The Spitzer Effect

You’d have to be completely detached from the news (and late night TV) to not know that Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York, traded in his reputation, job and possibly marriage for a night with a $4000 prostitute. One can’t help but wonder how anyone could be so incredibly stupid.
How indeed?
Whenever I hear adults criticize teens for doing stupid things (as they often do), I’m always mindful of the Clinton’s and Spitzer’s of the world – proof of the “Dilbert Principle”, that we are all idiots sometimes.
Politicians seem particularly skilled at making huge mistakes, so much so that I hereby introduce a new word: Spitzerian, or to Spitzer – to do something so incredibly stupid that the entire nation is in awe over how someone so intelligent can be so dumb (synonymous with Clintonian, Foleyan and insert name of favorite scandal ridden politician here).
Psychologists come up with all kinds of fancy reasons why people do these things. But, not being a psychologist, I believe it’s just that we human being are stupid sometimes, and do things without thinking of the consequences, or assume we are somehow immune to those consequences. The truth is, we do it all the time. Mostly it’s little things: overeating, not exercising enough, cheating just a bit on our homework, procrastinating, etc.. Most of us avoid the big mistakes, if only because we can’t afford $4000 prostitutes.
I’ve seen BBYO members do some stupid things. I think the difference though is that in many cases they do stupid things because they don’t actually know the consequences (as compared to just not thinking about them).

The Gauntlet is Thrown (and daintily picked up)

PastBBGBoardMember, in her recent comment, posted some very strong criticisms regarding this site and some of the comments members have posted. There are two in particular that I wish to address, both because I’ve heard them before and because they go to the very heart of the debate.
First, regarding IBoard she states: “If you don’t agree with how they are working, you should tell THEM, PERSONALLY- because in the end that is the only way that they can adjust their work ethic to best suit you
And second regarding me she states: “you are an advisor for this organization, and I find it pretty unprofessional for you to be conducting yourself on here in the manner that you are
The first of these comments raises a question of such enormous significance that it inspired this post. To understand the significance, let me ask you this: If you are unhappy with what your congressman does, what is appropriate action? To contact him or her directly – absolutely. But is it offensive to write a letter to the editor? Is it offensive to lead a protest march? After all, you did “elect them to office, saying that you wanted them to represent you to the best of their ability, but you trusted them to use their best judgment on how to handle every unique situation they encounter” (to quote PastBBGBoardMember). Does your vote mean you have abandoned your right to critique and debate the congressman’s action in public?
Assuming you have passed high school civics, or read a newspaper (especially in this election season), I think you’ll agree that the answer is no. Public and open discourse is at the heart of any Democracy. It is no accident that the first amendment is the first amendment. Freedom of speech is the fundamental basis of any Democracy.
So, the question at hand is this: Is BBYO a democracy or not?    (more…)

The Grand Board's Job

RK841Maz took me to task in this comment for saying that the grand board was “out of touch with the electorate” and for falsely accusing them of not serving the members.
First, I want to compliment him for calling me on this an not just sitting and stewing over it – good for him for speaking out.
Second, I do want to clarify – my comment about them being out of touch with the electorate was specifically related to the IC motion on election qualifications, where they supported a motion that was soundly defeated: pretty much the definition of “out of touch with the electorate”. And while it’s true that there are other incidents during the past term where I would have liked to see grand board members be advocates for the members when dealing with international (and policy) issues, I did not and do not mean to ever suggest that they are not committed to BBYO or that they do not work very hard for the organization and the members.
I have had little contact with grand board in general, however I have met quite a few Grand Aleph Godolim and International N’siot. With occasional exceptions, I’ve found them to be among the most remarkable individuals I have ever met. They have run excellent programs at our regional conventions, and made a real effort to reach out not just to the regional leaders, but to the chapter leaders and individual members.
So I have no fault with the Grand Board’s work in general. I have great respect for it and am glad to hear RK841Maz’s view that this will be a strong one. What I do have for this board is a question and a challenge.
Is it just Grand Board’s job to help chapters, train leaders and teach BBYO philosophy?
While they do this part of the job very well, I suggest there is more to being on Grand Board.
You see, in BBYO there is outstanding communication from the “top down”. From international, to regional, to chapters. But the communication in the reverse direction is generally very poor. Especially in this age of “One BBYO” – the push to create uniform procedures and policies – who is going listen to the needs of the individual chapters and regions and represent and communicate their needs to the international staff? Is that not also part of the Grand Board’s job? That is the part of the job that I believe has been lacking in the past. Yes, it is important to work to build the order and help the chapters. Teaching and training and helping – these are critical. But they are also elected representatives. That means reaching out and listening to members, to what they want and need, and making sure those views are communicated and taken into account when decisions are made that impact the entire order.

A Most Perplexing Motion

The first motion for IC business relates to modifying the qualifications for being elected Grand Aleph Godol, adding the following the job description:
In order to be elected for the Godol of the Grand Board of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, one must be a member in good standing as well as have either served as a Regional/Council Godol or previously served on the Grand Board of the Aleph Zadik Aleph.
Now having some sort of qualifications for the office is common sense. It’s rather odd that none currently exist. What makes this motion odd is that the introduction to the motion includes this:
WHEREAS; There has never been a Grand Aleph Godol who was not previously a member of Grand Board or a Regional/Council Godol under the current voting system,
This raises the question – why is this motion needed? Are today’s delegates any less wise that those of prior generations in terms of evaluating the qualifications of candidates? Is there some highly qualified candidate who through fate and circumstance only made it to regional Aleph S’gan who must be prevented from trying? Sure this rule may be just confirming what is existing practice, but is confirming existing practice enough reason to amend the constitution? Is there is fear that future generations might think differently from the current generation (heaven forbid that future generations should make up their own minds).
In the greater scheme of things, this motion will probably not matter (unless, of course, there is that poor regional Aleph S’gan who will be forever denied his chance to run). But even the most innocuous amendments deserve careful thought and consideration – and an understanding of the motives of the makers, and potential consequences (both intended and unintended).

We Don't Need No F****** Staff

As you know, I’m an advisor, and I while I do run into chapters that don’t have an advisor, I confess to be surprised when I meet BBYO members who don’t know why they should have one, or even have staff at events. It’s not their fault that they feel that way – after all, BBYO does little to explain to members why they should have staff beyond the usual “it’s a policy” argument (which is weak).
So I thought I’d take a few minutes and write about why it’s actually a good thing for a chapter to have staff at events, and why it’s even better to have an advisor.

  • You have someone around to talk to the cops. This one’s especially for AZAs. In our paranoid society, any group of teens, particularly teenage boys, out after dark, is presumed to be dangerous. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. Somehow having adult staff around seems to calm the police down.
  • It helps recruitment and retention. Parents (at least the responsible ones), tend to care about where their teens are and what they are doing. Knowing there is adult supervision can have a huge impact on their willingness to send their teens to events, especially prospectives. Being able to promise parents that events are staffed will absolutely help you with recruitment. Keeping that promise will absolutely help with retention.
  • It’s good backup. Leading a chapter can be hard, especially if you are trying to correct some questionable conduct. Knowing that you have adult backup if necessary can really help your confidence – even if you never use it.

These are things that any parent or staff can do. But there are some things that an advisor can do that are harder or impossible for casual staff: (more…)

On Faith and Programming

AZAleph posted an insightful comment here, that is deserving of further response. He talks of faith and programming, but even he does not reach high enough.
So let’s talk of faith.
AZAleph believes that a great I-Board could be selected by a dedicated and informed assembly of delegates (such as CLTC graduates). I believe that, given the right encouragement, almost every Aleph in the order could become informed enough to help select I-Board. BBYO is all about faith, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that ANY statement that casts doubt on the potential of a BBYO member to participate, accomplish a goal or make a wise decision is a mistake. It is only through faith in members that you can create an order consisting entirely of members who will become leaders and take responsibility and choose wisely.
So all of you who have cast doubt on the ability of members to make wise choices (whether at elections or otherwise), you are right in a sense, but fundamentally wrong. The error is that even if you are right now, the only way to change this is to raise expectations, to have faith and act under the assumption that every member can rise to the high standards you expect. If you have faith, the membership will prove themselves worthy of that faith.
AZAleph states: …every chapter needs to involve their inexperienced members. Alephs do not gain leadership experience by doing (almost) anything EXCEPT FOR hands-on planning work.
Truer words were rarely spoken, but to see this as just a dream is a mistake. I know of more than one chapter where the rule is “everybody programs”, where most members plan their first event while still in 8th grade, and where, in any given term, the majority of members have planned at the very least a program at an event, if not an entire event.
How is this possible? It happens because those chapters have faith in their members, even the very youngest.
If you truly wish to change and improve the order, here’s a good place to start: trust your members. Set high expectations of them. And don’t lose faith even if they falter along the way – in the long run your faith will always be rewarded.