Working Face to Face
Six weeks ago, I reached out to ReformJudaism.org to ask if I could write a couple of blog posts for their site. It is not secret that I aspire to get into the publishing world, and I thought this would be a good way for me to get to share my voice a little and practice the craft, all in pursuit of lifting up the Progressive Jewish mission. We settled on two articles I would write, and off I went.
After submitting the pieces, I entered the editing process. For three days, varying members of the staff at the site left comments, made suggestions, and critiqued my argument. Now, anyone who says they enjoys “constructive criticism” is either a masochist or a liar. Because no matter how open-minded you are, it is never fun to be told that your work is flawed, that the words you labored over need changing from someone who knows your goal better than you do. Which was kind of the point of getting my writing into a new setting; I wanted to practice what it was like to review my work, to accept suggestions and to thicken my skin to such feedback. Some changes I made happily, others begrudgingly, and still others got me to push back a little.
But then something unusual happened. The team leader on the review sent me a private email, asking to set up a time to chat over Zoom. It wasn’t urgent, she said, and there was no agenda, but she wanted to get the chance to meet and get to know me. Curious, I thought, but we set a time and a date, and that was that.
The next week, when we got on Zoom, we introduced ourselves, got to know a little bit about one another and played the typical game of Jewish Geography. But what struck me was her purpose behind our conversation. She said, “it felt strange critiquing your work without a basis in relationship.” It was important to her that, in order to do this work together, we had to understand one another’s motivations, at least a little bit, and to be able to engage in a way that felt human, that was compassionate, rather than transactional.
What made this so magical was that, by the end of the call, I was entirely more prepared to accept any comment she left on my work with a more open heart. Because this wasn’t an uncaring, unknown entity; this was a human being who had taken the time to see me as a human being in my own right. That is, after all, exactly what Judaism has to offer in the first place. We all know that technological tools are making it easier than ever to communicate without needing to get close to anyone, literally and figuratively. Group projects can be done in a Google Doc without ever having to breathe the same air. “This could have been an email” is a common complaint when we are forced into real-life interactions. The fact that I’m so pleased with an interaction that happened in a Zoom room only exacerbates the point. But we also crave that interpersonal connection that lifts up our inner value, that acceptance that I am more than my web address.
The post-pandemic world of work is going to be very different from the one we knew before. And as we continually evaluate how to get the best productivity from one another and the most satisfaction from our work, we have to keep in mind the way we treat one another. As I learned in the most positive of ways, our work is more fulfilling and higher quality when we treat the person as much as the product.
It has been my dream since I was a child to be a writer. I sent that email to the blog because I wanted to help get my words out there, to help me reach more people with what I have to say. And this staff member helped to put into even clearer terms exactly what I love about the craft in the first place: writing helps us to bridge divides, to see inside another person’s mind, and to find connections that can help sweeten our experience of the world. That is all done best when we see the human being underneath.