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Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

 

Will Age be the Most Decisive Factor in the 2020 Presidential Election? Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer Viewpoints

Posted on: June 13th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

The first Democratic presidential debates are on June 26 and 27 (with ten per night, it’s more like an exhibit), and President Trump launches his reelection bid on June 18. I’m confident in one prediction about the 2020 presidential race: predictions made now will likely be wrong. That was true of the 2016 presidential election, the 2018 midterm elections, and will be even more true for the 2020 presidential elections. Why? A new dynamic among voters and candidates has exponentially increased uncertainty. There are five generations of eligible voters and representatives of four generational cohorts who aspire to be president.

 

Percentages of Potential Eligible Voters by Generation

Let’s start with the approximate percentages of eligible voters by generations:

Remember, these are percentages of eligible voters. What do we know about likely voter turnout? Older people vote in greater numbers. For example, in 2016 Boomers and those older constituted 43% of eligible voters but cast 49% of the votes (Pew Research Center). But in the 2018 midterm elections, younger voters (Gen Zers, Millennials, and Gen Xers – 51%) edged out older voters. To summarize:

From a generational perspective, Gen Xers may be the “swing vote” who determine election results. But, analyzing a candidate’s electability only based on generational demographics is risky. Other factors including race, ethnicity, gender, the weather on election day, wait times for voting, accessibility and hours of polling stations make accurate predictions nearly impossible at this stage.

 

 

The Candidates

It’s too soon to know if Donald Trump, a Boomer, will be the only Republican contender. But unless someone over age 85 declares interest in running as a Republican, my observations apply to candidates of both parties. Of the twenty Democrats who will be in the first presidential “debates,” the 7 Gen Xers and10 Boomers are bookended by 2 Millennials and 2 Silent Generation members. Looking at a visual representation of candidates, you can see an ascension of younger Democrats and attrition of older ones. But:

Generational differences among eligible voters and candidates will be more pronounced than in any prior election, but it’s unclear if age will be the most decisive factor.

 

Voter Values and Concerns

Among voters, some issues more clearly reflect generational differences. Boomers had a level playing field, but they scorched it for future generations and left them holding an ecological, political, and economic mess. Many Boomers could count on having only one or two jobs for life, a defined benefit pension plan, affordable health care for them and their families, and social security. A home, a car, marriage, children, – many Boomers climbed a vertical ladder leading to the “American dream.” While minorities were often prevented from getting their feet on the first rung of this ladder, a large swath of the Boomer population could realize these achievements with a high school degree. A college degree put Boomers on an even faster track to success.

Contrast the expectations of Boomers with the realities of Millennials who:

These realities explain why younger voters tend to favor greater government involvement. It’s their only hope for countering the more devastating effects of unchecked market-driven capitalism. These hard facts also explain their skepticism about entrusting their future to Boomers. They’ll be spending much more time in the future than Boomers, the first generation to leave the world in a worse state for those who are younger.

 

No Bet Yet

If you have time to waste, money to burn, or enjoy the premature prognostications of political pundits, you can start to forecast which candidates are likely to win their respective parties’ approval. (Before you do, here’s another potential wildcard: will candidates who don’t receive their respective party nominations run as independents?) In the meantime, I’m going to follow the impact of generational values and interests on the electoral landscape.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Costs of Life Online*

Posted on: June 4th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

“There’ll be the breaking of the ancient
Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road…”

(From the lyrics to The Future, Leonard Cohen, Columbia Records 1992)

If you’re using social media and digital services, you’re also being used and abused by them. We’ve cut deals with Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and our favorite online retailers but they’ve taken a disproportionate piece of ourselves. I don’t read their intentionally incomprehensible “terms of service” anymore – do you? They’re written to obstruct my understanding of what I’ve signed on for, and the few existing legal protections to safeguard my privacy are meaningless. I’m especially angry with Apple for buying into their phony concern for privacy at a premium. (I guess the statement, “There will always be a few bad apples” is true!) I’ve traded my trust for online convenience, but at what cost?

If you search for “how to protect your privacy online” you’ll find technical tips on better securing your personal data (of course, data protection firms want to track you, too, so you’ll probably have to click on the prompt “this site uses cookies” to access the information). It’s smart to follow expert advice, but those articles don’t explore some existential questions that I developed in Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide. We’re already “in bed” with these technologies and they’re embedding themselves more deeply and rapidly in us so it’s imperative to keep questioning what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained in this grand digital deal. I invite you to contribute comments and questions.

Three Uncertain Trade-offs

1) Privacy. Decreased privacy diminishes our autonomy and curiosity. Massive data breaches that expose personal information are traumatic, but there are deeper implications. Corporations monitor our clicks and voice-activated commands without our awareness and sometimes without our consent. We’re no longer consumers who purchase services but commodities of corporations. These corporations harvest personal data to manipulate behavior for their benefit. Sure, it’s convenient to have an algorithm suggest a book or movie title based on prior preferences, but what happens to our autonomy and curiosity over time? Do we really need to stay online so long or robotically purchase a “recommended” item?

When companies take my data, they’re also stealing my time and curiosity about ideas that don’t fit my profile. When I’m curious, I meander (read: I decide if I want to spend my time and money and how I make those choices). I’m an adult and I’ve opened my eyes to these trade-offs. But what will happen to children whose digital profiles are created with their first click or voice prompt? Are parents, grandparents, educators, and elders prepared to teach them to navigate corporate traps so that they can develop their unique identities?

2) Social in-app-titude™ or making friends. We’re more nimble with our thumbs but more clumsy with our relationships. I love being able to see family and friends who don’t live nearby on FaceTime, but am I becoming lazy about spending enough face-to-face time with others? A five-minute meeting with a colleague down the hall can prevent a misunderstanding from unsynchronized text messages that lack thought and intended emotion. Emojis help to convey feeling, but only if members of different generational cohorts understand how to use and interpret them. “Yes” to more ways to connect, but the cost is greater social isolation and loneliness beginning at younger ages. And if social connectedness, the glue that gives us purpose, is the most accurate predictor of longevity and good health, the implications of having millions who are “the young and the lonely” are painful and staggering.

3) The Curated Self or the Anxious Self? A Millennial whom I interviewed for Connecting Generations.

1) realized that social media sites were increasing her insecurities. Initially, she enjoyed spending time on Facebook and Instagram but later began to feel that “…it almost hurts a little bit. You look on Facebook and you see, ‘Oh this person’s life is so perfect.’ You look on Instagram and see that they’re [her friends are] traveling and think, ‘Should I be traveling, should I do this when I’m in a relationship?’ And then sometimes I ask myself if I want to travel right now or do I think I want to because so many other people are. So for me [social media sites] make me second guess what is my life like. Am I making the most out of it? Do I have enough hobbies? It [a social media site] pulls on your insecurities wherever they are and it just highlights them” (pages 36-37). Real life isn’t curated and unless a person is guided or acquires a secure sense of self, he or she may be in a frenzied state of endless comparison with peers.

Not long ago, cracking of the genetic code was headline news. We still hear exciting stories about breakthrough genetic therapies, but computer code makes a bigger splash because its effects are immediate and consuming more aspects of our lives. (Did you know that Amazon has developed an algorithm to track warehouse workers’ productivity and fires them by a computer-generated notice if they don’t work quickly enough?  The genetic code is shorthand for our human biology. Computer codes translate our lives into ones and zeros and are making us struggle to hold on to our humanity. I’m not giving up the convenience and access to the world that I can find online, but I want to remain uneasy about being a too-willing partner in giving my “data” away and worse, having it stolen from me by third party. Remembering the trade-offs between convenience and trust will enable me to be more aware of the hidden costs of digital life.

*This is the first post in a series related to my new book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide. In this post, I highlight several significant trade-offs that we’ve made by embedding ourselves in 24/7 connected world.

Bret Stephens: Millennial Bridge Burner or Builder?

Posted on: May 20th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Who made Millennials? Were they a mistaken creation of a mad scientist in a secret laboratory or were they the last day leftovers of a liquidation sale? If you listen to people like New York Times Op-ed columnist Bret Stephens, you might think that they’re a dangerous mutation of the human species. But I’m pretty sure that Boomers gave birth to Millennials and that educators, youth workers, and camp counselors helped to raise them. Any critique of Millennials must also include some scrutiny of their source – Baby Boomers.

Many Boomers lived the good life. Their post-high school options into adulthood were linear, stable, and more defined: marriage, children, a new home, the next promotion at work, and a continuous climb up the ladder of achievement until retirement. The “golden watch” or handsome set of luggage that many received at retirement symbolized that Boomers could reclaim their time and be adventurous. No more working on someone else’s clock at a job that held scant meaning.

 

bret_stephens_jewish

True, some Boomers started out as protesters against the establishment but most morphed into a dominant hierarchy. In pursuit of success, we also left Millennials with severely threatening climate change, problematic food sourcing issues, and a set of expectations that were ill-suited for a disruptive world. We spent our children’s future during decades of an unusually stable time.

Will more Millennials purchase homes? Maybe, or perhaps they’ll be paying off exorbitant college debt instead. A job for life? How can Millennials know what they want to do for even a decade when the job that they have three years from now doesn’t yet exist? An affordable company health care plan, a defined benefit pension plan, and a decent monthly Social Security payment – these Boomer perks have been replaced by financial, food, and job insecurity for many Millennials.

Stephens does have a point in the excess of grievance that some Millennials express. And on some campuses, academic freedom has been hijacked by a collaboration of students, faculty, and administration who are self-anointed thought police. But how many Millennials have served in the military after 9/11, taught in Teach for America, and developed digital tools for constructive and creative purposes? If Boomers can create new off-ramps from paid full-time work, why can’t Millennials create new pathways into adulthood that fit who they are instead of trying to remake them in a Boomer image?

In fact, as a Gen Xer, Stephens, and open-minded Boomers, can be generational bridge builders instead of bridge burners. Gen Xers, unfairly labeled and often overlooked, can recall a less digitally immersive time and they’re also digitally savvy. They are increasingly in positions of influence and can open more mutual empathy between Boomers and Millennials. We can have constructive conversations about the life experiences that informed who we are, and the ongoing transformations that we’re experiencing in different ways.

Honest conversation, more curiosity, and less judgment between Boomers and Millennials are possible. Arming ourselves with these attributes instead of reflexive defensiveness is a much healthier way to bridge differences across all generations.

 

An Error in Judgment is Not An Apology

Posted on: April 29th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

And the NYTimes’s Second Attempt is Lacking

Admitting an error in judgment isn’t the same as apologizing for it. I thought that the New York Times would know the difference between the two, but can it distinguish between an “error in judgment” and a simple “we are sorry?” The issue involves an anti-Semitic political cartoon with caricatures of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that appeared in its Thursday International print edition (the cartoon was later deleted).

 

On Saturday, the New York Times opinion Twitter page issued the following retraction:

 

If you search for how many other media outlets characterized the Time’s retraction, you’ll find that initial search results display headlines like, “New York Times apologizes….” The only problem is that there is no apology. Rather, as you’ve read in the retraction, the words “error in judgment,” “offensive,” and “anti-Semitic tropes” appear. Those statements are accurate but are self-referential. In other words, the Times is apologizing to its readers for a mistaken editorial judgment that reflects poorly on itself. A storied publication like the New York Times aspires to the highest standards of professional journalism and when it stumbles badly it’s embarrassed for its bruised reputation. That’s a kind way of saying that the New York Times displayed empathy for its own good reputation and not for the admittedly anti-Jewish propaganda that it disseminated and perpetuated. I did not conduct an exhaustive online search but to the credit of The Times of Israel, it notes that “the paper did not explicitly apologize for carrying the cartoon.”

 

Here’s how simply an admission of an “error in judgment” could and should have been turned into an immediate apology. “We apologize for an anti-Semitic (words in bold are mine) political cartoon in the international print edition of the New York Times…” and the rest of its belated retraction could have stood. This slight modification would have helped to restore not only the Time’s desired credibility as a trusted journalistic source but its sincerity to remain so. By leading with the words, “We apologize,” the Times would have shown empathy toward those who were horrified by the cartoon. That means Jews who were deeply offended by a prestigious publication giving its imprimatur to anti-Semitic tropes, and any person who is against hatred, bigotry, and all kinds of fears of “the other.”

 

Also, note that this cartoon appeared in the Times International Edition. As a reader of the International Edition, the Times has given me a broader understanding of significant positive and negative worldwide trends, including global warming, political hotspots, oppressed people who otherwise would be anonymous, and anti-Semitism’s global rise. There have been significant increases in anti-Semitic vandalism, verbal harassment, and physical assault in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and The Americas. For example, Great Britain’s Labor Party, until recently a warm home to the majority of British Jews, has instead become an incubator and enabler of anti-Semites. In France, Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French intellectual who is Jewish recently said that he “can no longer show my face on the street” (as reported by the Jewish Telegrapic Agency on April 25, 2019)

 

This New York Times cartoon controversy coincided with a tragic attack in another synagogue about 25 miles north of San Diego on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and the last day of Passover. The attacker murdered a 60-year-old woman and wounded three others. On the last day of Passover, as with many other Jewish holy days, Jews recite a memorial service called Yizkor, during which congregants remember loved ones who have died. Future Yizkor services will add the name of another person who was murdered in a synagogue during prayer.

 

While Saturday’s synagogue investigation is ongoing, the gunman allegedly claims to have been inspired by the massacre of 50 Muslims who were gunned down during prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand about six weeks ago. That’s why the New York Times must do far better than admit to a professional “error in judgment.” It owes an apology to all who believe that people are entitled equally to practice their religion, or to practice no religion, without fear of being murdered by people who hold opposite beliefs. Hatred may initially focus on one group, but it metastasizes to include other groups at accelerating rates because of social media. So memo to The New York Times: consider that your “error in judgment” may contribute to the next fanatical fatality and apologize for the cartoon now.

 

Update: The NYTimes’s second attempt (see @nytopinion) is overdue but still incomplete. They apologize for dropping their journalistic standards, but not to Jewish and non-Jewish readers who oppose bigoted journalism. Empathy for their audience, remorse for fueling hatred that contributes to fatalities, would be a sincere apology.

How Opposites Can Still Attract

Posted on: April 16th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

If the conventional wisdom that “opposite attracts” is true, why do people who hold different views today often become oppositional? Instead of becoming closer, they allow opposing viewpoints to push one another away. The ability to imagine that there can be more than one perspective in approaching issues has become threatening instead of enlightening.

The word “opposite” is always relational – someone or something is opposite another. For example, “opposite” can refer to a relationship between two objects. Instead of being perpendicular to one another, they can be placed opposite one another. In that case, “opposite” defines a spatial relationship.

When applied to people, the word “opposite” also means that two people or different groups are in a relationship with one another. The question is how they choose to define that relationship. Does “opposite” turn to oppositional, where the two parties deploy protect, defend, and personal attack tactics? Or, do they maintain their points of view, try to see the other person’s perspective, and engage in open dialogue? *

In this second scenario, the goal of engagement is not to change the other’s viewpoint, although that might happen. It’s simply to relearn the beauty of a good intellectual give-and-take and clarify ideas, as did two Supreme Court Justices, the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the late conservative Antonin Scalia. Their opinions couldn’t be more opposite, but their mutual respect for their exceptionally principled arguments attracted them intellectually. They recognized that each made the other better not despite their opposite judicial philosophies but because of them. Justice Scalia remained a conservative, and Justice Ginsburg is a liberal, but their being on opposite sides of issues made a collegial relationship blossom into a model friendship.

Passover and Easter are almost here and it’s very likely that a family member or friend may be sitting opposite someone in both meanings of the word – two people with opposite views sitting across a table. Regardless of religious observance, families and friends gather for personal celebrations. In fact, I was recently interviewed by Katie Moritz in ReWire on the topic, “Words Matter: How To Address Offensive Language In Family Conversations.” Kudos to Katie for raising this question, and as my book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide is now available, I appreciated the opportunity to respond to her questions.

Here’s where I take inspiration from the Passover Seder. The Seder transforms a table into a platform for debate, discussion, and engagement about the collective and personal purpose of the Biblical Exodus narrative. In Hebrew, the “script” that’s traditionally used as a springboard for the telling of the story is called a Haggadah. The Hebrew root meaning of the word Haggadah or recitation (of the story) is “opposite” (נגד/neged). During the Seder, it’s a traditional commandment to engage all people, young and old, those who are more knowledgeable and those who are less knowledgeable, in debate. Opposites are meant to engage people in deeper reflection on the meaning of the story of liberation, how it shaped the Jewish people, and how it influences all people today. Intellectual and experiential arguments between opposites-a definite yes! Shallow, oppositional, personal attacks-not acceptable.

Whether you’re sitting at a Seder table, Easter dinner, or a gathering with friends and family, think about the choice you have when you’re with others who hold views opposite your own. I hope that you’ll choose the opportunity to reclaim the word “opposite” as a positive value that reconnects people with divergent viewpoints through engaging discussions. We’ll all be better for the effort.

* I’d like to credit Rabbi Michael Hattin of Pardes for this insight in his podcast on The Structure of the Pesach Seder.

Is a Sharing Parent a Caring Parent?

Posted on: March 6th, 2019 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Recently, my parents have been sending me pictures from my childhood. (yes, that’s my kindergarten picture, and I miss my Brylcreem!) By coincidence, they sent this picture of me at about the same time that I was reading an article on “Sharenting.” “Sharenting” defines parents (and I would add grandparents) who frequently share photos and videos of their children and grandchildren online. Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? A sonogram, videos of an infant’s first sounds or a toddler’s initial wobbly steps, or pictures of that first time when a child decides that she or he is old enough to choose how to dress for pre-school (what fashionista decided that pink sweat pants, an orange shirt, and green tennis shoes don’t match anyway?).

But what happens when children learn from their friends or by searching for themselves online that they have an extensive digital footprint created by their parents or other family members without their knowledge and consent? Social media sites have minimum age requirements for children (enforceability is a separate issue), and schools that send pictures of children’s activities during the day first must get the permission of parents or guardians. As adults, we feel violated when a stranger hijacks our online identities, especially because it’s often done with malicious intent. It’s, therefore, time to ask, “Although most parents or grandparents have only loving intentions in sharing darling photos, are there limits to sharenting? At what point does cute and harmless potentially become disrespectful and damaging?”

Hayim Herring

The identity development of tweens (pre-teens) and teens can be a rocky unfolding journey. There’s nothing new about that, and I can remember arguments with my parents in junior high school about the length of my hair and the style of jeans. But those discussions were private, many of my childhood photos are still stored in a shoebox and not in the cloud, and I was the one who controlled my personal narrative with my friends during my teen years. I didn’t have to worry about pictures that my parents posted of me online without my consent or private comments that became public. But now, tweens and even those younger are discovering that they have a robust online existence being curated by parents, grandparents, and sometimes their schools.

I understand the urge of grandparents who want to proudly showcase their grandchildren. And for today’s parents who have been raised in a digital world, I can imagine their desires in wanting to share moments of their children’s lives online. I’m not making a judgment – there are many sides to this issue. But I do know that a perennial parental role is setting boundaries with children that change as they mature. We hope to guide our children to become caring, responsible, empathetic adults who are respectful of others. If parents and grandparents don’t set their own boundaries about what they share online about their children and grandchildren, what are we teaching them about how to set their own online limits?

We know enough already about the emotionally isolating effects of social media on young children. I now understand that we need to elevate the importance of a question that some psychologists are asking: is sharing always caring? Does putting content about your children or grandchildren online have the potential to shock their healthy childhood and adolescent development and create unanticipated emotional risks? We’ve permanently moved from the days of storing printed photos in a shoebox to sharing them on online sites like Dropbox. But until we start to better understand that sharing an innocent photo may not be so innocent after all, maybe we can adapt the carpenter’s maxim, “measure twice, cut once” to Sharenting: “click twice – and if you post, cut now.” After all, with discussion, dialogue, and discretion, we can always decide to post later.

(You can read more about these topics in my new book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, available for pre-order now!)

Make Foresight 20/20 this New Year!

Posted on: September 20th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

“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?

Posted on: August 12th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

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

Posted on: April 21st, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

Posted on: March 15th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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.


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