For the Nu? Jew: Post #2: BREAK THE DEBATE

(The purpose of this blog, as described in the first post, is to make a few things a bit more coherent. If it doesn’t seem to fit any political, religious or cultural category . . . great.)

Some years ago, I spent a couple airplane hours talking with a high-priced business consultant. Impressive fellow. MBA, Harvard. Ph.D in engineering, MIT. Top-tier specialist in his chosen field of electrical utilities and power generation. Also, very nice guy: quiet, affable, good listener. So we discussed his business, and I finally asked him,

“What exactly do you do to earn these fancy fees?”

He smiled without answering. I pressed him. Special technical knowledge?

“No, I don’t know anything my clients couldn’t learn somewhere else.”

Inside business information and contacts?

“No. Nothing unusual.”

Then what?

He smiled again and replied, “I spend one-half my time telling people the obvious and the other half making radical suggestions they’ll never use.”

A wise man.

My consultant knew that any company that retained him was in trouble, and that the first agenda item was to remind them of the obvious things they’d ignored that had gotten them into trouble. Things they’d forgotten. Things they dared not speak about too openly, or at all. Personalities. Power struggles. Company culture and politics. Illegalities discerned and surmised. A senior leadership unwilling to admit to even the most flagrant errors and miscalculations. And of course, changes in the world that they didn’t care to consider or confront.

The point: If you want to get out of your mess, first recover the obvious. Then contemplate the radical.

Not easy. We all know that when the boss tells you to “Think outside the box” – don’t you dare. Your boss wants to say it, not have you do it. But my consultant could take them there, if only because he charged so much they felt they had to pay attention. He expected no immediate results, and often left his clients shaking their heads over what they’d gotten for the money. Still, it was not uncommon for him to get a note or email months later.

“Hey, we took some of your ideas and adapted them, and things are getting better now.”

That’s how we’re going to do it. Recover the obvious. Work with the radical. No great epiphanies expected or required. But maybe it’ll do some good.

That’s the technique and the hope. The immediate goal can be stated simply.

Break the debate.

In Israel, as in America, people rarely address each others’ minds. Instead, on just about any issue, they hurl pre-formatted, pre-recorded messages past each other. Why think at all when you can take an argument out of the collection and play it? Why think about what you’re saying? You know your lines. Why listen? You know their lines.

And beneath it all – one of the first phrases I learned in Ulpan – Mah l’assot?

What can you do?

Maybe a little. Maybe a great deal. And there’s a growing incentive, at least for those of us with a firm grasp of the obvious, to do something. The incentive:

Catastrophic collapse.

Catastrophic collapse, be it of an ecosystem or an economy or an international order or a human body, happens quickly. But you can see the warning signs a long way off. Today, the warning signs abound, in Israel and around the planet. But still, we schlumpf around like obese middle-aged indolent wastrels, smoking and drinking and gorging and spending and ignoring the pains and the blood tests and the EKG and the overdue bills that caution us, “Stop now or else.”

“We’ll change tomorrow.”

Dubes. But maybe if we start thinking about it right now . . .

Specifically, we need to start with a new sense of ourselves, an obvious sense that’s too often obvious to everyone but us. Then we need to take a new look at how the rest of the world relates, or chooses not to relate, to us. These will be the next two or three posts. After that, a couple on the strange new world in which we find ourselves, and how and where we might fit in, and what we might contribute.

And what it might mean for the Jews.

Next Monday: “We’re Just Not That into Each Other.”

Next Thursday: “We Get Away with It.”

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.