Civility, mutual respect, and inclusion are often core values that bind members together. But do you practice what you preach? Here’s how associations can foster a deeper sense of connection within diverse communities in divisive times.
Last week, I logged a lot of travel miles—more than 11,000, in fact—on a professional and personal journey to Israel.
The trip, called Reality and sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, brought together 50 young leaders from around the world to focus on the complexities of a region often defined by conflict.
The focus of this journey was twofold: to cultivate leadership skills that will “repair the world” and to put a group of people in a place that fell outside their comfort zone, recognizing the power of kavod, the Hebrew word for respect.
Throughout the week, I heard stories of respect repeatedly.
I met with a baker in Jaffa, Israel, who makes more than 102 kinds of breads—Persian, Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian, and Lebanese—and uses his bakery as a place for fostering dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
I visited Israel’s largest kibbutz, where more than 1,400 members agree to live communally, working and sharing income and resources through a combination of farming, manufacturing, and regional enterprise.
But the story that resonated with me the most came from Giselle Cycowicz, a Holocaust survivor, who, at age 90, reflected on living through the atrocities of World War II at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She delivered a message of faith and hope that also came with a challenge—to respect others and, when necessary, find the courage to speak up and stand against injustice.
It’s no secret that we are living in extremely turbulent times. A moment on the Reality trip that will stay with me forever was standing at Israeli border with Syria two days before U.S.-led airstrikes.
As I returned home on Sunday, I could not help but reflect on how mission-driven organizations—specifically associations—can promote respect for others and find ways to double down on their commitment to convening people in divisive times.
Wearing Respect on Your Sleeve (or Wrist)
Symbols can go a long way toward reminding us of the values of respect and civility. Today, I’m wearing a new bracelet on my wrist, a memento of my Reality experience and its five core values: respect, diversity, integrity, authenticity, and responsibility to repair the world.
There are many examples of nonprofits and associations doing something similar, including the American Library Association, which in 2016 hosted its annual meeting in Orlando a week after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. ALA’s task force for diversity and inclusion moved quickly to make armbands so that conference attendees could wear the word “diversity,” “inclusion,” or “equity” on their sleeves—a literal way to exemplify its core values and stand with the LGBTQ community, which had been targeted in the attack.
Such visible symbols identify the wearer’s commitment to a value and help promote accountability for acting accordingly. That’s the idea behind Walk the Ridge, a movement that seeks to develop habits of civility. Founders Nellie and Steve Ambrose printed the movement’s catchphrase—“I hear you. I see you. I respect you.”—onto a wristband to remind wearers to deliberately incorporate civility into their daily interactions with others.
“It’s a motto and daily reminder that when you go down the rabbit hole of shaming, hating, blaming, and judging that you look at your wrist, take a step back, and you reframe your thoughts and approach to a more positive and constructive way,” says Nellie Ambrose.
She says organizations of all types should be thinking about how to build “habit loops” or accountability factors—whether that’s through something wearable or something shareable, like an online civility pledge.
“If your association has civility and respect built in as core values, it’s not enough to simply write them down as expected norms or policies,” Steve Ambrose says. “It also has to be intertwined with your practices of how you engage.”
Inclusion Starts at the Table
The culmination of my Reality experience took place on Friday evening when I sat for my first Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. The meal was led by a Reality participant Zoe Plotsky, who is associate director of brand strategy and corporate partnerships for an organization called OneTable.
She hosts dozens of Shabbat dinners throughout the year, and her mission is simple: to bring as many people to the table and “change the world, one dinner at a time.”
“The Shabbat dinner table is a unifier, a platform for people to connect around something deeper,” Plotsky says.
Throughout all the rituals and blessings, I sat at one of two long dining room tables and engaged in conversation with people from around the world and from many different walks of life. My first Shabbat dinner left me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and privilege, and it will serve as a constant reminder to consciously ask myself: Who do I invite to sit at my table?
Now more than ever, that’s a question that every association should ask.