Living a Life That Matters: Resolving the Conflict between Conscience and Success

Living a Life That Matters: Resolving the Conflict between Conscience and Success

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by Harold S. Kushner

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From the celebrated author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a profound and practical book about doing well by doing good. For decades now, from the pulpit and through his writing, Harold Kushner has been helping people navigate the rough patches of life: loss, guilt, crises of faith. Now, in this compelling new work, he addresses an equally important issue:


From the celebrated author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a profound and practical book about doing well by doing good. For decades now, from the pulpit and through his writing, Harold Kushner has been helping people navigate the rough patches of life: loss, guilt, crises of faith. Now, in this compelling new work, he addresses an equally important issue: our craving for significance, the need to know that our lives and our choices mean something.

We sometimes do great things, and sometimes terrible things, to reassure ourselves that we matter to the world. We sometimes confuse fame, power, and wealth with true achievement. But finally we need to think of ourselves as good people, and we are troubled when we compromise our integrity in the pursuit of what we think of as success.

Harold Kushner tells us that the path to a truly successful and significant life is through friendship, through family, and through acts of generosity and self-sacrifice. He describes how, in affecting the life of even one person in a positive way, we make a difference in the world, and prove that we do in fact matter.

Persuasive and sympathetic, anecdotal and commonsensical, Living a Life That Matters inspires and uplifts.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Harold Kushner gets down to the nitty-gritty of life. “We need to know that we matter to the world,” he points out flatly. “At the same time, we need to be assured that we are good people.” In this book, Kushner pushes us to fulfill these two basic human needs in one lifetime: to do well by doing good. He leads us through the thorny issues of self-realization, justice, personal integrity, and relationships in a quest to discover what really matters. And in the end, he shows us what it is to live from the heart -- to feel oriented, rich, and purposeful.

Kushner, rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and bestselling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, begins his quest by directing us to value struggle. By sharing with us the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, Kushner explains what we gain from our attempts at self-realization, in which we fight our own impulses and change our lives. “There are times when we feel that split inside us, part of us wanting to take the easy way out even as another part of us insists on the more demanding route.... It hurts to be defeated by conscience, to feel compelled to take the more demanding high road, to resist temptation, to apologize. But,” Kushner points out, “I suspect it hurts more to keep winning out over conscience.” What we must value, he insists, is not whether we make the right decisions, but whether we grow morally through the process. “When the struggle is over,” Kushner counsels, “we will, like Jacob, be bruised and limping. But...we will be at peace with ourselves in a way we never were before.”

Kushner goes on to revalue forgiveness. Drawing on the story of Joseph, along with contemporary books and films, he focuses, again, on what’s important. “When we thirst for revenge, it isn’t really revenge we are after,” he points out. “We are looking to reclaim a sense of power and dignity that was stolen from us.” Instead of seeking to punish, Kushner suggests, we can get what we need by behaving with the grace we wish others had. “Forgiveness,” Kushner points out, “is a favor we do ourselves.” Kushner goes on to apply his steady wisdom to the issues of personal integrity and interpersonal relationships -- and always, he reorients us to what’s truly important.

In this book, Kushner grapples with the central issues of our lives; his arguments are penetrating, and his advice gentle. Ultimately, he helps us to focus our lives not on winning the argument at hand but on becoming kinder, more forgiving, and steadier of heart. He helps us find out, quietly, what matters. (Jesse Gale)

Product Details

DIANE Publishing Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Most of us need to feel that we matter in some way; perhaps this explains the high value placed on titles, corner offices, and even fleeting celebrity. But most of us also need to feel that we are good people. In this luminous yet practical book of spiritual advice, Harold Kushner bridges the gap between these seemingly irreconcilable needs, showing us how even our smallest daily actions can become stepping stones toward integrity.

Drawing on the stories of his own congregants, on literature, current events and, above all, on the Biblical story of Jacob, the worldly trickster who evolves into a man of God —Kushner addresses some of the most persistent dilemmas of the human condition: Why do decent people so often violate their moral standards? How can we pursue justice without giving in to the lure of revenge? How can we turn our relationships with family and friends into genuine sources of meaning? Persuasive and sympathetic, filled with humanity and warmth, Living a Life That Matters is a deeply rewarding book.

What People are saying about this

Thomas Moore
Rabbi Kushner's new book is full of the great stories and subtle wisdom that makes him a genuine spiritual leader for us all in a time of considerable confusion. He blends limitless compassion with sharp analysis to offer a way toward integrity. This is a book you don't want to put down or allow to be too far from you in times of crisis. (Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul )
Mitch Albom
"Living a Life That Matters is a wonderful, much-needed primer on the truly important things in life. Many thanks to Harold Kushner for reminding us what we should never forget: that success is not in the bulk of your wallet, but in the weight of your character."
--author of Tuesdays with Morrie

Meet the Author

Harold S. Kushner is Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, where he lives. His books include When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Who Needs God, and How Good Do We Have to Be?

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Living a Life That Matters 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think every other page in the book is creased for a different quote that I found helpful. If you are looking for some kind of direction in your life, this book is the perfect start. You do not even have to be religious to appreciate the book, just open-minded.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a powerful book. A look at the title would lead one to believe it is another one of those self-help tomes, but to the contrary. It is a book about self-exploration and reflection. The author uses the life of Jacob, the bible figure in the book of Gensis, as part of his backdrop in a discussion of life, love, trials, struggles, friendship, and our imprint on family, friends, society and the universe at large. I particularly like how he tied the story of Jacob and his struggle with the angel, with our own inner struggles, our quest to understand life itself, our relationship with others, and most importantly the connection with God. This is a worthwhile read. There is no doubt that as you journey through this book you will begin to conduct a self-inventory and assess who you are, and the legacy you wish to leave behind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Goodnight guys
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Guest More than 1 year ago
this is a wonderful book to read. The use of biblical figures to explain the message Kushner tries to relay to his readers is nothing short of brilliant. i would highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rabbi Kushner has woven a fascinating series of essays together to establish a new way to think about the meaningfulness of your life choices. Spiritually, he finds many people torn between the desire to achieve significance and the call of the consciences. Like the young Jacob, some will obtain their desires by cutting corners that offend their consciences. Drawing on his many years as a rabbi, he shares what he has learned at many death beds. Few people are concerned about dying. Those who have done good things in their lives are almost always at peace. Those who regret the timing of their deaths wish for a little more time, so that they might yet leave some marks of goodness behind them. From that perspective, he gently points out that we can achieve both the significance and the clear conscience that we crave by focusing our attention on have positive influences on others in supporting roles as family member, friend, and occasional helping hand to strangers. The move, It¿s a Wonderful Life, is used as an example. The Jimmy Stewart character doesn¿t realize how all the little things he did affected so many lives, which in turn affected so many other lives. We, too, tend to be blind to the potential influence we have. The book has a kindness and gentleness that make its message welcome and warming. ¿I believe in you. I believe that you have the ability to do great things, things that will change the world for the better.¿ I share that belief and am delighted that Rabbi Kushner has written this book. In chapter one, the subject is the two voices of God. This essay considers the models of competition with others and our heart-felt desire to share compassion, and how the two often operate at odds with one another in young people. He ascribes the competition to a desire for significance, that many psychologists would echo as a deep human need. In chapter two, the story of Jacob¿s transformation from trickster to being firmly founded in God¿s will is featured. I especially liked the way that the pain of winning by trickery and being tricked in turn by Laban probably affected how Jacob felt about himself. In chapter three, you are encouraged to decide what kind of person you want to be. Rather than ask all to seek perfection in sainthood, he argues for a mixture of human competitiveness and compassion that allows us to strive and to care. This chapter includes interesting references to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and an episode of the original Star Trek series in which Kirk is divided into a good and a bad version by a transporter problem. In chapter four, there is an interesting discussion of the psychological impacts of justice from the point of view of those who are harmed. The experience of South Africa¿s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is recounted along with a new type of trial in the United States where attempts are made to improve how the victims and their families feel. In chapter five, you will learn about how wholeness (personal integrity) can be achieved. The primary example is that of Mr. Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills, who rebuilt his factory after a disastrous fire while keeping his employees on full salary for the first three months. In chapter six, the key concept is that God¿s presence is manifested on Earth in our relations with those we love, both family and friends. Chapter seven explores the notion of how supporting roles have big impacts too. Most of us can have these roles. If we were movie actors, we could even get an Academy award for doing this well. Chapter eight is a thoughtful discussion of our influence on other people. I particularly liked the reference to The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and how all those who died had recently learned how to love. Young people often write to me to find out the theme of that book, and don¿t understand it even after lots of hints about what those who died had in common. Perhaps you have to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book. I would recommend it to others.