Arts & Culture

How Long Before A Great New Idea Bears Fruit?

In 1992, exactly 350 years after Galileo died under house arrest and suffered excommunication for saying the Earth might be revolving around the sun, the church in Rome apologized.  "You were right, we were a little slow to catch on," they … Read More

By / September 17, 2008

In 1992, exactly 350 years after Galileo died under house arrest and suffered excommunication for saying the Earth might be revolving around the sun, the church in Rome apologized.  "You were right, we were a little slow to catch on," they essentially said.

So have any of your good ideas been thwarted or ignored by certain keepers of the status quo?   Maybe it’s a creative idea that has been too scary or innovative for those who like to keep repeating what’s already been tried.  Or maybe it’s a creative solution to a problem that needs fixing where you work, where you go to services, or even in your own extended family. 

We Jews are supposed to be repairing the world–globally, locally, and even in our own complicated families.  But how do you stay healthy, positive, and persistent when your good ideas are being opposed or dismissed by the powerful insiders who don’t like anyone shaking things up on their familiar turf? 

In my new book FITTING IN IS OVERRATED: The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider, I describe several practical steps and the most effective strategies (from Jewish, psychological, and management teachings) for bringing about positive changes in a hesitant group, organization, club, social gathering, or family situation. These steps include:

HAVING THE HUMILITY TO KNOW YOU ARE BUT A GRAIN OF SAND AND ALSO THE SELF-AWARENESS TO KNOW THAT THE ENTIRE WORLD IS DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSISTENT ACTIONS.  One of the greatest teachings in Judaism comes from the Talmud and it says that we need to carry at all times both the humility of our smallness and fragility, as well as the bold courage and strength of our being important partners in the ongoing creation and repair of the world.  Remembering both of those parts of who you are during a stressful power struggle at work, in a group, or with your family can help you from falling into the traps of being too arrogant or self-righteous, as well as reminding you never to give up on a cause that is worth pursuing because the world needs your outsider insights on how to repair that particular situation.

FINDING ONE OR TWO ALLIES AMONG THE POWERFUL INSIDERS WHO ARE OPEN TO CHANGE.  In Judaism the struggle for women’s rights and gay rights took hold when powerful allies began to speak up on behalf of those who had been marginalized or excluded for centuries.  It doesn’t take a quick majority for change to occur, but rather it requires some persistent outsiders and a few courageous insiders who are willing to risk their own credibility and start including the research, ideas, voices, and win-win solutions from the outsiders who long to be included.  If someone in your temple, your workplace, your neighborhood, or your family has been feeling like an outsider and you are the possible bridge who can help them be heard, make sure you use your power for good this year.  Or if you are the marginalized outsider in a slow-to-change organization or family situation, please stop hitting your fragile head against the wall long enough to sit down and have a few supportive lunches with the few courageous insiders who might be willing to be your future ally.  You don’t have to do it all by yourself, especially if someone on the inside has the heart and wisdom to appreciate the merits of what you know must be changed and improved.

TREATING EVEN THE PERSON WHO IS OPPOSING YOU AS A HOLY SPARK OF THE DIVINE (even if their holy sparks are deeply hidden under some rigid personality traits).  One of the best ways to come up with win-win solutions and better teamwork in a slow-to-change organization or family situation is to surprise your opposition by the decency and integrity of your approach.  Rather than demonizing the other person or gossiping about him or her, our Jewish teachings from the Torah and the Musar tradition from the 19th century of how to walk-the-walk say that you will be more successful if you treat each human being as containing sparks of holiness and glimpses of the Divine. 

I think of recent incidents in which Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab leaders were finally sitting down together to talk respectfully about water shortages and how to revive the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the fragile water distribution systems of the Middle East.  I think of recent moments when people from the pro-choice movements and the pro-life movements sat down together to talk about pro-active ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and positive ways to prevent AIDS through finally talking about condoms and safer sex.  I think of synagogues and temples where hawks and doves recently sat down together respectfully to discuss the fact that they were both lovers of Israel and that their clashing styles were each necessary to keep our beloved Israel balanced and strong.  I think of families in my counseling office where instead of screaming at one another or retreating into resentful silences, they engaged in a healthy family discussion of how to respect and include the family members who are rebellious, different, or formerly excluded.

It takes a lot of persistence and a lot of subtle people skills to get things done in this world.  So if you have a creative project, a work situation, a social dilemma, or a family conflict that needs excellent strategic moves right now, don’t revert to your old ways.  Find a book, a teacher, a coach, or a friend who can keep you on track to bring out your best efforts for overcoming the hesitance of the slow-to-change keepers of the status quo.  It can be done, but not if we just revert back to self-righteous anger or old-school resentments and bickering.  

(For more information on creative methods for being a more effective change-agent in all areas of your life, see

Dr. Leonard Felder, author of Fitting in Is Overrated, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.

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