William Hamilton
William Hamilton

May your keyboard key ‘return’ be busier than ‘delete’

Consider the difference between judging yourself and judging your work. It’s an important difference. Let’s say you think of an exciting new idea. You then decide to explain it, so you write a draft, describing it. But the draft isn’t very strong. According to Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant, here’s where the difference between judging yourself and judging your work becomes clear.

When judging yourself, you conclude “I might be the worst writer of all time. I should probably give up.” You crumble up the paper and toss it into the trash. But when you’re judging your work, you respond to your weak draft entirely differently.  You say to yourself, “I should rewrite this.” After another draft, you observe, “It’s getting better.”

This latter mindset, the one that see’s your personal-growth efforts as drafts to be revised, is a helpful mindset for this weekends transition into the New Year 5782. It’s no accident that this week’s portion of Torah includes a chapter whose specialty is recovery and renewal. As Moses’s life draws to a close in the final chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, we are introduced to the precious gift of repentance (Teshuva).

Something that’s often overlooked is how deed-based this personal renewal is. When the nearness of Torah is described, the last word of three successive verses is “in order to do sacred deeds” to bring about Divine goodness (Deut. 30:12,13, 14). Also, when we pray the final words of Avinu Malkeynu, it is despite our lacking in good deeds (ma’asim) that we entreat God’s forgiving compassion.

It’s common these days to reduce people to identity categories. Even worse than misjudging somebody’s character, digital-life seems to encourage a swallowing up of the vastness of a person’s traits and qualities, let along their capacity for surprise. Our tradition firmly resists this troubling trend. The days ahead call not for disposable dixie cups, but for more impressive drafts of deeds.

As you do our drafting in the coming days, may your busiest keyboard keys not be delete or caps lock. May they instead be options and return.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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