By Emily Messinger
Creating an environment in which relationships defined by openness, honesty, and transparency can flourish is a great goal to have, albeit difficult to achieve. In my role as Director of the Northeast Teen Collective, I am privileged to work with two camps—URJ Camp Eisner and Crane Lakes Camps—and two different NFTY regions, Northeast and New York Area. I interact with hundreds of teen leaders and key staff, who are vital partners in this holy work of teen engagement.
In these interactions, I adopted a mantra of Radical CandorTM, which I first learned about from the staff training experience at URJ Crane Lake Camp this past summer. From this framework I strive to “care personally and challenge directly.” I layer this lofty goal with the understanding of the mitzvah of rebuke and Steven Covey’s habit of Win-Win. According to Rabbi Jonathan Blake, Judaism sees effective rebuke as a measure of our sincere desire to multiply goodness in the world. And Covey teaches:
Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying.
Undoubtedly, camp is a great environment to practice this work and to cultivate authentic relationships. The immersive nature of it, the organic experiences, the friendships—they all help create a sense of trust that leads to honesty. But laying the groundwork for these types of relationships starts long before arriving to camp. Here are some insights to this work that may help you create your own environment of Radical CandorTM.
- I learned a simple, yet powerful exercise from Rebecca Sykes at the first gathering of the Generation Now Fellowship, which convenes 20 Jewish Youth Professionals for an 18-month journey. In this l exercise, which can be done in pairs or small groups, the speaker makes a statement about something in their life. A listener says, “tell me more” after the speaker makes the statement. This cycle is repeated six times. The probing question forces people to go deeper in an authentic and efficient manner. I practiced this with my staff this summer and we modeled it for our teen leaders. The impact was profound.
- I am honest about being human, despite my desire to be super human! I tell my staff that I will make mistakes, and I assume they will too. I own my mistakes, and model humility for my staff and teen participants. Sometimes, I must take responsibility for my mistakes with one person and sometimes it is with an entire group. Either way, it is a powerful moment for all parties. I am vulnerable, and they are forgiving. This approach has made it easier for my staff be more open to feedback and their own growth.
- I spent the last week of summer immersed in evaluation of staff and our leaders-in-training. I think about how these one-on-one conversations should go, and how they can I work closely with staff to prepare my feedback; sometimes I even asked staff to join me for these meetings. And I use these meetings to mark the end of summer, but the beginning of my interactions with teens throughout the academic year. It is during these one-to-one meetings that the need for Radical CandorTM is of the utmost importance. When done right, teens appreciate this deep level of honesty, compassion, and directness.
When we act with Radical CandorTM in a Jewish environment and context, we inherently model how Jewish experiences can be powerful vehicles for authentic growth and meaningful relationships. Building these relationships—scaffolded with trust and honesty—is an important part of our efforts to support teens’ mental health and wellness, which, thankfully, is an increased focus of teen engagement around the country. The Northeast Teen Collective is part of Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative—comprised of ten communities—all of which have programs and initiatives to work with teens, parents, and educators around mental health and wellness. We share resources and learnings with each other and the broader field because we know the urgency of this work and the positive influence we can have when we create environments infused with openness, honesty, and transparency.
Emily Messinger is the director of the Northeast Teen Collective, which is an ambitious initiative of the Union for Reform Judaism to increase the number of teens participating in Jewish life throughout New York, New Jersey, and New England. Emily is part of the URJ’s Northeast Youth Engagement team working in collaboration with NFTY’s New Area and Northeast regions as well as URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps. Emily is passionate about Jewish education and teen engagement and strives to bring value and excellence to all aspects of her work. Emily holds an executive masters in Jewish Educational Leadership from HUC-JIR and is in Cohort I of the Generation Now Fellowship.