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Faith and Inspiration

Is your glass half empty, half full... or both?


Robert Fulghum is an incredibly insightful storytelling Unitarian minister.

When asked, “Is your glass half-empty or half-full,” Fulghum offers a response that is a lesson for life. “When you have in your hand a glass of fine wine, you want it to be half-empty and half-full.” You need the half-empty glass so you can swirl and smell the wine before you sip the half-full glass of wine. 

It really is a model to emulate in life: we really must learn to see either/or scenarios in terms of both/and

We recently made the long, two-day drive from Orlando to Indianapolis. Three incidents – all involving tires – added unanticipated adventure to our car trip on the way up and on the way back.

(1) As we neared the last Interstate exit of the drive, 10 miles from our destination, I hit a pothole that immediately triggered the tire pressure indicator. As I quickly learned, the front tire was ripped from the rim and – looking my rearview mirror – I saw the tire roll across the Interstate. Fortunately, after three hours on the shoulder of the incredibly busy Interstate (it was cold and wet), the tow truck arrived and towed the car to the Honda agency just off the exit. Our daughter, who lives 5 miles from the agency, picked us up and “gave us a lift” home. The next morning, a new tire was in place, and all was good. 

(2) On the way home, just north of Nashville, the tire pressure indicator came on. We got off the Interstate and fortuitously found a Firestone center. A nail had pierced the rear tire. Since the tire could not be patched, we bought a new tire, and we were on our way.

(3) On the other side of Nashville, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, the tire pressure indicator again appeared. By now, we knew to trust the indicator! The next exit was 15 miles ahead, certainly a cause for nervousness and a bit of frustration. At long last we got off the Interstate and – lo and behold – we saw a tire warehouse! The tech checked the tires, adjusted the pressure, and we were on our way back to Orlando.

Here’s the question: When we tell the story, should we emphasize the half-empty glass of multiple tire damage, which is quite entertaining? Or, should we emphasize the half-full glass of repair places being exactly where we needed them to be, which is very impressive? Like the glass of wine, the answer has to be that “both” parts are needed to create the full picture!

To me, too much of our world is purposely blind to the full picture. People tend to insist that one has to choose either the correct way or your way, either all or nothing, either left or right, either winner or loser. I am sad when one who ekes out an election victory declares, “I have a mandate – mandate – to advance my own agenda.” The fact is that approximately 50% of the electorate disagrees and deserves to be seriously considered.

There is an overall picture at stake.

The Talmud records many debates among the ancient Sages, some rather heated, especially between the disciples of Hillel and the disciples of Shammai. In one prominent exchange, God determines, “Both approaches are valid!” The prevailing perspective is the one willing to listen and understand the challenging view, the one who is willing to move forward with a sense of overall ramifications, and the one committed to the path of both/and as opposed to either/or.

Yes, I acknowledge the merits of half-empty, even as I prefer to see the world through the prism of half-full. After all, swirling and smelling the wine is fine, and sipping is even better.

Rabbi Rick Sherwin, Faith, Inspiration, Half Empty, Half Full


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