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Built to Last

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Have we lost the patience to build and invest for the future?

My husband and I recently visited Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. As almost all Americans learn (we shared the ferry with 160 middle-school children so we know it was part of their curriculum!), Fort Sumter is the site where the Civil War official began. The first shots were fired upon this small fortification.

A lesser known fact (you have to read Wikipedia, take the guided tour or really pay attention in elementary school) is how long it took to construct the garrison. It was built upon a sandbar which was fortified with 70,000 tons off granite imported from England. Building up the sandbar took 20 years. In fact, although construction began in 1827, the fortification wasn't actually finished when it was attacked in 1861.

What is the value of this information other than to wow your friends at the next cocktail party or game of trivial pursuit? I actually took away an important lesson about patience, about thinking long term.

Much has been written about the fact that we live in a world expecting immediate gratification. What we want, we want now -- or yesterday. We don't have time to wait, to plan, to perhaps pursue the wiser but longer course.

This affects our ability to invest in relationships, in careers, in our communities, even in countries. It affects the government's ability to effectively and appropriate address the economic situation or conflicts throughout the world. Everyone wants immediate results. Politicians can't take a chance on long-term plans; they'll be voted out of office. And so we all suffer for it.

We discard relationships if they don't work immediately, unwilling to invest the effort and time, to see them out over the long plan. We discard sane economic planning in favor of the quick fix. We look for fast money in the workplace instead of job stability, robbing corporations of valuable assets. And we damage the possibility of political stability in many regions as we gamble on short cuts instead of planning for the future.

"I came into a world with carob trees, and I want to make sure that my grandchildren do too."

The Talmud tells the story of an elderly man planting a carob tree. A passerby stops to comment. "Carob trees take 70 years to bear fruit," he reminds him. "You won't be around to see it happen."

"I came into a world with carob trees," responds the old man, "and I want to make sure that my grandchildren do too."

We don't seem to be planting for our children, let alone our grandchildren. We are too busy looking for the quick fix. We have too much of a sense of entitlement and expectation. When we can get all the news we need 24/7 online, shop 24/7 online and even develop and maintain (whatever that means) relationships (whatever that means!) constantly and immediately, we've lost our power to wait. With 300 easy friends on Facebook, who can be bothered to invest in deeper and more meaningful friendships, ones that involve spending time together and doing for each other?

We've lost our power to be patient (witness the ever increasing road rage). We've lost our power to think beyond the immediate future.

I don't want to appear to be praising the behavior of the south during the Civil War (!) but we can still learn from the way they built Fort Sumter.

They were building to last. They were building for the future. And so they were willing to invest twenty years just in shoring up the foundation. Do we spend a tenth of that time shoring up ours?

Not only are we putting our children and grandchildren at a disadvantage by planning for the short run instead of long-term (thinking of ourselves and not really of them), we are teaching them some disturbing lessons about life.

Do we really want them to exhibit our lack of patience? Our inappropriate expectations? Our frustrations and our short fuses?

I think we want to model -- in our national and personal lives -- a broader vision, a farther-reaching goal, an ability to plan for the future and patiently await the results of our actions. And even accept calmly that we may not live to see them. After all, isn't that one of the cornerstones of our faith --– that even though the Mashiach may tarry, we will await him patiently.

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