“We Value Your Feedback”
By Harry Jacobs
Every year, Noam, the Masorti youth movement, engages around 400 young people – both madrichim (leaders) and chanichim (participants). I have been a member since I was nine years old, and as I approach my twenty-fourth birthday, I will start my final Noam journey as Mazkir (National Director).
Noam has a deep-rooted belief in the self-fulfilment of young people (hagshama atzmit). All our madrichim attend a leadership course that prepares them to become informal educators, learning how to take care of chanichim as well as teaching them skills for life. We continue to foster their growth throughout their time in Noam and pride ourselves on the development of these young leaders, not just spiritually and pedagogically, but also personally.
Before our leaders can embark on their own journey of growth within Noam, they must first reflect on themselves: who they are and who they want to be. One of the ways we make this happen is through ‘Concentric Circles’. One circle is formed inside another, then those in one circle are given three minutes to tell the person they are facing in the other circle what they truly think of them. This feedback covers their abilities as a leader as well as their everyday characteristics. People then move round and repeat the process, so that in the end, everyone will have spoken to everyone else, no matter their age or experience.
The personal nature of the feedback can be very uncomfortable, both to give and receive. We train our leaders in techniques to make it easier, but nevertheless, the feeling of anxiety some get just before starting does not go away over time. Despite this, as a movement we insist on regular feedback.
Looking back at all my feedback sessions, a quote from Alexis Carrel, who won the Nobel Prize for his work as a surgeon in 1912, comes to mind: “Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor”. The onus is on the person receiving the feedback to act upon it and make their own change a reality. You can be given tools, but you are your own sculptor.
We could encourage personal growth of our madrichim with a less empathetic form of feedback, through aims and goals set by our line managers. However, if people do not make an active effort to change, then it is unlikely that they will do so. By encouraging a more informal relationship to flourish between the feedback giver and receiver, we hope that feedback will resonate more deeply, and consequently will be acted upon.
Young people spend hours each day on social media, not just browsing, but cultivating a reality of themselves to present to the world. I regularly have conversations with Noamnikim about what the caption on their new Facebook photo should be, or when is the best time of day to post on Instagram. All of this is to try and harvest the most ‘likes’.
Making the effort to be in the moment, observing the reality in front of us, is more important today than ever before, and will continue to be so as more and more of our life is conducted online. In Noam, we try to make a space in the physical world where we can connect with those around us. We show young people that hearing your peers tell you who you really are right now (not how you present yourself online), with both your strengths and flaws, can have a truly profound impact – more than all the ‘likes’ in the world.
The way we approach feedback is rooted in Vayikra 19:17: “You shall not hate your fellow in your heart. Reprove your fellow human but incur no guilt because of them”. The Torah commands us not to bottle up feelings, but rather to speak to the person and give them constructive feedback – reprove them.
Anyone who has worked in an intense environment will know how easy it is for feelings of conflict to emerge between co-workers. Even if the problem has not arisen because of our own actions, it becomes our responsibility to act. We are commanded to help each other become better, not just to soothe our own feelings, but because through helping others we can help ourselves.
The next verse adds, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. For me, this last bit is key. In Noam, your feedback must come from a place of love for your fellow madrichim and for the movement. It must be what you believe the person in front of you needs to hear. Often, this feedback will apply equally to you as to the person you are giving it to. We pick up on flaws we dislike about ourselves in other people, even if we are only subconsciously aware of them in ourselves.
I have learnt just as much about myself from receiving feedback as I have from giving it to others. Over the years, my self-confidence has grown both within and outside the movement. I remember vividly conversations with those both more and less senior than me, and often reflect on them when I am unsure of myself. These are conversations that will stay with me forever.
I have heard many stories from Noamnikim in which they have used the skills they have learnt on Noam in the outside world – sometimes to advance their own careers, or to work effectively in a leadership position, or simply to facilitate feedback between bickering housemates at university!
On Noam, we strive for perfection whilst knowing that true perfection can never be realised. There is always room for you to grow, no matter what position you hold in the movement or how old you are. Helping our young leaders blossom is the most important thing we do.
Harry Jacobs is a movement worker for Noam, and the incoming Mazkir (National Director)