As Rosh Hashanah begins this evening, I thought it might be appropriate to share some personal musings. I think often of this quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
-Maya Angelou

Sometimes though, it is what you say or don’t say and what you do or don’t do that makes people feel a certain way. How do we want to make people feel? I think that’s a meaningful question to ponder for the upcoming year, both personally and professionally, whatever one’s profession. Even a school or entity, comprised of many people, can ask itself, “How do we want to make people feel?”

We learn in Teaching 101 to build positive relationships with parents early in the year. I used to spend the first week of school, when I barely knew my students, calling each parent to tell them how excited I was to have their child in my class, what I noticed and liked about their son or daughter. As busy as people are, no parent is unhappy to get that call.

Despite KNOWING this, even despite THINKING WE ARE DOING THIS…we should notice whether we are truly making the effort to acknowledge and speak of the positive. Or are we assuming that “no news is good news” and using our voice mainly for complaints? The truth is, we have a built-in bias toward the negative, both in how it affects us, as well as in how important we perceive negative impressions or situations versus their positive counterparts. So it makes sense that we are more likely to speak up for something that needs correcting or critiquing, while we assume that the positive is simply the normal state of affairs and does not require any special attention.

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my son’s teachers with his name as the subject. I immediately felt worried….oh no, what has he done (or not done)? But the email was positive! She was writing to tell me that my son is doing well in her class. It struck me that, even though this is Teaching 101, and teachers most likely believe they are sharing positive news with parents, I have rarely (possibly never) received an email just to tell me something positive. I know the teacher likes my son. Whenever I see her she speaks highly of him. Yet when I saw the email with his name I instinctively felt worried because I have been trained to expect only emails that share news of missed assignments and lapses in behavior. This small gesture really made me feel good (especially because I was expecting the worst). When I shared it with my son, it made him feel good, too.

I recently read this post (shout out to Prizmah’s Jane Taubenfeld Cohen for sharing) about how Campbell Soups used “civility and respect” to completely turn around their company culture. It sounds like a no-brainer, to be civil and treat others with respect, but apparently it is not. As it said in the article, “…leading with civility may be intuitive or obvious, but it’s difficult to put into practice. Since we are often being moved along in a perpetual parade of tasks, projects, and problems, emails, texts, and crises, we often lose sight of the people whom we lead.” I agree with this and would remove the last three words of the quote, “whom we lead.” I believe we tend to lose sight of people, period.

There are an abundance of opportunities to tune into how small actions (taken or not taken) and words (shared or not shared)  impact feelings (which impact actions which impact feelings…). It’s so easy to go about our busy lives and miss those opportunities to share genuine, personal words of appreciation, acknowledgement, connection.

As this year comes to a close and we think about ways to be our best selves in 5778, may I suggest that we elevate the Jewish value of judging toward the good by more consciously using our words to make other people feel that they matter, that what they do is seen and noticed and appreciated. Let’s notice the good AND take the time to acknowledge it more often.

Shana Tova U’metukah.