Tuesday, August 09, 2011

You never know who you are talking to!

I would like to relate a remarkable story of everyday human respect. In response to Tisha B'Av this is an attempt to reflect upon one of the simple, small ways in which we can all improve our regular interaction with other people.

The story begins when I visited the gallery at Beit Avi Chai ome time ago. I had been interested in a photography exhibiti there, and when the opportunity arose, I went along to enjoy what was, a fantastic display. However, I took issue with the curator's written commentary finding it objectionable, and I decided to write a letter of complaint to the organization.

I am not usually a complainer. I rarely write letters of praise or criticism to public foundations. And yet, since I have great respect for the Avi Chai Foundation which champions Jewish unity, Zionism, and Jewish Education, and the aforementioned comments seemed at variance with those values, I decided to write an email.

10:30 pm - It was late Saturday night, and I searched online for the email of the curator. I couldn't find it. In the end, with some unsophisticated web-surfing, I guessed the museum director's email and sent off a one paragraph, polite email, articulating my objection.

8:45 am, Sunday: I opened my gmail to find a letter from the director of Beit Avi Chai, Mr. Dani Danielli. It was written in respectful, intelligent, gentle language. It explained, the museum's decision with reference to academic sources and historical evidence. The email was quite lengthy - 3 times th elength of mine - and it upheld the museum's perspective and demonstrated the validity of their approach.

I was bowled over.
1. Who forwarded it to the director?
2. Why did he respond to me?
3. He responded so promptly – first thing in the morning.
4. The fact that he wrote to me so respectfully and with no hint of aggression. I am so used to the Israeli "attitude" problem which generally means that any complain will be agressively rebuffed as a reflex defense mechanism automatically springs into place. In addition I have also become used to the telegraphic Israeli correspondence (army-style?) style which can strike an Englishman as rather abrupt.
5. The director was totally in touch with what was going on in his institution. He was fully versed regarding the topic at hand. He had thought through the issues and grappled with the ideological nuances.

Anyhow, this was quite a breath of fresh air, and a highly impressive response by Beit Avi Chai.

What do I take from this situation?

So often, I get an email at work. Sometimes, it is irritating. Other times, I am busy and I simply respond with a two line rushed statement. Sometimes, I am a little short or brusque.

So, 1.) I should respond to anyone who writes to me with respect. Mr. Danielli received my email. I had not listed that I was a Rabbi or educator. I could be just some nudnick off the street. And yet, he took the time to respond, present his case, articulate his thinking.

And 2.) I should take two extra minutes to ensure my language is not telegraphic, but gives my correspondent the sense that I value them and take them seriously.

If we all begin to respond to one another in more humane ways, we can genuinely make the world a better, human-elevating place.

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