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.

No Politicking?

In a recent comment, Baer’s Ghost (a ghost whose identity is not actually known to me), continued a debate relating to international board elections. I’ve been arguing that right now IBoard is chosen by a relatively small group of BBYO members who are active in summer programs, and that with modern technology there is no reason for this to be the case. His response:
I do agree that an online voting system may be of benefit – but what about politicking? That’s part of the reason why we don’t have open elections, isn’t it? So how do you suggest getting around it?
This raises a very important and deeper issue, one that is particularly relevant as we enter our national election season. What exactly is politicking, and why and when is it bad (or good)?

One rule to rule them all, one rule to bind them…

Last month I made a somewhat humorous attempt to address the impact of bureaucracy on chapters. The truth of the matter is that (as a number of people informed me), that the ability of the bureaucracy to cause harm in BBYO is self-limiting. When the complexity becomes too great, it is simply ignored.
That’s one reason that Dashboard adoption has been slow when it comes to chapters using it to manage and clear events. While I expect many chapters are now using it for basic functionality (such as clearing events), I’ll bet it’s a rare chapter that uses it fully as intended (or even understands how to use it as intended). Chapter leaders have better things to do with their time than take long training courses on Dashboard – courses made necessary by the fact that it probably has one of the single most non-intuitive user interfaces in the history of the web. Seriously, whoever designed the user interface should be banned from any web development until they’ve taken a multi-year course on remedial web design.
That’s the nature of unintended consequences. BBYO invests in a very detailed policy manual intended to create uniform standards and procedures. Unfortunately, regions, staff, chapters and advisors are anything but uniform, so inevitably many of the procedures seem foolish at best, harmful at worst. The unintended consequence? Large numbers of individuals at the regional and chapter level (staff and members alike) end up interpreting, avoiding or ignoring policies in order to make things work.
This is not really a good thing. While it does protect the international order from lawsuits, it does shift the liability to the local level. It also creates a general disrespect for the rules – even those that do make sense.
BBYO staff will argue that standardized policies and rules is necessary to protect the organization and that it is too difficult to either create different rules for different localities or to allow local regions flexibility. This simply is not true. Yes, it would be difficult to allow individual regions to propose and adopt variations on policy – those changes would need to be reviewed by BBYO’s risk management team. But difficult does not mean impossible, nor does it mean it is not worth doing.

Building a Great Chapter, the BBYO Way

I have to share with you the amazing success story of Thomas Carlyle AZA. I don’t know that any chapter has ever started out so strong. Consider their first event: “Chapter Launch Overnight” that took place last week.
The process began a few weeks earlier when they recruited their advisor (parent of one of the Alephs). He filled out Advisor Appointment Request (form ADV-1) and submitted it along with the Consent to Background Checks (form ADV-2), getting that process rolling.
Getting the charter members signed up with the next job. An informal get-together was held during which the soon-to-be members all joined b-linked. They took home and also printed out extra copies of the Annual Participation Authorization (PRO-3), Universal Parent Program Release (PRO-4), Universal Teen Program Release (PRO-5), Membership Release (PRO-1) and Participant Medical Information and Consent to Treat form.
After a bit of calling around, they were able to find a parent willing to host the overnight, and got her a Consent to Host a Chapter Overnight Program (PRO-2).
As you can tell, these guys really had their act together. They were making new shirts for the event, and since they wanted to sell the extras regionally they also filled out a Merchandise/Apparel Approval Form (0PS-2). Since they were planning to play Broomball they also filled out an Insurance – Certificate Request Form (0PS-3).
They did have some obstacles to overcome. Some of them lived a bit distant from the overnight house, so they had to fill out Mileage Waiver Form PRO-6. Regional staff discovered that one of the prospectives had slipped and broken a fingernail during their informal meeting, so they had to fill out an Accident/Incident Notification Report (0PS-1). The staff didn’t have time to check all the prospective advisor’s references so he wasn’t able to start by the time of the event. As a result the single parent hosting the event didn’t have a second adult to host as required by policy, so the overnight part couldn’t happen.
They finally met the day of the event, the 15 charter members along with a remarkable 12 prospectives! Unfortunately, by the time they went through the list of who had filled out which necessary forms they discovered that not a single charter member (and of course none of the prospectives) had filled out all of the necessary forms correctly. They also discovered that they had been so busy getting forms filled out, they hadn’t actually planned any programming. So the event had to be canceled.
But don’t worry, even though the chapter no longer exists (all the members and prospectives just headed over to the USY event happening nearby), all 15 of the charter members and 6 of the prospectives are now showing up as engaged on B-Linked! So all’s well that ends well. BBYO is happy. The teens are happy. Even USY is happy! Nicely done, Thomas Carlyle AZA (RIP).
Thomas Carlyle was an 18th century Scottish essayist who protested excessive regulation and rigid conformity to bureaucratic rules and red tape. See


Recently Anna posted a comment about changing regional traditions. One of her statements struck me as particularly interesting. She said “I also see our regional staff trying to make our very unique region act like all the other regions”.
She’s not the first person that I’ve heard this particular comment from. I suspect she won’t be the last.
BBYO has historically always had a balance: on one hand, BBYO has been a single organization. On the other hand, regions were quite autonomous, often having their own traditions, policies and local administration. These regional differences offered advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, the standards and quality of BBYO’s program varied considerably. The standards and quality of staff varied as well (I’ve worked with regional directors who were amazing, and others who were… not). On the positive side, regions were allowed to develop traditions that worked well with the local community and develop policies that were influenced by community standards.
Today, the message coming out of the international organization is that of “One BBYO”. Sounds good in principle, but as you’re finding out, it has problems in practice. (more…)