I wish them well. Then I think about why I have been exposed to this negativity. What did I gain?

Consider yourself schooled in the Jewish way of faith and forgiveness and consider whether you are ready to practice it in your own life. This is my High Holiday message for my beloved Atlanta community. I hope we can all begin to Q-TIP And Forgive.

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