December 15, 2018

The Best Way to Enact Change

By Matt Shapiro

I often want to reorganize.  Instead of being willing to work within a system, I’m frequently trying to find the ways that it could be better. This tendency has its positive aspects, but more frequently it leads to a pattern of me being dissatisfied with what currently is and too overwhelmed to change things, while also not focusing on how I can work better within the system as it currently exists.

For example: much of the work I do at Beit T’Shuvah is under the heading of “spiritual counseling.” What is spiritual counseling? In short, we, as spiritual counselors are the advocates for the soul of the resident, utilizing Jewish texts, spiritual resources and our own experiences in order to help the resident along the path of their own recovery. Naturally, I want to find ways to make this more systematic, both to make it more efficient and, of course, to make it in my own image (places of ego run rampant and need transparency). Based on a conversation I had last week, overnight I came up with a completely different model for spiritual counseling, involving group text learning, specialized individual sessions and department-wide consultations about texts and group dynamics. Excited, I shared this with Shira, one of my fellow spiritual counselors the next day; she looked at me, as only she can, and said simply, “Well, that sounds pretty complicated. I don’t think that would work for me, but if it works for you, go for it.”

Of course, she was right. My own desire to do better at my own job and discomfort with how to manage my own workload doesn’t need to cause an entire stylistic shift in the department. Furthermore, her point leaves the advancement of my idea squarely on my shoulders, rather than moving it to a group responsibility, so I can later huff and puff about how my great idea isn’t moving forward.

In reflecting on this, I’m beginning to realize that, though there is an earnestness and a will to improve in my “reworking reflex,” there’s also an equal amount of procrastination and avoidance. Why focus on what’s in front of me when it could be different and, of course, better? I need to find the ways to balance my brainstorming and hopes to innovate, with a willingness to be present in the reality of my situation and the patience to see things through one day at a time, instead of radically reconfiguring them at the drop of a hat.

There’s a famous teaching from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, that is usually translated as “it is not your responsibility to complete the work, neither are you free to ignore it.” It’s not my job to come up with the ideal systems or organizational structures for my department, let alone all of Beit T’Shuvah, and I also have the responsibility of engaging with the questions of “what’s the best way to do this?” Where I really need to apply that inquisitiveness, though, is in my own life. It’s not my job to find all of the ways I need to improve my own tendencies, behaviors and actions right away, but I’m also not free to ignore that responsibility…and certainly not free to tell someone else the best way they should do their job. The ways in which we hide from ourselves can be toxic, and, at the same time, tremendously freeing once they (and we) are found.