Candidly, some weeks as Friday is approaching, I am challenged to carve out the time to write a post. And sometimes, when colleagues ask me, “how do you find the time to tweet every day?” I question my own decision to prioritize writing on busy days. Given the reactions generated by what I write – dissection of every word, a good deal of push back from multiple corners of our community, and occasional regrets about words chosen that cannot be taken back – it’s a fair question: Why do I write and tweet so much?
I sometimes think about the 1996 film City Hall. It captured a time when politics were navigated, deals were made, and power was wielded in smoky backrooms. It wasn’t the only film of its kind, but it resonated because it was about a New York mayor (Al Pacino) and his young idealistic aide (John Cusack) at a time when I was a young aide to a New York mayoral candidate. The notion stuck with me that there was a lot less transparency than there ought to be, both in the film and the world in which I was working. I could tell some stories about real life, from dumpster diving for opposition research to occasionally glimpsing an envelope with questionable content and intent, but I probably shouldn’t go there.
As a young adult struggling with how and whether to identify with the organized Jewish community, I also struggled with my frustration about what our community was saying in public – and how little I, and my peers, knew about how and why those choices were being made.
Suffice to say, I resolved that if I were ever in a position to help set that agenda and move that work, I’d do so with transparency. I thought of that younger self a few years ago, reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle (and trust me on this, the book is way better than last year’s movie). Young, idealistic techies embrace the idea of a world gone “clear,” in which people wear devices and stream video of their every action in real time to the web. It is intended as a cautionary tale about the oversharing world we live in – and perhaps, about the dangers of taking a commitment to transparency to the extreme.
So over the years I’ve learned two things: 1) That it was impossible to practice full transparency and still allow for the quiet and necessary relational conversations where people can take risks or seek compromise, and 2) That, at least for communal organizations that purport to speak for broader communities, the pursuit of transparency is in service to something more complex and all-encompassing: the claim to legitimacy.
One of the great communal conversations in the American Jewish community over the coming years is going to be about who gets to speak for the community, and how. And I suspect that a large part of the answer to “how?” will be by earning legitimacy every single day through building trust. Smarter folks than I have written volumes about the building of trust, but certainly part of that comes from communicating not just what we are doing, but the why and the how. And trust is earned not just by engaging with designated communal leaders but by broadening and democratizing debate throughout the community.
So every week when I sit down to blog (or, to be “transparent,” about one-third of the time to edit something a member of our staff drafted for me), and every day when I’m tweeting, my goal – and ours – is to build trust; not just by showing what we do (that could go in an annual report or a press release) but how we do it. Who do we listen to? What are we reading? What considerations inform our decisions?
It’s impossible to “go clear” (back to Eggers); the sheer limitations of time and topics prevent that. But it is possible to say, “here, on Twitter, are the writers and thought pieces we’re reading and discussing,” and, “this, in a blog post, is what we think about when deciding to make a statement.” And it’s also opening us up to you – so that anyone can ask a question on social media and as long as it is civil, we’ll try to answer. Hopefully, somewhere in all that give and take, we’re generating just a bit more trust, and legitimacy, for what we do.
With that thought, I’ll close with a request that I often make when speaking to our own Council and agency leaders: Ask us about anything. We’ll try to address those questions in an upcoming blog post.