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OPPORTUNITY, OBLIGATION & INNOCENT WONDERMENT: THINKING ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE

July 28, 2017

SPEECH FOR CENTRAL FLORIDA FOUNDATION > July 27, 2017

 

I view my life through the lens of two words: Opportunity. And obligation.

After nearly a half century of life, almost 30 years in my career, 22 years running my own business, 21 years as a husband, 19 years as a father, 18 years immersed in the Central Florida community – those two words are my North Star.

Opportunity. Obligation.

Opportunity is the easier of the two words.

I ask myself constantly, in my world, my life, my realm, what opportunities are available to me?

I’m searching and hoping for opportunities to better understand myself, to better understand my world, and to better understand the human condition.

I’m eagerly seeking opportunities for adventure and discovery of all kinds. I crave opportunities to inspire and influence others. And ultimately, I’m hoping for an opportunity to leave a legacy.

I’m fortunate. I’ve had the opportunity to do what I think are some pretty cool things. I’ve run across both the Grand Canyon and the state of Florida, two amazing adventures and unforgettable experiences that tested me physically and mentally.

Speaking of being tested mentally and physically… as the father of three teenagers, I’ve had adventures of a different sort … those I will not be sharing with you today.

But, being a parent means having the opportunity to share my ideas with my kids, It means the opportunity to see today’s world through their eyes, enlightening indeed. It also means the opportunity to set an example and impart my values. Occasionally, I even catch them listening.

As a business owner, I have the opportunity to inspire my team members through my words and actions, through the energy that I bring to my work, and through the values that I, and we, stand for.

I have the opportunity to help the people who come into my office every day to grow and thrive individually, And collectively, we have the opportunity to use our talents to do good not just for our bottom line, but for our community, too.

Through my volunteer positions in the community, I am honored to have the opportunity to champion important issues, and to use my voice to speak out for those in need.

These are opportunities available every day. But it’s a conscious, daily decision whether and how to take advantage of them.

Or to ignore them completely.

After all, making the most of these opportunities takes effort. And some days I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m burned out. Maybe some of you high achievers can relate.

But what I’ve found is that opportunity has its own inertia. When you recognize the opportunities available, when you get in the habit of exploring those opportunities regularly – they just keep coming to you.

For example, when Mark Brewer calls and asks if you want to share some ideas with the staff and board of the Central Florida Foundation, well that’s one hell of an opportunity.

Opportunity.

Obligation.

Obligation is trickier. It’s not always a black or white, yes or no proposition. What is my actual obligation to the people who work for me? What is my actual obligation to our community? What is my actual obligation to this world? I’m only here temporarily, so why do I care? I’m only one person, so what can I do? I have a lot on my plate, so why should I try?

But if I believe that I have obligations in this world – call them moral obligations if you want – then I have to ask the hard questions:

What are my values?

What does right, fairness and justice mean to me ?

What are my unbreakable promises?

What are my non-negotiables?

Some I have a pretty good handle on:I have an obligation to treat everyone with respect, an obligation to use my limited time on earth for good, an obligation to invest my time and my talents for the betterment of others.

Some I struggle with: I believe I have an obligation to help people in need, but there are so many people and so many needs. who am I obliged to help? What am I obliged to do?

Like I said, this is the harder of the two lenses.

The Ferguson Commission knows what I’m talking about. In their report, they say, and I quote:

“This new, shared sense of understanding calls us to a shared sense of responsibility, and also brings a shared sense of opportunity. What would a more just, a more unified, a more equitable St. Louis be capable of?”

In other words: “What is our opportunity?” “What is our obligation?”

I’m repeating these words because in a few minutes, we’re going to have a conversation about social justice and what this organization, the Central Florida Foundation, can or should do to support that concept in our community.

And what I’m hoping is that we’ll view that conversation through these lenses:

So, ponder these ideas as you finish lunch and I keep talking: What opportunities do we, in this room, individually and collectively, have to advance social justice in our community?

And then, the harder one – obligation. What is our obligation? What are the values we are acting on? What is our purpose? And in light of our values and purpose, what MUST we do? What MUST we do with a capital M?

Opportunity and obligation.

Last week, I went to Mayor Dyer’s State of the City address. I saw several of you there, and I thought it was a great speech. As I listened to the mayor describe the growth of our city and the things that he and the city staff are focused on, the two unspoken words that were underlying the entire speech were, yes, opportunity and obligation.

Paraphrasing a bit, some of the things I heard the Mayor say were:

Today, we have an opportunity to enrich the culture of the city and in so doing, enrich the lives of our citizens.

We have an obligation to strengthen the economic base and the economic diversity of our city because otherwise some people will be left out, and excluded from the good that’s created.

We have an opportunity to set responsible guidelines and parameters around the way growth happens in our city because we have an obligation to leave our city in a better place for the next generation.

Furthermore, we have an obligation to be good stewards of our natural resources and the planet we inhabit, and along with that, an opportunity to implement new standards that will protect the land and air.

Opportunity and obligation.

But, as Mayor Dyer talked about all the amazing things the city has accomplished this last year, and the things that have been set in place in order to ensure that the city continues to grow and prosper, another thought came to mind – that none of it matters.

None of it matters if we aren’t first … a community that takes care of its own, that creates an environment in which everyone feels safe, in which all people can fulfill their potential, in which no one feels left out.

All those things he talked about – urban planning, economic growth, education, arts and culture, the environment – none of it matters if we aren’t the kind of community that values all citizens.

I speak a lot about organizational culture in business, and this is an exact parallel.

You can build a business that makes tons of money, that wins all kinds of awards, that tops all the lists, (those lists seem to be very important to us), but if you hate going to work every day, if there are no meaningful relationships, if you don’t feel fulfilled, if you aren’t able to be your true and authentic self there, if you’re pushing others down in order to make your way up – then what does it matter?

By some metrics the businesses may look like a “success.” Or you may call it a means to an end, but I would call it meaning-less. And that’s no way to work.

And that’s what our community would be like if we were doing all these things right – taking care of the economy, taking care of our infrastructure, taking care of the environment – but not … taking care of our people … all people.

And so, again, by some metrics the community may look like a “success.” Or you may call it a means to an end, but I would call it meaning-less.

And that’s no way to live.  

So, let’s add another word to our list – intentionality.

You see, one thing I’ve learned is that in any group, whether a business, a nonprofit or a community, it’s easy, and perhaps even natural for us to do good when things are good.

But it’s just as easy for that good culture and those good values to be cast by the wayside when things aren’t going well.

I saw this in my own business.

When the recession hit in 2008, we’d had 8 years of riding the wave of growth and success, 8 years of building relationships and organically creating a great place to work. But when the economy went bust, when our clients started going away – many literally going away – out of business – we struggled and suffered, and all that good stuff – the having fun together, inspiring each other, being happy at work – was replaced with survival. Just survival.

Fortunately, we did survive. But we were nothing like what we had been before, because before we just assumed that things would always be good, assumed that our culture was strong. But when things stopped being good, our commitment to culture was the first thing that went away.

So, in 2010, as I started to put the pieces back together again, I did so with intention. I did so with a commitment to creating non-negotiable practices that would ensure the survival of our culture. No matter what.

The parallel here is that when communities are thriving, when we’re doing well, that social piece, the culture, usually takes care of itself.

We’ve seen that in our own community and our world – when things are going well, we treat each other well. But, when things change, when we’re struggling, we turn inward, we turn against one another, we build walls, we point fingers and we look for people to blame (usually people who look different from “us”).

And that’s why now, while things are pretty good here in Central Florida, it’s time to articulate exactly what our values are, exactly what social justice means to us, exactly what our moral code is, exactly what we stand for AND to put in place defined strategies for supporting our values and all the things that are important to us – before we find ourselves struggling, before those values are challenged – in the name of survival.

We need to recognize…and appreciate that this is a unique opportunity that we have today – to talk about what social justice means in Central Florida and to address our obligations and opportunities around this topic while not in crisis, and before a storm comes.

I think I’ve talked enough about opportunity and obligation for a while, and I want to switch gears a little bit here and talk about the five stages of tribal leadership because I think this will shape our conversation, too.

The five stages of tribal leadership, if you aren’t familiar with them, are really a construct for looking critically at the groups, organizations or communities we belong to, giving us a framework to identify where “our group” is today and to develop strategies for how we might evolve up the stages – to a place where we can do the most good and have the greatest impact.

We won’t say that stage one groups are at the bottom of the ladder – we’ll just say that they’re the least evolved. Organizations, teams or communities that fall into the stage one category are defined by a group mentality that “Life sucks.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

Stage one groups – as a group – believe that life sucks and that’s just the way it is and the way it’s always going to be, and so all they’re trying to do is endure.

In the business world, these are typically unskilled labor driven, commoditized service type companies. For them, work is misery – but then again, everything is misery.

Communities exist like this, too.

Did anyone listen to the podcast S-Town? It’s the third “Serial” podcast and it takes place entirely in rural Alabama, In a community where everyone feels trapped, there’s no escape, no better alternative to where they are. It’s a fun story to listen to. Not a fun place to live. This is stage one.

In stage two, the group functions a little better, but there are still individuals within the group who believe that “My life sucks,” and these individuals feel hopeless and poison the group.

Within stage two groups, a fair amount of focus is on trying to neutralize the toxicity of the individuals who have this fatalistic view of their existence.

These groups end up, at best, treading water because their energy isn’t being used to move things forward, it’s being used to insulate themselves from the negativity of those “Life Sucks” individuals.

Stage three gets a whole lot better and, in fact, stage 3 groups achieve a fair amount of success, but these groups are defined by individuals within the group who believe: “I’m Great…and you’re not.”

Does this sound familiar?

We see this in organizations, teams and communities that revolve around superstars or self-centered leaders – individuals who don’t recognize the strength of the team, but want the recognition all to themselves, and who believe that their success is because of their talents and their talents alone.

The prima donnas in stage three organizations believe they don’t need the organization or its culture to be successful and in fact, all the people around them are replaceable.

You can imagine the kinds of organizations or even communities that are stage three, There are plenty of examples out there. In fact, in the business world, more than 45% of organizations fall into this category.

Stage four is a whole lot better, and these groups are infinitely more successful…and sustainable.

Stage four is defined by a prevailing “group belief” that “We are great….and they are not.” In other words, we work together as a team, we recognize the benefits of being a team and sharing responsibility. We value each other’s talents, and know that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. But, we are constantly looking at what others are doing, and our measure of success is how we compare.

As a result, stage four groups find success and growth, but only incrementally. It’s impossible to take great leaps forward when your only focus is on getting a step ahead of someone else.

And so, all this leads to stage five.

Stage Five. Cue the angels!

Stage five is defined by a world view summed up as “Innocent Wonderment.”

Can you imagine it? Innocent Wonderment.

Stage five groups do something so simple and yet so hard. Stage five groups look openly and optimistically at the talents and resources they have available to them and say: “What’s possible?”

Stage 5 groups come to the table and say things like: “Let’s try this because we can do it. And it could change the world.”

They don’t waste time or energy comparing themselves to what others are doing. They’re less concerned about making mistakes, and unconcerned about who gets credit.

The members of Stage five groups put their personal egos aside. They trust each other. They’re vulnerable. They know they’re aligned around a common purpose. They know they share the same values and so now, the only question is – what can we do?

Stage five thinking sounds like this:

“We do not know for certain if these calls to action are the answer. We can’t. But they are what we believe to be the best starting point, the beginning of a path toward a better St. Louis.”

As you know, that’s a direct quote from the Ferguson Report, and that’s Stage five thinking.

You see, the more the culture of our group, our team, or our community evolves, the more we move away from negativity, self-interest, division, and competition.

As we move toward this stage five mentality, that’s when we get into the truly creative and visionary ideas.

When we get to stage five, that’s where transformational change happens.

And so, when we start our conversation in a few minutes around social justice, this is where I hope we’ll be:

Stage 5 thinking.

Innocent wonderment.

What’s possible?

Now, before we start to think about our opportunity and obligation around the issue of social justice, before we start to think about how we pursue social justice with intentionality, before we start to think about how we approach the issue of social justice from the standpoint of “innocent wonderment,” let me share one story.

As you know, one of my roles in the community is as the board chair for Orlando’s Holocaust Center, and our mission is to use the lessons of the Holocaust to change the world, to create a more just society, one that’s free of hatred, prejudice and bigotry so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

While most people think of the Holocaust and immediately go to Hitler, the Nazis, the pogroms, the concentration camps – we go to a different place. We like to share the stories of people who acted courageously and saved lives because these are where the teachable moments are.

My favorite is the story of the Albanian Muslims.

Albania is a tiny country on the Balkan Peninsula, predominantly but not entirely Muslim, and with a complicated history, having been fought over for Millennia and ruled over by various countries for centuries.

What makes Albania unique is that its Muslim community lives by a code, a moral code called BESA.

BESA is difficult to explain. The literal translation is “keeping the promise or word of honor.” Some say it means “Faith.” Others interpret it as, “Taking care of those in need and being hospitable.” None of these does the concept of BESA justice, but the Albanian Muslims know intuitively what it means.

You see, this code has been a part of the Albanian Muslim culture since the early 15th century, since the Ottoman Empire, and it incorporates all of these ideas that I’ve been sharing with you today – Opportunity. Obligation. Intention. A more evolved level of thinking.

BESA is passed down from generation to generation and is a non-negotiable part of their society.

During World War II, the Nazis invaded Albania, and by all rational thought, this tiny Muslim community should have gone into survival mode, worried first and foremost about protecting their own. Instead, they did something extraordinary. They continued to live by their code – BESA.

You see, rather than handing over the small population of Albanian Jews to the Nazis or even, instead of hiding the Jews in their attics or in the woods, the Albanian Muslims took these Jews, their neighbors, into their homes and made them a part of their families and protected them in an extraordinary way.

Adhering to the BESA code, the Albanian Muslims dressed their Jewish neighbors in traditional Albanian clothing, Muslim clothing. They gave them Muslim names. They taught them Muslim customs. Their Jewish neighbors became family – not “like” family, but family. in fact putting their own families at risk.

That was BESA. That was their obligation.

BESA said that in our community, we take care of those in need no matter what.

BESA said that protecting our neighbors is a non-negotiable obligation.

Individual Albanians didn’t stop and ask, “should I or shouldn’t I?”

They didn’t ask their neighbors “are you or aren’t you?”

They just did what was right because doing the right thing was part of their moral code – had been established as their moral code centuries before.

The Ferguson Commission said:

“There are no easy answers. We are faced with many tough decisions. But inaction, sticking with the status quo, just isn’t an option anymore.”

And now I ask:

Where do we stand with the tough issues at hand?

What do we see on the horizon that we must prepare for today?

What opportunity do we have to create the kind of community we want to leave for the next generation and beyond?

What is our obligation?

And the pursuit of

May 19, 2017

YMCA ANNUAL MEETING SPEECH > MAY 18, 2017

For those of you who know me, you may have expected my pursuit to be some epic adventure, some ridiculous run, some insane endurance challenge…

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

My pursuit is, and has been for as long as I can remember –  the pursuit of me.

Now, before you write this off as some narcissistic, selfish endeavor, wait. I guarantee you, this is the toughest pursuit of all, the toughest I’ve ever faced, anyway.

You see, the pursuit of me means finding and living and being the very best, most authentic version of myself I can be every single day.

And wrapped up in this pursuit of me is the pursuit of being the best father I can be to my kids, the best husband I can be to my wife, the best leader I can be to my team, the best friend I can be to my friends, the best son I can be to my parents, the best brother I can be to my sisters, the best example I can be to my community – it goes on and on and on – and as I said, it is the toughest challenge I’ve ever taken on.

The pursuit of me all started with a pair of basketball shoes.

A pair of white high-top nike basketball shoes that my wife, Steph, bought me 19 years ago when the weight of a stressful job and being a new dad and paying our first mortgage and trying to find my way in a new community w as taking its toll on me. Steph could see on my face that I was losing something – me.

And so she bought me that pair of basketball shoes.

And that led to a membership at the Y

And that led to lunchtime basketball a few days a week with a bunch of guys who also had kids and stressful jobs and mortgages, and who made me feel less alone and more like – me.

And that led to signing our oldest son Jacob up for youth basketball and my becoming the coach for a bunch of 5-year-olds who didn’t care so much about winning (or even basketball for that matter), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me meeting a couple of dads who, like me, were interested in triathlon and who convinced me that it was possible to fulfill my dream of running an Ironman (which we did, me and my Ironbros!), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me working with a bunch of other moms and dads who, in addition to being moms and dads, were also triathletes like me, and together we started the YMCA Minimaniacs triathlon, which gave 250 kids a chance to experience the sport that I had grown to love, and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to Steph and me getting Jacob and our other two kids, Sophie and Joseph, involved in swimming and basketball and soccer and volleyball at the Y, where I learned that some kids like having their dad as coach and some don’t (and that’s okay), and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led me to keep on training and ultimately finishing two more Ironman races, a bunch of ultramarathons, a humbling run across the grand canyon, an epic run in the blue ridge mountains and a glorious run across the state of Florida this past December that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me getting more involved as a volunteer and a partner to the Y and introducing other people to the cause and mission of the Y and that made me feel more like – me.

And that led to me knowing exactly where I needed to go last year when my uncle suffered a stroke, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I felt frustrated and powerless and needed to work off those feelings in a place that gave me a sense of hope and peace and that made me feel (a little) more like – me.

And that led to us sending our oldest son to college last year (Go Noles!), a little scared and a little nervous but mostly confident because we raised him the best we could and made sure he was surrounded by good role models and grounded in good values, and that made me feel more more like – me.

And that led me to this place and this night and for the first time thanking Steph for buying me those basketball shoes … and for the very first time writing on a piece of paper that others can see that my name is Mark Freid, and I am in pursuit of – me.

They Say Life Is A Roller Coaster

April 27, 2017

(Transcript of speech delivered at Holocaust Center Dinner of Tribute on April 19, 2017)

 

They say life is a roller coaster.

It’s not.

A roller coaster implies that sometimes we’re up here, and everything is wonderful. We’re happy. Successful. Feeling fulfilled. Our family and friends are doing well.

And then, according to this roller coaster analogy, sometimes we’re down here. Things are hard.

Maybe we’re depressed. Struggling. Perhaps there’s been a tragedy in our lives. A health or financial problem. A problem at work. A family problem.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

2016 was a monumental year for Steph and me. Our oldest son, Jacob, graduated from high school and started college. Our daughter, Sophie, got her driver’s license. And a job! Our youngest, Joseph, became a bar mitzvah. By any measure, that’s a pretty good year.

But despite all the simchas, all the awesomeness, we had some friends who were struggling, some people we were close to who passed away, some family members who had serious health problems, and these things weighed on us every day.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

Over the last year, I have met some of the most incredible people. Young leaders who are passionate and dedicated, using their boundless energy and enviable talents to create a better world. These young people are amazingly, tirelessly committed to the environment, to women’s rights, to the fight for equality. They’re confronting and making progress on tough issues like gun control and homelessness. It’s in their marrow to stand up and speak out, to wake up every single day and fight…for what’s right.

At the same time, over this past year, I have woken up nearly every day to the other reality.

Stories of despicable acts, many terrifyingly close to home – Pulse, the Plaza, bomb threats at the Jewish Community Center, racist propaganda plastered on the walls of UCF, the desecration of cemeteries and sacred buildings,swastikas placed on the door steps of dear friends and drawn on the hands of school children right here in Central Florida.

But life is not a roller coaster. Life is not up or down.But up and down. The good and not so good…at the same time.

When we think of the Holocaust, we think of the six million, the pogroms, the forced marches, families torn apart and forced to face the most unimaginable horrors. We think of the implementation of laws that made it legal, LEGAL to marginalize and persecute Jews,

homosexuals, Romas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the handicapped…all in an effort to purify the Aryan race and crystallize the authority of the party in power.

But at the Holocaust Center, we remind people of the heroes, the UpStanders, the righteous gentiles, the Albanian Muslims, the Danish diplomats, the Franciscan priest who hid thousands of Jewish refugees, the ordinary mothers and fathers who risked their own lives and the lives of their families because they knew the right thing to do … and did it.

It was over three decades ago that Orlando’s Holocaust Center was founded. And over those years, we have made great progress and done incredible things. We have changed minds and lives. We have welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to our Center. Our survivor programs are standing room only. We see 20,000 middle and high school students each year. We take groups to Poland and the Czech Republic to see first hand and with their own eyes what unbridled hate leads to so that they will stand up, speak out and ensure that such cruelty never, ever happens again.

Which makes me wonder why, after all these years and all this effort, are we’re still fighting these same battles, teaching these same lessons and defending these same ideas.

I wonder why today, every day, we still read about almost the same acts of hate, of intolerance, of disrespect.

So what can we do? We keep working and keep believing that if we stand up and speak out, eventually, perhaps more slowly than we’d like, the world will change, the world will be more good than bad, more respect than disrespect, more love than hate.

Mayor Dyer knows this. That’s why we’re honoring him tonight. Our mayor is a role model who has proven that when we stand up and speak out, we all benefit, and we all thrive.

But the trick is … the trick is we can’t just be outraged when we are the ones who are threatened. We can’t just rally when the injustices are levied against our people. We can’t just take action when the threats are against our group. We can’t just stand up and speak out when it’s the people who look like us or pray like us or love like us that are under attack.

We must stand up and speak out for each other even when it’s hard, even when it’s scary, even when it seems like we are the only ones standing up or speaking out.

This sentiment was expressed by Martin Niemuller in 1946 when he wrote the following words:

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out  — Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

These may seem like hard times. The voices of the intolerant and the hateful seem very loud.

But there are other voices – voices of reason, of conscience, of love – voices like those of many in this room, like that of our Mayor…

And they will be heard.

And they will prevail.

Our Best Take A Different Path To Change

July 5, 2016

Monday is the Fourth of July, time to eat hot dogs, sing “God Bless America” and shout hateful epithets at the other party’s presidential candidate, or wonder aloud (very loudly) why none is qualified to lead this great nation. “In the old days,” we scream between bites of apple pie, “our best aspired to the Oval Office!” Perhaps. But the best I know, while committed to making a profound impact, rarely consider the meat grinder of politics. Ben Hoyer is a charismatic leader shaping our community through coffee shops and social activism. Julie Columbino is tackling Third-World poverty by making and selling sandals. Our presidential candidates? They’re courting special interests in order to … have their vision thwarted by a partisan Congress. Um, thanks but no thanks.

Fear Creeps In

July 5, 2016

Last week’s bombings at the Istanbul Airport are easy to gloss over. Here in Orlando, we’re still reeling from our own home-town tragedy, after all. And Istanbul is, geographically and culturally, a world away. But not for me. I spent 10 mind-blowing days on a business/cultural excursion to Turkey in 2013, flying in and out of that very airport multiple times. During my trip, and upon my return home, I remarked to friends how safe I felt. Everywhere. But for how long? When I look at “that” list, I’m now struck by how many cities I’m connected to — Paris, Boston, Charleston, New York, Lafayette, Istanbul and, of course Orlando. We can’t cower to terrorists. But I do wonder, how long before the fear starts to creep in.

Be A Warrior. A Joyful Warrior.

April 24, 2016

Earlier this year, before we knew that the Golden State Warriors were going to set the NBA record for most wins in a season, they just seemed different than the other teams in the league. And not just because no other team could beat them. Unlike most teams that spend the first few weeks and months of the season stumbling along, figuring out their chemistry, experimenting with line-ups and strategies, the Warriors came out of the gate playing at an entirely different level than everyone else. They were smooth, relaxed, confident, and in each game, whether they had a big lead or small, they simply never seemed worried. Moreover, unlike most teams, they looked like they were having fun. Yes, fun. You could see it on their faces. Not only of the players, but the coaches, too. And the fans, also. There was something different in the air during a Warriors game. No screaming coaches, no panicked players, no drama. This team was actually enjoying playing the game.

On the day when the Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, won a record-setting 16th straight game, coach Steve Kerr, who, at the time, was actually taking time off due to recent surgery, addressed his team and reminded them of their “four core principles.” What were those principles? Shooting, passing, rebounding and defense? Nope. At the beginning of the season in which the pressure was on for the Warriors to defend their championship and prove to the world that it was no fluke that this undersized team was the best in the league, Kerr defined their core principles as joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition.

Let those four words sink in: Joy. Mindfulness. Compassion. Competition.

Now, think about the core principles of your organization. Think about what your bosses harp on or what typical business leaders preach to their teams – things like profitability, productivity, prospect pipelines…you get the picture. Perhaps we should take a lesson from the best basketball team in the world. Maybe we should elevate the conversation with our teams, too. What would happen in your organization if you asked them to focus this week on compassion? Or mindfulness? Or joy? At the very least, you will get their attention and get them thinking. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll become the best team in your league.

The Hope

April 9, 2016

(This was a speech delivered at the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center Dinner of Tribute on April 7, 2016)

 

Just a few minutes ago, Dana Kaplan sang a beautiful rendition of the song HaTikvah, the national anthem of Israel. Hatikvah, as many of you know, is the Hebrew word for “The Hope,” and the words to this song come from a poem written by the Jewish-Ukranian poet, Naftali Herz Imber,

And you should know that this song, Ha TikVah, The Hope – long before it became the Israeli National anthem, before Israel became the Jewish state – this very song was sung by Czech Jews in 1944 as they were being marched into the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber. And while singing this song, HaTikvah, they were beaten by SS guards.

Think about that for a moment. HaTikvah. The Hope.

I bring this up because I want to talk briefly about the future, not just the future of the Holocaust Center, but the future of our community, and if I may be so bold, the future of our world.

And it is impossible, for me anyway, to talk about the future that I envision, without having the word “hope” planted firmly in our minds.

When I talk about the future, I can’t help but think about my kids – Jacob and Sophie and Joseph – who are right at that point in their lives where they are about to step out into the world, and Steph and I are going to find out whether the things we have been teaching them, the things they have learned from their grandparents and teachers and rabbi, whether what we’ve instilled in them is enough to prepare them to be successful, and safe, and secure out there in the world.

And this is a valid concern because, while I think we’ve done a pretty good job, the world, our world, is not always a kind place. And so we worry. What are they going to find out there? Is it going to be a world of hope? Is it going to be a world of love and respect? A world that accepts them fully for who they are, reinforces their values, and supports the idea that everyone, every single person, deserves to be treated fairly and with respect regardless of whether they look and think and believe exactly the way someone says they should?

Are they stepping out into a world where they not only feel comfortable being exactly who they are but also feel comfortable standing up for others, recognizing when people are being wronged, and confident enough to speak out when they know power is being misused and people are being mistreated?

But I do feel hopeful. I have hope because I see the sense of goodness and righteousness that my children and their friends have not only in their hearts, but also in their actions.

But I worry, too.

I worry that my children, and yours, are the exception and not the norm. Because I am not so naive to be blind to the hate and the fear and the cowardice that are also so prevalent in our world today.

One of the reasons I am hopeful is because of the impact that the Holocaust Center has every day – this 30-year old institution that was started by Tess Wise to use the lessons of the Holocaust to end the world of anti-Semitism, of prejudice, of bigotry, of hate.

That’s the third time tonight that I have referenced Tess’ mission for the Holocaust Center, and I have done so purposely, because I believe this is something people perhaps misunderstand about us.

While we are an organization rooted in the historic and horrific events of more than 70 years ago, our focus is not on the past. Yes, we are committed to remembering and honoring the lives of the victims, survivors and heroes of the Holocaust, but our focus is squarely on today. And tomorrow.

You know, I wish you all could come to our board meetings and take part in the conversations we have there. Of course, in our current building,

we couldn’t quite hold all of you. But if we could, if you could be there, what you would hear are some of our community’s most insightful, thoughtful, passionate and compassionate leaders asking one another, “What have we learned?” “How have we changed?”

And most importantly, “What can we do?”

What can we do to improve our community and our world?

Or perhaps more urgently, what must we do?

What must we do to make sure that the hate, the prejudice, the bigotry and the fear that was allowed to fester during the 1930s and 1940s is not allowed to happen again. Not today. Not ever.

What must we do to ensure that our children and our children’s children live in a different world? A safer and more accepting world. A world where we don’t have to hide who we are, where we feel safe in our skin and feel completely, completely safe sitting in an outdoor cafe or attending a concert in Prague or Paris or Brussels or Poland. Or right here in Orlando.

What must we do?

This is not a rhetorical question. This is not a passive question. I am asking you today, as I ask myself every day, seeking an answer.

What must we do?

Well, let me tell you what I’ve come up with. We must start talking with one another at not at one another. We must focus more on the big things we share, like our love for our children, rather than the  superficial things that make us different.

We must stop making excuses, making allowances, or offering hollow explanations for the rhetoric that spews from our politicians’ mouths as they encourage us to be afraid of each other, or convince us that some of us are better than others, or imply that some of us deserve less than others. Or say that some are welcome. And others are not.

We must speak out and speak up. We must not tell our children, “Just ignore it, no one will listen to him.”

We must not say, “That’s just the way the world is.”

We must not say it is okay on any level or at any time or for any reason. Fear and hate, prejudice and bigotry are not okay,

Marginalizing and belittling human beings for where they come from, what they look like, who they pray to, or who they love is never okay.

What must we do?

At the Holocaust Center, we face this same question as an organization. We have done so much good. We have had such a huge impact. For 30 years, we have worked to fulfill Tess’ remarkable vision and mission.

We have taught and educated and honored and remembered and reflected. And I know that our community is so much better because of the work that we have done.

30 years, hundreds of teachers who have a deep understanding of the Holocaust because they have heard Helen Greenspun tell her heart-wrenching story of being carted off to five different camps – and at each one believing that it was the end.

Tens of thousands of visitors who know the story of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when every Jewish business was destroyed, and every Jewish dream was crushed – in one single night.

30 years and an infinite number of programs and partnerships and people changed – and It could be enough. Perhaps you think it is enough. But I don’t. I don’t because I can’t. I don’t have that luxury as long as I am concerned about the kind of world Steph and I are sending our kids out into.

I cannot live my life thinking that the status quo is okay, or we’re too small, or that we’ve done enough and why try, why take the chance. Why risk what we already have.

And so, when you hear us talk about our vision to build a new Holocaust Center in the heart of downtown Orlando, this is why. Because even though we’ve achieved so incredibly much, we cannot in good conscience rest on our laurels.

When we talk about building an architecturally significant building in a place that is visible and accessible to infinitely more people, this is why. Because even though we now educate 20,000 students a year, we cannot be content.

And when we talk about building a Center that makes a bold and powerful statement about Orlando being a community of respect and acceptance, this is why. Because we cannot say the world is what it is and why waste our time trying to change it.

The community needs us to do what we’re doing, and in fact, needs us to do more.

The community needs us to build a Center that allows us to expand our programming, to share our story and our values with more students, more tourists and more local residents, to expand our reach and our impact and fulfill our potential –  all the while staying committed 100% to the mission that our visionary founder, Tess Wise, articulated so clearly more than three decades ago.

It is up to us to ensure that the world my children, Jacob and Sophie and Joseph, and your children and grandchildren encounter, is one that we can all be proud of. Because that is The Hope.

HaTikvah.