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Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

 

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.

A Confession: What I Learned at a Shooting Range

Posted on: March 6th, 2018 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

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

Posted on: February 6th, 2018 by Hayim Herring

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?

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

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.

 

 


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