Someone approached me yesterday, saying that they know me, because I recently helped friends of theirs find a school for one of their children. I thanked him because people don’t usually follow up to let me know what worked, or didn’t work, out. I had no idea that I had actually helped that person’s friend.
I’m not bitter when people don’t call to tell me that our discussion helped them, because I didn’t understand the value of doing it, until I was the one asking for the favors. Only after most people have invested in others, do they begin to appreciate the importance of letting those that helped them know that they made a difference in their lives.
There are many reasons that people may not “follow up” with those who have helped them: 1) People are too busy, become easily distracted, and forget to call; 2) The advice that was given often helped them in small increments and, as a result, there wasn’t one “clear” moment to compel them to call and thank the person; 3) People often don’t thank those who’ve helped them, because they don’t believe that “Mitzvah” people need follow up or the thank you.
There’s a fourth reason, and that’s the subject of today’s article. When my orginization first began, I asked my Rebbi the following question: Should I try to change (a polite word for “fix”) the Chinuch system, or should I limit my efforts to waking up each day, answering as many phone calls as I could, and speak to as many individuals as possible? His response was to pick up the phone, and speak to as many people as I could.
I initially thought his response was advising me to lower my goals, and that I shouldn’t try to fix the system because I’d fail. Later, as I matured, I realized that I misunderstood my Rebbi.
His response intended to teach me to appreciate the power of the individual task, or person. Most of what people do every day of their lives has a negligent impact on them, their families, or their communities. It’s only when those negligible actions are constantly repeated, by them, or by others, that the actions become “heard”, create change, and move mountains.
Placing a boy, or girl, in a school won’t change Klal Yisroel, but placing several hundred boys, and girls, will have a significant impact on the Frum community. Placing one boy/girl in a school may seem trivial, until people remember the effect it has on the siblings. Placed in a school s/he likes, makes him/her feel accomplished, and removes the urgent need to bother the siblings. For the same reason, the parents’ Sholom Bayis improves. This small act of placing a boy/girl may not end there, as the parents will have more free time, and peace of mind, and can dedicate more time to helping the other siblings, or others in need. One action can lead to multiple returns.
The same is true with many of people’s daily responsibilities. They may not feel better, or see the value, of saying thank you, of a single meaningful Davening, of one positive learning session with a Chavruso. Feeling a lack of achievement, they often stop, because they don’t understand the value of the single act, when it partners with hundreds of other single acts.
From a Chinuch perspective, parents and Mechanchim, correctly, reward children when they act properly. However, they’re cultivating an expectation of immediate gratification. What they should do is create a transition stage, in which the prizes become less frequent, and are replaced with an explanation of the pleasure of accomplishment, even though each, single, action, may not make them feel good.
I’ve learned to appreciate the value of every individual act, and not to judge my success by days, but by weeks, and months. This has allowed me to be less intense with my children, and to those who I’ve tried to help. Reducing the stress of instant success, will make it easier for parents, and Mechanchim, to succeed with their children and students.
I learned not to downplay the small actions, the “good mornings”, and noticed, and commented, on the small changes in others. I learned to ignore the absence of feeling good, when I’ve completed something which, I believed, would make me feel as if I did something right.
I learned to avoid hype, and those actions that grab attention. Instead I, incrementally, collected a wealth of small deeds, which, even accumulatively, may never be as noticed as the single attention grabbing acts of others. Nevertheless, they may be worth significantly more to the hundreds of families, who gained from those small actions, and to Hashem.
I learned that, when I advise other people, I should suggest that they focus on the small things. A neat home, meals at a consistent time, and remembering birthdays, etc. as foundational tools before, and possibly in place of, the high profile Chinuch acts which other people may advise them to do.
This change in approach will make it easier for parents, and Mechanchim, since, what will be expected of them, will require little talent.Anyone can pay attention to detail, attention to the individual, and attention to the simplest needs, and wants, of others, if they appreciate it’s importance. They don’t need to worry whether every action is making a difference, because each action isn’t. Even if they don’t notice any change as a result of their efforts, they can be confident that, in the long run, despite not “fixing the problem”, they’re doing exactly what’s needed, in small, incremental steps. After time, the problem will fix itself.