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by Lawrence Stroll    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

This weekly column is in the form of an ongoing correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba'al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for "more" (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.

BETWEEN FRIENDS

Tuesday, September 7, 1999; 9:52 AM

Dear Ari,

What a way to start the upcoming year. (The Jewish one, of course!) I get in to work this morning and everyone’s crabby. It turns out that the boss has come up with a new system to get meetings started on time. He’s going to fine people for showing up late and re-distribute the fines to those who were on time. He says he’s not as concerned with starting on time as he is with instilling a sense of punctuality within the company. I feel like I’m in high school; only the fees are much higher. I guess the thing that gets my goat is the idea that we’re being treated like a bunch of school kids. Who’s the boss fooling, thinking that a fine is going to change people’s habits? Wouldn’t it be smarter for him to just treat us like adults and let those who come late suffer the consequences of missing valuable information? Do you think he really thinks that this is going to make such a big difference in the corporate culture? All he’s achieving is scaring people into losing a couple of bucks! Do you think I’m wrong?

Sincerely, Thinking about showing up on time

 

Thursday, September 9, 1999; 10:11 AM

Dear David,

The times they are a changing! (At least around your company.) Sounds like your boss is a little fed up with current employee behavior and is trying to change the way things have been. One thing is for sure, I’ll bet more people are going to show up on time; even if it is for the sole purpose of avoiding fines. Your comments regarding whether employee habits will change due to change in behavior raises an interesting point that becomes relevant this time of year.

With the Jewish new year just around the corner, a lot of folks might be looking to grow in their spirituality and take on new commitments vis-à-vis their involvement in Judaism. Oftentimes, we might choose to do something for less than ideal reasons. For example, one might try to observe the Sabbath because he values family time and would like to not be disturbed by the ringing of a phone or buzzing of a pager. Similar to your situation at work, we could argue that being that the motivation to do an action comes from a source that does not stem from an ideal source, the likelihood for lasting change is slim. Sounds reasonable, no? Let’s see what our sages have to say.

Our sages teach us about adopting certain observances. Their conclusion is that we should not discourage individuals from doing anything consistent with Torah regardless of their motivation. The reason is that they will eventually come to do it for the right reason. There is a more commonly known maxim that echoes this attitude: "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." Whatever you’re sowing, whether it be a thought to do something or the action of actually doing something (regardless of your motivation), at the end of the day, if you do it enough, it’ll become a habit and eventually it will shape your destiny. While we strive as individuals to take on a new task with the purest motivations, equally important is just doing it; whatever "it" may be.

So, to answer your questions: If your boss "treated you like adults" and did what he has been doing, then it’s likely nothing would change. Your boss would continue to get poor attendance at your weekly meetings, and there would be no increased likelihood whatsoever of people developing punctuality as a character trait. This way, however, he gets them to come on time and possibly (after a while) they may even become more punctual people. This, I’m sure, would probably make a big difference in corporate culture. So, while he’s currently motivating the employees by scaring them into losing a couple of bucks, there is a strong likelihood that this simple method of motivation might yield metamorphic changes in character. This probably makes him a tad smarter than you might think.

Sincerely, Expecting lasting positive change in character

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Lawrence Stroll writes his column from Atlanta.

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