2017-07-05 / Religion Column

A leader puts down the phone and reaches out face-to-face

Congregation Beth El

Parashat Pinchas
Num. 25:10-30:1

Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the “old days” when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at devices in their hands? No string of texts or thread of e-mails amounts to one good, face-to-face conversation. Sometimes, I think we’ve become so focused on that tiny screen in our hands that we forget the big picture, the people—real people with hearts and souls—who are right in front of us.

In the Torah portion of Pinchas, Moshe asks Gd to appoint a successor for him as leader of the Jewish people. Moshe says, “May the Lord, Gd who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community…” The expression in Hebrew is,”Elo-Hay Kol Rue- Chote L’Chol Ba-Sahr.” (Numbers 27:16). Rashi explains what this means: “Why is this stated? Moses said before Him, ‘Master of the World, the personality of each individual is revealed to You; they do not resemble one another. Appoint a leader who can relate to each individual according to his or her personality.’”

What Moshe was asking for was for Gd, who knows all, to appoint a leader who would take the time to really get to know the individuals he was leading. Now, obviously, the more a leader understands his or her constituents, the more effective that leader will be. Every person is unique, each with his or her own sets of needs, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, too. A good leader takes the time to really listen, to ask good questions, and to forge relationships based on mutual understanding. And this, of course, takes time. Still, each of us is a leader in some regard: In the office, in the classroom, in our homes, in organizations, in our own families. And so I ask, in this age of social media and electronic communication, are you taking the time to deepen relationships through face-to-face communication, or are you letting that go? It takes time to learn what really makes another person tick, and your assumptions of the person in the past might not ring true today. Take time to develop your ability to engage in good conversation. It’s a talent we can grow. Let’s not allow it to become a dying art.

But there is more: Being a good conversationalist not only helps you understand more about the other person, it helps you to gain insight into your own life as well. In verbal conversation, unlike texts or e-mails, you can’t edit. You have to be real, you have to be in the moment; you have to think on your feet. What you choose to reveal to the person with whom you are speaking can tell you a lot about your own priorities at any given moment. Good conversation can lead to meaningful self-reflection; listening to what you yourself wish to share is a good form of talk therapy. Unfortunately, this opportunity can also be lost in the endless barrage of electronic communication. There really is no substitute for talking face-to-face.

So be a leader in your own life. Put down the phone and tune in to the lives of those right in front of you. Your world is full of fascinating people with interesting stories and observations to share. Draw them closer, and in the process you may just gain a closer relationship with yourself. s

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