Family, Work and the Work Family

The ground we stand on feels so shaky and unsure these days.  Some call us to return to the past.  Others push to a new future.  In a way, I think they’re both right.

Jen, Jack and I had the privilege and pleasure of sharing a Shabbos dinner with our Orthodox Jewish friends, the Torgows.  Talk about looking back.  In their ancient tradition, Shabbos or Shabbat (or the Sabbath, to Christians) is a centuries-old ritual, and they live it in just that way.  For 24 hours beginning on sundown Friday, there’s no cars, cell phones, TV, VCRs, X-Box, PDAs, you get it.  Instead, they remember G-d who did some awesome work before He rested on the seventh day.  And they savor – or kvell in – the gift of family.  The supper-service began with a beautiful prayer of tribute to the women of the family.  At another point the fathers stood and blessed each of their sons, with a Hebrew blessing the dads read while pressing their lips to their son’s heads.  Five baby-to-toddler grandchildren were passed about, or padded around, throughout the meal.  Jennifer and I reflected on our way home how this central experience of Shabbat in the Torgow family combines with the technology black-out to produce a highly counter-cultural experience: Their adult children tend to stay near home.  Three of the four adult Torgow children wheeled their children home that evening in strollers.  While many of us celebrated our Thanksgiving weekend as a once-a-year family gathering, bookended by snarling air and road traffic; these folks experience the family gathering every week.

In our worlds in which we’re too busy to eat together, technology invades every last minute, and “successful” families see their children cast to the winds, the Orthodox Jews have rituals that center them and build families of enviable closeness and support.

On the other end of the spectrum, great modern businesses also celebrate family. Some just invite family in.  You can bring your daughters and sons to work – even if once a year – or visit them in the onsite daycare facility to humanize the work place (Google and others allow the family members of the pet kingdom in, too).  Some great workplace democracies like Ann Arbor’s Menlo Innovations (see a bunch of such cool companies at www.worldblu.com) encourage young moms to have their babies right there in their open workplace, and some force their workers to go home after 8 hours and to leave work at work.  Great businesses also create “family” among co-workers.  They beckon us into a world where work can be profoundly meaningful – not just because of what we do but also because of how and with whom we do it.  We are blessed in my wife’s administration to have built a community of people dedicated to making Michigan a better place and making their co-workers better people.  We hope in another year we will find places of such deep purpose, shared values, and kinship.  And we should thank the awesome business people who go to bed at night – especially in this great recession – thinking not just about how they will feed their own families, but how they will keep people employed and able to support theirs.

As we return from a weekend – a Shabbat or a Thanksgiving – we ought to fight the urge to depersonalize our work spaces and our fellow workers.  Whether you’re going back to centuries-old established traditions, or building new ones for a new culture, don’t lose sight of the great people about you and of the power of community,

As you lead with your best self,

Dan

14 responses to “Family, Work and the Work Family

  1. It is sad that you have to remove the “o” from God in your last newsletter. That is who they remember. Not G-d.
    Are we now to remove the “u” from B-dda?
    The “o” from m-ney (that so many worship today)?
    I’m disappointed.
    Kevin

    1. Kevin and Mark,
      Wow, slow down, fellas. It’s not about PC. I was showing respect for God in an ancient way, consistent with today’s piece. Let Ginger Betzer explain it better than I could:

      “Why do Jews leave the “o” out of G-d. We do this out of respect for the position of G-d. Since the call on Israel to bear the image of One G-d on the earth, Israel has had the responsibility of separating the common from the profane, the Holy from the unholy. It is the call of every Jew to sanctify the name of G-d and set it apart. How is this done? We do not pronouncing or write the name of G-d unless it is in a holy setting. Even when teaching prayers, if they are not prayers said directly to HaShem, we do not say His complete name. The very first premise of any Torah knowledge, the first precept of knowing G-d, is a fear (in the sense of awe and respect) for who He IS.”

      God is awesome – an entity, person, spirit beyond all names or words. That was what I intended to convey. Wished I’d footnoted it. Sorry the apparent insult.

      Dan

      Here’s a site to read more if you’re interested. http://www.helium.com/items/809861-god-vs-g-d

      1. Dan,

        I had also learned that (not writing the full name of God) during my religious studies. In fact, the commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord in vain,” which is worded somewhat differently in various Jewish scriptures or versions of the Bible, refers to just that … even mentioning the name of God was thought of as taking his name in vain.

        Thank you for the clarification.

    2. I enjoyed listening to “Reading for Leading,” this week. It came across as heartfelt/sincere. And, the message was; in my opinion, an important one! Thank you for your “specific,” reflection on such a beautiful tradition.

      “In their ancient tradition, Shabbos or Shabbat (or the Sabbath, to Christians) is a centuries-old ritual, and they live it in just that way. For 24 hours beginning on sundown Friday, there’s no cars, cell phones, TV, VCRs, X-Box, PDAs, you get it. Instead, they remember G-d who did some awesome work before He rested on the seventh day. And they savor – or kvell in – the gift of family. The supper-service began with a beautiful prayer of tribute to the women of the family. At another point the fathers stood and blessed each of their sons, with a Hebrew blessing the dads read while pressing their lips to their son’s heads.”

      I, myself, try to be a practicing Catholic; however, I see a lot of wrong in every religion, and for the most part, there is something “good” that we can take and utilize, from every recognized, major, religion in the world. The tradition of setting aside time for God and family is an important one. A tradition, that most of us have gotten away from, due to the hustle and bustle of today’s daily living. And, the negative effects of this are showing up in our children and in our society.

      Leadership begins by setting a positive example, by keeping oneself humble in servicing the needs of others with honesty, compassion, and by putting people, both physically and mentally on the correct path, as we know it to be, in life, through various ways that reach, touch, and kindle the “spirits” of others, and all creatures, both big and small. It’s also finding balance in our lives, and we just can’t do it without God and continual prayer.

      I also found your rebuttal, to another person’s comment, about removing the “o” in God, in your above article, both interesting and very informative: (I thank you for explaining it. One can never have too much respect or reverence for our God! — Another beautiful tradition!)

      “Let Ginger Betzer explain it better than I could:
      “Why do Jews leave the “o” out of G-d. We do this out of respect for the position of G-d. Since the call on Israel to bear the image of One G-d on the earth, Israel has had the responsibility of separating the common from the profane, the Holy from the unholy. It is the call of every Jew to sanctify the name of G-d and set it apart. How is this done? We do not pronouncing or write the name of G-d unless it is in a holy setting. Even when teaching prayers, if they are not prayers said directly to HaShem, we do not say His complete name. The very first premise of any Torah knowledge, the first precept of knowing G-d, is a fear (in the sense of awe and respect) for who He IS.”
      God is awesome – an entity, person, spirit beyond all names or words.”

      Thank you again!

  2. What’s with the reference to G-O-D as you wrote it; G-d? There, I said it; let me say it again….GOD.

    Merry Chistmas…..oops; non-pc….retraction…. “Happy Holidaze”

  3. Dan –

    What a beautiful picture this message paints. How many of us wouldn’t want this for our own families, or in our work life. Sometimes I’m stunned at what has become the “norm” in work and family life. At Menlo, we invite moms to bring their babies in for a bunch of reasons, but the number one reason for me is that I want to give that working mom every chance to experience the joy of being able to see those precious “firsts”. Its fun for ur team to see those as well! Keep up the good work.

    1. Rick: Thank you for doing that. That’s being a real CEO. I stayed home with our daughter (who’s 18 years old now) for 18 months when she was first born, then my wife and I switched jobs for our now-15-year-old son. Either of us would have missed something big if we’d missed their first crawling, first steps, or first words. I know that your moms appreciate your taking efforts on their behalf.

  4. Dan,

    Keep reminding us to take time out to APPRECIATE each other in the present! Thanks for reminding us to Lead With Our Best Selves NOW!

    Know that you continue to Make A Difference!

    ~The TIP Lady

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Look to this day
    For yesterday is but a dream,
    And tomorrow is only a vision.
    But today, well lived,
    Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
    and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
    Look well, therefore, to this day.

    ~SANSKRIT PROVERB

  5. Dan,

    What a wonderful reminder of the power and importance of family. Too often we wait for hoidays to remember what we should value every day of our lives. In a time when families are separated by geography more than ever before this article is a wake up call for all of us to remember to love and appreciate each other as often as we can.

  6. Dan,

    Before she died, my mother mentioned my first crystal radio set — the one I built when I was seven. She said her fears of losing contact with her children began the first night I lay in bed listening to “voices from outside,” voices she could not hear and filter. I am the oldest sibling of five (four who survive), and that was the first time she had to trust me to interact with the world on my own. It sounds quaint in an age of 3G Smartphones and computers connected to broadband data streams, but at that time we still huddled together to peer into the snowy depths of the round screen on the Muntz television to enjoy Martin and Lewis, Jack Benny, or the Show of Shows. We crowded around the radio to listen to Tigers games, or on the floor at 6:00 a.m. in front of the gas space heater on wintry mornings to listen to morning talk shows on WJR, and pray that the schools would close. Technology’s ability to separate us while linking us together was felt for the first time.

    Mom fought the good fight to keep us eating together each night, but she marked the day of her final defeat shortly after I left home. My folks bought a microwave oven. My siblings were all teenagers and very busy with after-school sports and activities, so my parents made it easier for them to reheat food from the dinners they missed. We still ate together often, but it was never the same, making our family meals all the more poignant.

    However, recently I discovered a glimmer of hope the night my older son brought his family over and plugged his game console into our television, and we all embarked on an evening of playing Rockband. Even my grandsons took turns belting out classic rock hits. Now, we regularly get together to play board games or interactive video games for many players. We try to eat together every week, even if some of the food is cooked in the microwave.

    My point: Technology is not evil and does not, by itself, destroy family unity. Technology is just a toolbox, full of wondrous tools. We can use the tools to build barriers or to build families and communities. Your column was no less inspiring because it was delivered by pixels instead of paper. Employers can use their spreadsheets to better understand their employees and empower those employees to understand the business, or they can use those spreadsheets to depersonalize and objectify those employees. We have changed.

    We are changing. Change is part of life, and it is up to us to learn from the past, take what was good from the past, and use our new tools to keep it alive in the future. We need not eschew the tools of the present and fear the promise of the future, to honor the past. We can honor God and the best in ourselves in an e-mail, a phone call, a text message, a tweet, or even a blog post. Thanks for the story and the insight, Dan.

    Mick

    1. Mick,

      Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I have many of those same experiences/memories! I, too, am the eldest of six siblings.

  7. Health-optimizing programs, like Rich Sheridan’s at Menlo, are needed to develop physical and psychological resilience during these tough times.

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    Also, such programs cultivate a positive corporate culture that can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through stress reduction.

  8. Excellent musing Dan. Thanks much and God bless you all.
    David M. Stevens
    Psalm 118:24 T.I.TD! “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

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