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We’re Brokenhearted but The Tree of Life is not Broken

When I looked at my messages after this past Sabbath (I don’t use my phone on the Sabbath), the first several notes of support and condolences that I received were from my Christian clergy friends. In fact, two weeks ago, I was a guest teacher at a church in St. Paul. My friend and colleague, Reverend Blair Pogue, rector at Saint Matthew’s, had invited me to speak to a group of her congregants. I was grateful to receive and accept this invitation. Sure, I was busy with family and business travel. But when pausing to consider Jewish history, I thought about how amazing it is to live in a country where many church members and leaders know that having an open heart also means keeping an open mind.

Reverend Pogue had asked me to speak about the covenant or conditions that God stipulated with Abraham and Sarah, the first two individuals to adopt a revolutionary set of beliefs that evolved over centuries into what became Judaism. Her congregants were curious about the difference between that covenant or pact and how it was different from the one made with the Biblical Noah. I designed our study to be interactive but needed a few minutes to set the context about the interconnectedness of all human beings. So, my first question to this wonderful group of congregants was, “What religion did Adam and Eve, the first two human beings mentioned in the Biblical creation story, practice?” The answer: “None!” And that was meant as a reminder that every human being possesses equal inherent dignity. Religious or secular, atheist or agnostic – every person’s life is of immeasurable value.

True, the Jewish people were once divided into twelve tribes, named after one the sons of Jacob. But before then and continuing through today, we’ve also been a part of the much larger tribe of humanity. Having our roots in one particular tribe, that began with Abraham and Sarah, was never meant to suggest that our roots aren’t also intertwined with our larger human family.

There’s an ancient Jewish teaching that captures the pain that Jews across the United States and throughout the world are feeling now. In describing how the condition of one Jewish person affects the feelings of another, this teaching makes an analogy: “This (reality of mutual caring) may be compared to the case of passengers on a ship, one of whom took a drill and began boring beneath his own place. His travel mates said to him: ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ He answered, ‘Why is it your business? Aren’t I only drilling under my seat?’ They responded, “It matters because the water will enter through (underneath your seat) but submerge all of us.’” (Leviticus Rabbah 4:6).

The agony that American Jews are experiencing today isn’t imaginary. Less than two weeks ago, there were back-to-back attacks in Brooklyn against Orthodox Jewish men  From 2015 to 2016, the number of anti-Semitic acts in the United States increased from 942 to 1,266 (a 34% increase) and dramatically rose again in 2017 to 1,986 incidents (a 56% increase). The Anti-Defamation League, which works closely with law enforcement authorities in monitoring these incidents which include physical assaults, vandalism, and attacks against Jewish institutions, states that this is, “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.” In this same report, it added that “The sharp rise was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.”

My parents, who are in there upper 80’s, told me stories of the routine anti-Semitism they experienced when they were children. Occasionally, I’ve received hate mail (now it’s digitally delivered) and looked someone in the eyes who uttered anti-Semitic slurs against me. But those occasions were so infrequent that I never feared for my safety because of my religion and I haven’t given a second thought to publicly wearing a kippah, a traditional Jewish head covering. Trying to hide who you are is generally a poor long-term strategy for safety. It only empowers and feeds the malicious intent that some people have against those who look or act differently from a majority.

But for the first time in several generations, Jewish school children and college students are becoming fearful about how public they can be about their Judaism. And while we don’t have a monopoly on feeling targeted by vicious people, we have a history of anti-Jewish hatred that extends for thousands of years that more recently includes a partially successful effort at Jewish genocide under the Nazi regime, which murdered one of every three European Jews, the rise of anti-Semitism in much of Europe again within the lifetime of remaining Holocaust survivors, and calls from Iranian clerics, and their terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to wipe Israel off the map. We have reasons to take anti-Semitic threats and acts of violence seriously.

At the same time, I’m still rooting for the many decent Americans I know who are disgusted with hate speech against immigrants, a disproportionate rate of incarcerations of people of color, mass shootings in schools and houses of worship, men who abuse their power against women and are paid to quietly go away, and discrimination against LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) individuals. They know that we are all in the same boat.

I’m all for sermons, community vigils, and gatherings of good people to demonstrate against violent speech that always ends in violent actions. But we can do more:

1. When one house of worship is attacked, even more people from different faith communities need to support one another, as they have increasingly been doing. In fact, even if you practice no faith and are equally indifferent to all religions, it’s your time to show up at these gatherings because they’re an attack on your freedom to be an atheist.

2. I don’t own a gun, but I live in a state where owning a gun for sport is a way of life for some people. When I first moved to Minnesota in 1985 I didn’t get it but I do now. But responsible gun owners have a special obligation to speak out and work toward banning assault weapons and prohibiting those who are mentally ill from owning a gun. We need your credibility to educate others that owning a gun can be done responsibly.

3. First responders, police, emergency personnel—start thanking them if you haven’t, and keep thanking them if you do. I’m not dismissing racial inequality and police brutality against people of color. It exists, it’s unacceptable, and we desperately need reforms. But just because some clergy members unforgivably victimize others, not all members of the clergy are abusers. By analogy, because some police officers abuse their power, that doesn’t make all of them guilty. Nearly 130 law enforcement officers were killed while on duty in 2017. I honestly can’t imagine what it means to have a job where you’re required to train your subconscious to ignore the possibility that you may be injured or killed whenever you’re on the job.

4. Don’t diss the “mainstream” media. Their work strengthens democracy. You don’t have to love journalists, but they’re not the villains in the unraveling of our democracy.

5. Finally, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to reach out to a stranger in your neighborhood and introduce yourself. You have little to lose and much to gain. Change happens one person at a time, on the local level, and every individual can make a difference by turning an “other” into a sister or brother. It’s not complicated.

In some futile efforts to “harden our schools “and “houses of worship” I’m afraid we’re going to permanently harden our hearts. Making America great again begins with making America kind again. America has been feared for its military power but admired for its compassion and generosity. Kindness and empathy will make America great again and that’s something that we can control.

 

 

 

Make Foresight 20/20 this New Year!

 

“Foresight is 20/20” is not a typographical error. Rather, it relates to a theme that Dr. Terri Elton and I wrote about in our recent book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. Foresight is one capacity that will enable congregations to thrive in the future. The velocity of change is accelerating so swiftly that even being agile is insufficient insurance for future survival. Agility, which involves pivoting to a change, still places leaders in a reactive mode. But when leaders learn how to regularly exercise and act upon foresight, they’ll have a better chance to proactively shape the future of their congregations.

When do we invoke the phrase “20/20 hindsight?” We do so to make sense of how we either missed an opportunity or threat. But 20/20 foresight suggests that we can turn knowledge of what is very likely to happen in the future into practices of what can be now. With 20/20 foresight, congregational leaders can focus more on igniting people’s spiritual sparks instead of “worrying about how to keep the lights on.” They’ll have a better chance at deepening and broadening their mission and positively influencing more people’s spiritual lives.

In our book, we described several processes that leaders can use to peer further over the horizon and anticipate potential issues, policies, and innovations. Since that time, I’ve become more familiar with Dr. Daniel Burrus, a global innovation expert and futurist, and his most recent book The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption And Change Into Opportunity And Advantage. Burrus introduces two interrelated concepts for getting smart about the future: “hard trends” and “future facts.” He writes, “A hard trend is a future fact that can provide something that is very empowering: certainty. Hard trends will happen, no matter who you are…. None of us can stop hard trends from occurring, but there are ways to see them coming (page 18).” Once you’ve become better at identifying “hard trends,” you can use “future facts” to your advantage because your congregation will already be where its existing and potential constituents are.

Here are two examples of hard trends that are future facts:

  1. There are six generational cohorts of human beings alive today: members of 1) Gen Z or post-Millennials, 2) Millennials, 3) Gen X’er’s, 4) Baby Boomers, 5) the Silent Generation and, 6) the Greatest Generation. Generational names will change, but the reality of having individuals who span six generations is a hard trend and a future fact that could change to seven generations as medical technology advances.
  2. The day when children will interact with non-human physical objects that they perceive as humans is already here, with experiments happening in leading tech labs. According to Anya Kamenetz, who writes about technology and education issues, “If the forecasters are to be believed, we’ll all soon be plunged into a gently glowing alphabet soup of AR, VR, AI, MR, and IoT – augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, “mixed reality,” and the Internet of Things… Digital experiences will be so immersive and pervasive that Yellowstone National Park will look like today’s Times Square. By then, the existence of screens as separate entities, with borders and off buttons, will be a quaint, half-remembered state of affairs.

These two hard trends – six generations alive at one time and a VR world – are replete with spiritual implications that anticipatory leaders could be acting upon now. For example, how do we foster ongoing intergenerational relationships where young and old engage in reciprocal learning? What happens to our innate holiness when children grow up with “parents” named Alexa and Cortana? There are few venues in our communities that are structured for ongoing interactions between young and old (and “old” means 55+!) but that’s also a great opportunity for congregations. They are theoretically ready to become spaces of intergenerational meeting, where puzzling through these issues becomes normative.

 

 

A true story to concretize this opportunity: a 14-year-old teen whose grandmother was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease raised money by crowdfunding to develop an app with AI (artificial intelligence) and facial recognition software to help her grandmother remember family members. This teen initiated conversations and sought ideas and support from caregivers, family members, and tech mentors by herself. Given their access to multiple generations and talented volunteers, congregations could create a standing intergenerational council to harness the wisdom, technological savvy and multiple generational perspectives to address opportunities and rapid changes. Congregations also have the advantage of drawing upon inherited spiritual wisdom to weigh advantages and disadvantages of maintaining the status quo versus initiating a change, an asset that can curb the urge to rush headlong into change.

We simply don’t have the experience of fostering communities with people from so many different generations and the rapidity of technological and social change challenges us to absorb their potential positive and negative implications. The best way to navigate our unpredictable times is to use collective generational wisdom. Doing so also reminds us of the underlying divine connection that binds us together regardless of age.

The capacity to better envision the future is admittedly difficult. Religious leaders must calibrate the balance between our inherited spiritual past and contemporary realities so that future generations will inherit a spiritual legacy. That sounds like an impossible task, but the routine act of driving a car suggests an analogy of how we already do so. When driving, we balance past, present and future because we learn when to accelerate forward, and when to slow down and brake, while simultaneously looking ahead through the windshield, behind through the rearview mirror, and at our present surroundings in the side view mirrors.

As religious leaders, we bring humility to our efforts to better anticipate the future, which holds mysteries beyond our perception and imagination. On the other hand, the greatest religious leaders have been rooted in the past, looked deeply into the present, and provided a vision for the future. Speaking from the Jewish tradition, I’m inspired by a question that a first-century rabbinic sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, asked a group of his students (Pirkei Avot 2:12). “Which is the best characteristic for a person to acquire?” [One student,] Rabbi Shimon said, “One should learn to anticipate the future,” and his response can empower us to think more about the hard trends and future facts that we can use to keep congregations vital.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist who holds a doctorate in Organization and Management. He specializes in “preparing today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations”™. His forthcoming book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide (Rowman & Littlefield) is scheduled for publication in late Spring 2019. An earlier version of this post appeared on the Congregational Resource Guide Blog.

Originally published on the eJewish Philanthropy website

 

An Authenticated or Authentic Self?

When I start my computer, the first words that appear on my screen are “Looking for you.” I use its facial recognition software to log on, so each time I restart my computer I aim my face precisely at its camera because it’s “looking for me.” I’m also using a few other services that use biometric-based technologies, like fingerprints and iris scans, to verify that I’m the person whom I claim to be. These technologies are more secure at “authenticating” the user and preventing a hack attack, and corporations and governments are increasingly adopting biometrics for security purposes.

I’m glad that my computer misses me when I’m away from the keyboard and is “looking for me” when I return. But what are the implications for you and for me now that our devices can quickly scan our physical identities? A camera can look at a person to authenticate a physical self. But only we can choose to look within and cultivate an authentic emotional and spiritual self.

 

Photo courtesy of Computer World Magazine

 

As a country, we’re at an inflection point where the phrase “looking for you” feels existential. Many of us are here because our immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents fled persecution and were welcomed by the United States. But these days, our government intentionally separates parents from children who seek not just a better life, but life itself. If they remain in the danger zones that they call home, it’s a likely death sentence.

The time feels right to take a digitally-generated prompt from a device, “looking for you,” that really means, “looking at you,” and turn it into human advice: let’s look within ourselves and restore civility and empathy that enable creative solutions, the kinds that bring us together and don’t pull us apart. We did that until recently and it isn’t too late to start doing so again. On a personal note, because on the Jewish calendar we’re about one month away from our holy day season, it’s a natural time for me to do some extra introspection. And I’d like to invite you, whether you’re atheist or secular, Republican or Democrat, Jewish or a person of another faith tradition to join me in looking inward so that we remember how to better look at one another instead past one another.

 

From Desperation to Inspiration: Don’t Dare to Stop Dreaming that You Can Change the World

 

With the permission of my colleague, Rabbi Sarah Bassin, Associate Rabbi of Temple Emanuel on Beverly Hills, CA, I’m sharing a good news story about the Syrian refugee crisis and the recent chemical attacks on innocent civilians. She explains how two of her congregants were able to mobilize faith communities to act in ways that made a real difference in a moment of crisis. She also describes her own learning and leadership throughout this process of providing support in a moment of deep crisis, and efforts to sustain that support. Often, religion gets a bad rap and you’re not likely to see this story of strangers helping strangers on so many levels, in another place far away that still strike home to some. I share it with you with the prayer that you or those in your communities will be inspired to provide help to those in need and not abandon hope when that’s the seemingly logical thing to do. It’s precisely in those moments when only a few people who say, “I refuse to accept this reality” that change happens.

 

Rabbi Sarah BassinI have no idea how to fix Syria.  Most Middle East experts admit they don’t either.  It’s complicated.  The Middle East is littered with the failed good intentions of our political interventions.

 

Now when we face the complicated in that region, we conclude that the best response must be no response.  My own disbelief at the bombings and the gas attacks morphed into heartbreak and outrage but quickly fizzled into paralysis.  No action of mine could advance a political solution to end the suffering.

 

I accepted my powerlessness along with the rest of the onlooking world.  I tried to ignore the implication that such acceptance came in the form of thousands of civilian casualties.  They were the collateral damage of the complicated.

 

But my logic was flawed.  We don’t refuse to feed one hungry person because we cannot alleviate the hunger of them all.  So why refrain from aiding some civilians in a war zone even though we cannot stop the war?  The enemy of the good is the perfect.

 

Two Jews from Los Angeles – Tamar and Phil Koosed refused to relinquish the possibility for the good.  They created Save the Syrian Children and used their business savvy to find shipping routes into areas under siege.  They inspired my congregation to break out of our paralysis.  And we rallied others.

 

With the help of 12 Jewish and interfaith organizations, we collected 5,000 pounds of clothes, an entire shipping container of unused medical supplies donated by hospitals and raised thousands of dollars to purchase more supplies.  Countless people donated.  Over 100 volunteers ages 8 to 80 showed up to sort, inventory and ship all of this stuff.  An entire community refused to succumb to inaction, as you can see from this local news story that covered our community’s efforts to help.

 

Of the more than 85,000 pounds of supplies that Save the Syrian Children has shipped in recent months, everything was accounted for through a double-blind inventory to ensure that materials get to where they need to go.  A mere 500 pounds of these supplies were lost when their warehouse was partially bombed.  Thank God Save the Syrian Children refused to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And you can see the actual delivery of supplies by clicking here.

 

I should note that our synagogue intentionally carried out this effort on the heels of Passover.  But the analogy of modern-day Syria to the Jewish story of liberation falls short.  We did not and we will not deliver anything close to freedom — the Syrian civilians living under siege have no exodus.  Our efforts to alleviate their suffering were much more modest.  Modest – but not inconsequential.  Perhaps, the better parallel of the exodus story is not between the Syrians and the Israelites, but between us and Pharaoh.  Our hearts were in danger of hardening to ignore the cries of those who suffer.  I’m grateful to Save the Syrian Children for pulling me and my community back from that fate – for helping us retain our humanity.

 

 

Joining “Never Again” with “Never Give Up” – in Praise of Yesterday’s Student Protesters

 

The phrase “Never Again” is generally associated with the Holocaust, the Nazi German state’s planned and executed genocide against the Jewish people. The aim of Nazi Germany in World War II was simple and horrific – eradicating Jews from the human race. That meant obliterating their past history, their then-current existence, and future continuity. The origin of “Never Again” and its connection to the Holocaust is historically unclear. But Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who is Jewish, is credited with adopting #NeverAgainMSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) as the hashtag that helped to mobilize student protests for sensible gun reform, which we saw again yesterday. Kasky, and several other student leaders have been relentless in their commitment to change. Their goal is also simple: they want to know that they and other school students in the U.S. can walk into their classrooms without having to fear that they might be the next victims of a mass shooting.

 

Does it matter that a specific phrase, applied to a certain people, at a certain time, has taken on renewed and reinterpreted meaning? I think that it’s not only a powerful and brilliant adaptation of the phrase but one that none other than Elie Wiesel, the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was often associated with this phrase, would approve of. While Elie Wiesel was the chronicler par excellence of the Holocaust and gave personal and collective voice to its Jewish victims unlike any other literary figure of the last Century, he also spoke out against genocide in countries like Sudan and spoke for victims of violence throughout the world. His personal experience compelled him to speak on behalf of those who could not, regardless of their background.

Some may remember the moment when Wiesel’s unshakable belief in the preciousness of all human life made a tangible difference. On April 22, 1993, Elie Wiesel was fittingly invited to be a speaker at the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He was sharing the stage with President Bill Clinton but had to improvise this most critical speech, because the rain had turned the words of his text into runny ink marks. And, as reported by the Washington Post this is what he said, as he faced the audience, and then turned to President Clinton:

“Forgive me. I’m just back from Sarajevo,” he said, pushing the papers aside. He told the audience about the devastating effects of the Bosnian conflict — the mass killings, the destruction of Muslim sacred sites, the cold-blooded murder of thousands of children. “I cannot put that place out of my mind. It has robbed me of my sleep.” He turned to Bill Clinton, seated on the dais behind him. “Mr. President. You must do something.” It was too much for Wiesel to stand at the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, that embodied the promise “Never Again,” while the scenes of the mass killings that he had just seen again were haunting him. And those words made a difference. Eventually, President Clinton led the effort to involve NATO in ending the deliberate bombing of innocent civilians during the Kosovo War.

The mass protests of high school students around the country, who have adopted the slogan, neveragainMSD, honor the phrase, “Never Again,” by expanding its meaning in a way that seems consistent with Wiesel’s approach. While it is historically inaccurate to compare gun violence in the US, perpetrated by individuals or groups representing an ideology, to state- sponsored genocide, its use is a legitimate reminder that the preventable loss of innocent lives should do more than alarm us, more than cause us to pray together and hold vigils and protests, but to work collectively to restore the value of human life, and answer our school children’s basic human question: “Can’t we go to school without worrying about being shot?” with a swift, affirmative, “Yes!”

And for those who are cynical about the possibility of reform, it seems fitting to remember the words of another Nobel prize winner, this time in physics, Stephen Hawking’s, who died yesterday. He once said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”

NeveragainMSD, Never Again anywhere, is a reminder to politicians that these students, and many adults, are not giving up this time.

 

A Confession: What I Learned at a Shooting Range

 

I grew up in a white, middle-class urban Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1970’s, where the only gun culture in our neighborhood was supported by Mattel, a toy manufacturer that sold “cap guns.” Cap guns imitated the sound of gunfire and emitted a puff of smoke from the slight amount of explosive contained in the caps (and for those who don’t know what a cap gun is, here’s a photo of one model). It was common from the 1950’s through the 1970’s for boys to own these kinds of toy guns, imitating the behavior of their favorite T.V. Western star. I still somehow managed to injure myself with this toy when a cap misfired, causing a slight flesh burn. That ended my interest in toy guns that had anything resembling explosives-or at least I don’t remember receiving any more toys guns from my parents after that little incident. So why did I decide to spend three hours learning how to shoot a pistol and a rifle in 2013?

In June 2013, there had been another lethal shooting on a college campus in Santa Monica, California. The shooter had legally purchased components of an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle, which he then modified and assembled before he went on his shooting rampage. There had already been several mass shootings at high schools and universities, and by the end of 2013, the last year in which the Centers for Disease Control was able to collect data on firearms, well over 11,000 people were killed intentionally by someone with a gun and a staggering 21,175 committed suicide using a firearm.

 

Facts and figures were one way of understanding the realities of the lax gun laws that we have in comparison with other Western countries. But I needed to see if the experience of firing a pistol and a rifle would give me better insights into what it was about Americans and their relationship to guns. Having made Minnesota my home, I had also gotten to know gun owners who grew up in rural areas where owning a gun was a part of the community culture, and they are as kind, caring and generous as you could hope for in a human being. Guns are not my thing, but I don’t automatically assume that just because someone owns a gun that person has an inferior moral compass. In fact, some of these gun owners are also city and state prosecutors who have seen the horrifying effects of gun violence in domestic abuse cases.

So here’s what I experienced, and learned in a way that I couldn’t have without having fired a shot. For about the first two hours of this training, I was drilled about the critical need for extensive annual training, gun safety – especially locking guns securely away from other family members – and how easy it is to miscalculate using a weapon and unintentionally injure innocent people or yourself. Only then were we permitted to practice, under very close supervision. And I will confess openly I felt an adrenaline rush when I fired a pistol and then hit the inside ring of a target six out of seven times with a rifle. The experience of that feeling helped me to understand why responsible gun owners take pride in their training and proficiency and gave me a glimpse into why they enjoyed hunting during our annual hunting season, even though I have no interest in ever touching a gun again.

But I also learned how easy it is to maim or kill somebody unintentionally unless. As one of my gun owner friends said to me, “if you’re serious about owning a gun, then be prepared to live with it more than with your family.” In the United States, toddlers accidentally shoot someone every week. Please reread this sentence-I am not talking about toddlers who are shot, but toddlers who get their hands on guns and wound or kill siblings, parents, or themselves. I remembered reading about a couple whose granddaughter had recently moved from another state to Minnesota to live with them. Because there had been some neighborhood burglaries, the husband legally purchased a pistol, and he and his wife had a plan in place if an intruder tried to enter their home. Despite that plan, when he fired off two rounds at someone he thought had come to burglarize his home, it turned out to be his 16-year-old granddaughter, who fortunately survived her wounds. Some years ago, during synagogue services on the high holy days, an older retired law enforcement officer accidentally dropped his loaded handgun, striking his 42-year-old daughter in the foot, and causing some minor injuries to two other people in the congregation.

Mental background checks, ongoing training and recertification, mandatory waiting periods before purchasing a handgun, making it illegal to purchase a gun at a gun show or from a friend, limiting the amount of ammunition that a person can purchase and permitting only those during active military service to carry and use assault weapons are some measures that individuals of any political party should be free to have a debate about.

So to those students who are leading the charge to have an open debate about safe and responsible ownership of guns, don’t quit. Open debate of ideas is your right as citizens of a democracy. The hateful tweets about you hurt but don’t be discouraged, because when you “put yourself out there,” it’s something you have to expect. Let it hurt and then wear the insults as badges of honor because it means that you are shaking a status quo that has far too long been complacent with inaction around the preventable loss of life.

You grew up with technologies that enable you to do things which those of us who are Baby Boomers can’t always imagine, so keep using your skills to track and publicize information about how much money is spent on lobbying for guns versus lobbying for education, how much money elected officials receive from the NRA on the city, state and federal levels and create your own “report cards” on politicians based on your values. Encourage your peers who are eligible to vote to do so and remind those who are already eligible voters to vote in elections. Look for groups with whom you can form strategic alliances to multiply your influence. Profile and praise individuals who have expressed their views with courage and eloquence through videos and also continue to speak respectfully of those who legally and responsibly own and use guns, and like you are deeply troubled by the pervasive availability of guns and assault weapons. Continue to forge a “third way” that breaks the gridlock that prevents action and do not despair. Many more faith leaders will be with you, praying the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives (2:4),” and we will protest and march with you.

So yes, I learned how to shoot a pistol and a rifle, and it strengthened my resolve to stand up to those who invoke “rights” yet won’t discuss revoking laws and loopholes that can save lives. Being number one in owning more guns per capita than any other country in the world is a record we need to change. Now.

 

 

Successful Mentorships Require Security and Maturity

Mentorships can be exceptional experiences that provide mutual satisfaction and learning. Mentorships can either be formal onboarding relationships required by a new employee’s organization, where a new employee is assigned a mentor who has more work experience. That veteran employee can help a new hire circumvent rookie mistakes and accelerate a new person’s learning in a specific content area and, more generally, help someone navigate the unfamiliar culture of the organization. Or, a mentorship can be informal, where someone with less experience has an ongoing professional relationship with a veteran in the same or related field, who may or may not be a part of the same organization. Informal mentorships happen more organically, flowing from a mentor’s desire to nurture younger talent and return the help that he or she received from someone at an earlier professional stage, while a mentee has an intuitive feeling that this informal mentor has no agenda other than to be of professional support.

Mentorships are different from coaching relationships, where typically an external expert is hired for a limited engagement to help an individual deepen self-insight into characteristics and habits that get in the way of better performance, to help with a specific skill, or provide alternative ways of framing issues that yield ideas or solutions that a coaching client could not see before. Coaching relationships are designed to support an individual who seeks growth in embracing a new challenge and deeper insight into one’s professional persona – the one that a person has acquired, or a latent one that a person decides to develop – at any stage of life. One of the essential differences between a mentorship and a coaching relationship is that the latter has a clear contractual beginning, middle and end with measurable goals. Mentorships can become messy because they are much more fluid.

That’s why successful mentorships require security on the part of the mentor, and maturity on the part of the mentee because a mentoring relationship has a shelf life. A secure mentor knows when it’s time to gradually create some distance with a mentee, so that person can begin to acquire greater self-confidence, self-awareness, and expertise. Someone who is accustomed to being mentored may experience that distancing as an unexpected lack of caring when it is actually an act of deep professional concern for the well-being and growth of a younger colleague.

And some mentees are too eager to assert independence of personality. They unknowingly rupture a relationship with a mentor through indifference to how much he or she has benefited from the experiences and relationships cultivated through a mentor. These relationships become complicated when mentors are reluctant or unable to know when to intentionally decrease their influence so that the mentee can begin to increase her or his independence and develop an authentic persona. If a mentor lacks that self-awareness, the person being mentored may need to more abruptly end the relationship, creating an atmosphere of awkwardness and causing a mentor to feel underappreciated. But in the best of all worlds, a healthy mentoring relationship evolves and both parties begin to transition from a more hierarchical relationship to a peer-to-peer relationship.

I’ve been thinking about some of my own coaching and mentoring relationships, both as a receiver and as a giver, during this time in the cycle of Torah readings, when we’re reading about the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the promised land. What might have been a relatively brief trip turned into a disastrous forty-year period of wandering. I wondered if the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro or Yitro in Hebrew, might have made a difference in the tumultuous relationship that Moses and the Jewish people experienced that turned their trip into a forty-year trek. Moses clearly respected his father-in-law’s wisdom and experience and takes his advice in establishing a court system that was not solely reliant upon Moses (see Exodus 18). Yet, it appears that despite Moses’s pleading to Yitro that he helps him navigate this desert terrain, Yitro declines (Numbers 9:29-32). I’d like to think that Yitro’s primary motivation for refusing to remain with Moses is that he doesn’t want to stunt his son-in-law’s potential that he (Moses) can’t yet see in himself. He knows that his son-in-law cannot actualize his own leadership potential if Moses remains in Yitro’s shadow.

A mentor can have a lifelong influence. Even after a mentor passes away, if you’ve had an especially fortunate experience with a mentor, you can still feel the presence and guidance of that person. You internalize aspects of someone’s exemplary character and wisdom and express them in your own unique way. But that only happens when a mentor practices tzimtzum or self-contraction, so that the mentee can develop into a full person in her or his own right.

 

Should Leaders be Held to a Higher Ethical Standard?

If individuals lead entities in the for-profit, nonprofit or governmental sectors, should they be held to a higher standard of ethical accountability? This perennial question is worth examining,  especially when they lead powerful or influential entities that can have a direct positive or negative impact on our lives. For me, the answer is a clear, “Yes!” and there are others who have studied dimensions of leadership in some of these sectors who agree.

 

Jim Collins, a highly-respected leadership expert, implies that great leaders have an ethical compass. He explains in his book, Good to Great that a common trait of the rare individual who achieves “Level V Leadership,” is the executive who blends personal humility with extreme professional focus on achieving a corporate vision. A Level V leader shares credit with others, accepts blame and responsibility for mistakes and surrounds himself or herself with people who are equally committed to making whatever they do better. But in that quest, they never lose sight of humility, which is another way of saying that their pursuit of excellence embraces the demand to treat team members with dignity.

 

 

Another leadership framework is “the triple bottom line” (TBL). The TBL, developed by business consultant Andrew W. Savitz, measures three dimensions of performance: people, planet and profits. In other words, unlike traditional reporting frameworks which focus only on profits and shareholder value, the TBL “captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the world… Including both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital” (Savitz, The Triple Bottom Line). While there is disagreement on how to calculate the TBL, it clearly includes ethical dimensions, because it strives to account for the impact on the environment and on improving people’s lives through measures like job growth, personal income and the cost of underemployment in creating sustainable companies.

 

Leaders in government should also be expected to be ethical individuals. Yes, they must make complex choices in which moral values are sometimes in conflict with one another. For example, taking military action, which will cause the loss of life, but preserves the freedoms that we enjoy, or creating jobs that lift people out of poverty while also considering the potential impact of environmental destruction, can make the needle on one’s inner ethical compass spin around opposite poles. But, but having an ethical compass is a minimal requirement that we have the right to expect from officials whom we elect.

 

Whether in government, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and in the spiritual realm, leaders have flaws. They also have and need egos–that is what enables them to pursue greatness. But whether their egos are directed to their own aggrandizement or to grand ideas that benefit others is what distinguishes an unethical leader from an ethical leader. And amoral leaders, those who do not take ethical considerations into account, ultimately become immoral leaders because the benchmark of their success is concluding a deal at any and all costs.

 

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen some mutual convergence of ideas around leadership in the for-profit and nonprofit communities. One of those ideas is that morality matters both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. For-profit leaders are being held to a higher standard-just look at what is happening with startups like Uber, or established corporations like Wells Fargo, that are now under fire for highly unethical business practices. And it’s no accident that Facebook and other global social media giants and Apple, a company that dominates the smartphone and tablet industry, are facing criticism about their passive, hands-off approach to how people use their products.

 

Religious leaders rightfully come under fire for cloaking themselves with a mantle of morality while engaging in sexual and financial predatory practices. Simply because a person is a religious leader is no longer a guarantee that he or she possesses a moral compass. We feel a special outrage when individuals who are supposed to embody the highest ethical dimensions of human behavior fail themselves and hurt others.

 

And for those who are familiar with the Bible, Moses, one of the great spiritual leaders of all times, learns that there are no privileged moral dispensations—without exception. (Memo to religious leaders: don’t forget daily Bible study, preferably with someone who has internalized relevant ethical teachings.) Despite his bravery in challenging the status quo by confronting Pharaoh, an act that continues to inspire moral leadership today, and Moses’s 40 years of leadership in harsh desert conditions with a generation of unruly people, he is punished for disparagingly referring to them as a group of “rebels” (Numbers 20:10).

 

That punishment seems unduly harsh. Perhaps even more severe, his brother, Aaron, who at that moment is only standing silently by his side, is also disqualified as a leader. Though considered exceptionally humble, Moses’s singularly arrogant rebuke invalidates his leadership and it his successor, Joshua, who will lead the people into the promised land. Here is an exceptionally high standard of morality at work: great leaders cannot ridicule their communities. They may demonstrate contrition and make restitution where possible, but because they are expected to embody high ideals, once they behave unethically in such a public manner, their actions communicate that ethics don’t matter, a message that can potentially normalize unethical behavior throughout a community.

 

When you build yourself up by putting others down, you’ve lost your ability to lead. When you remain silent in the face of leaders who disparage others, you also forfeit the right to lead. And don’t give up in thinking that’s an impossible standard to which to hold leaders in any sector. Perfection from leaders? No– that’s an impossible standard. But we can and should expect them to struggle to be moral, compassionate and respectful of every person. Argue robustly over principles and beliefs, engage in debate about what is most beneficial to community and country, but set a tone that attacks the merits of ideas, and not the quality of the people who espouse different points of view.

 

 

 

De-Faced and Degraded: Hey Facebook, Are You Listening?

About a week ago, I was looking at some comments on a blog post that I had written. I noticed on my Facebook page that my “rating” had dropped from a 4.9 to a 4.4. Why did that happen?

As background, I want to share that I really hate this striving for ratings. Self-promotion violates a strong belief that I have about values of modesty and humility. For me, these aren’t only desirable attributes, but binding religious values. Humility doesn’t mean that I pretend to lack expertise or dismiss any that I have acquired that can be helpful to others. But it does mean being self-aware of the number of people who have helped me over a lifetime to develop my abilities, being grateful for having these people in my life and acknowledging my debt to them. And at this stage, it’s more satisfying to strive to help nurture the talents of those who are younger and collaborate with peers, then to put energy into striving for higher ratings. But I’m realistic and know that ratings can affect my reputation and limit potential future business opportunities, and this incident upset me.

 

 

So here’s what I think happened. Facebook allowed a not-so-thinly veiled anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim tirade related to my blog post to be mistakenly posted on my review page, and the reviewer gave me a rating of “1 star.“ That’s already two strikes against Facebook: first, allowing that rant to appear, and second, having it appear on my overall review page and not the blog post to which the reader had reacted. There may be a third strike: it also had a “fake” feel to it. The grammar, the awkwardness of style, the stilted language and the coded and explicit hateful language suggested that this was the work of a troll.

Facebook does not make it simple to contact them about such incidents, despite some recent improvements in providing feedback. And I made the mistake of not taking a screenshot of the individual’s name and his comments immediately. To Facebook‘s credit, they removed the comments very quickly after I contacted them. I’ve now written a total of three times to Facebook (that’s another story of how difficult it is to contact Facebook after a first effort) asking for an explanation of why they didn’t remove the rating if they saw fit to remove the comment.

Hey Facebook, are you listening?

I like to promote curiosity, exciting ideas, wisdom, collaboration, innovation -and yes, I don’t mind periodically sharing some of my accomplishments. When I write a blog or speak, I expect that people will differ with me, and I’m accustomed to some pretty harsh comments both from the political and religious right and left. If you’re going to be public about your ideas, personal attacks, as opposed to critiques of ideas, have become normative. But this particular issue has really lit a fire under me. And personal dislike about self-promotion aside, it’s wrong.

I’d like to know if you’ve had this experience before, either on Facebook or some other social media site, where you didn’t have the ability to fight back in an unfair fight. If you have some advice or have the experience to share in this kind of matter, please do so here. And thanks for listening to my struggle.

 

We Want it Brighter, We Light the Flame: Rekindling Hope

I just finished reading the autobiography of the late Shimon Peres, No Room for Small Dreams. Courage, Imagination and the Making of Modern Israel.

Peres, who spent a lifetime in public service to his country, was also a beloved, inspirational elder world statesman. He was esteemed by people of all faiths for his optimism, hope, and belief that the world could not only be better but that we can make it as great as our imaginations allow us. He wrote, “Throughout my life, I have been accused by many people…of being too optimistic – of having too rosy a view of the world and the people who inhabit it. I tell them that both optimists and pessimists die in the end, but the optimist leads a hopeful and happy existence, while the pessimist spends his days cynical and downtrodden” (p.79). And let’s remember, Peres, who received a Nobel Prize for peace-making, also knew the horrors of war and death throughout his long life (he died at the age of 93, on September 28, 2016). He didn’t write these words from a detached perch of one who had lived a carefree, luxurious life.

Peres then goes on to explain just how dangerous cynicism is not just for an individual, but for a nation -any nation. “First, it’s a powerful force with the ability to trample the aspirations of an entire people. Second, it is universal, fundamentally part of human nature, a disease that is ubiquitous and global. Third, it is the single greatest threat to the next generation of leadership. In a world of so many great challenges, what could be more dangerous than discouraging ideas and ambition” (p.79)?

 

Shimon Peres

 

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which concludes on December 20, is a holiday that celebrates hope and optimism over cynicism and despair. We have what are likely accurate historical records of internal debates within the Jewish community of that time between those who were cynical about the possibility of overcoming the seductive Greek culture and mighty army of the Syrian Empire, and those who maintained their optimism against all odds. And the pessimists had a pretty good argument: how could a ragtag, untrained and hastily created a fighting force of Maccabees defeat one of the world’s great powers and reclaim its right to live authentically according to its way of life, making contemporary adaptations on its terms? It turns out that the optimists were right, and we’re still celebrating Hanukkah by kindling lights that inspire us to banish cynicism and replace it with light, joy, and hope. And despite its different origins, the celebration of Christmas, that often coincides with the days of Hanukkah, only reinforces the universal need for more dreamers of hope to nullify cynics who seek to corrode the human spirit.

The refrain of one of the last songs of a great poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen, was, “You (God) want it darker, We kill the flame.” (LYRICS) Cohen was giving voice to the cynicism about the possibility to restore justice, dignity, and opportunity to the many who are still deprived of these basic rights. What’s worse is that this cynicism is often espoused by political leaders, who should be inspiring people’s imaginations with positive possibilities. If Peres, a modern-day Maccabee, had rewritten those lyrics, they would more likely be, “You want it brighter, we light the flame.”

Simply kindling a light won’t make the brightness of hope last for very long. But reflecting on the power of a flame challenges us with a choice: do we want to watch the cynics burn out our latent possibilities for greatness, or inspire us with acts of kindness and imagination to dream about just how beautiful and good the world can be? I’m going with the optimists, not because I’m naïve, but because they actually have a better track record!

 
 
 
 

©2018 Hayim Herring
 
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