Love & Hate (#164)

In 1991, Michael Weisser, along with his wife Julie and three of their five children, moved from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska for Weisser’s new position: Cantor and spiritual leader of South Street Temple.

As they were moving in and unpacking, the phone rang. When they answered, the caller said, “You’re going to be sorry you moved in, Jew boy” and then hung up.

A few days later, the Weissers received a package in the mail containing hateful and racist materials along with a business card from the Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacy hate group) that read “the KKK is watching you scum.”

The police suggested that the caller and antagonist was very likely Larry Trapp, the local Grand Dragon of the KKK chapter in Nebraska. Trapp, as it happens, was also a double amputee, having lost his legs to advanced diabetes at a young age.

Weisser was worried for his family but decided to take a different approach. He got Trapp’s phone number from a friend and began leaving messages on his answering machine, such as:

“Larry, there’s a lot of love out there. You’re not getting any of it. Don’t you want some?”

“Larry, you’d better think about all this hatred that you are involved in because you’re going to have to deal with God one day.”

“Larry, the very first laws that the Nazis passed were against people like yourself, who have physical disabilities, and you would have been among those to die under the Nazis. Why do you love the Nazis so much?”

This turned into a regular monthly routine, with Weisser calling and leaving a message for Trapp at 3:00pm every Thursday. One Thursday, Trapp answered the call by screaming profanities and asking Weisser what he wanted.  Weisser replied that he knew Trapp was disabled and offered to give him a ride to the grocery store, to which Trapp responded that he was all set and told him not to call anymore.

But Weisser kept calling and leaving messages of love. Then, one day, Weisser’s phone rang. It was Trapp, who asked, “Is this the Rabbi?” When Weisser affirmed that it was, Trapp responded by saying, “I want to get out of what I am doing and I don’t know how.”

Despite warnings from his family, Weisser decided to visit Trapp at his house that night to “break bread,” but not before calling a friend and telling him to call the police if he did not hear from him by midnight.

Weisser thought he had made a grave mistake when Trapp answered the door in his wheelchair with three guns in his lap. Then, Trapp reached out his hand, introduced himself and burst into tears.

After talking for hours, Weisser learned of the severe emotional and physical abuse Trapp had suffered at the hands of his father. As a child, he would often hide for hours to avoid a beating. It became clear to Weisser that Trapp’s hateful actions were a manifestation of having never felt loved.

Over the next year, Trapp became a fixture in the community, making amends and talking to groups about the perils of hatred. Around this time, his health also began to deteriorate. Surprising everyone, the Weissers invited Trapp to come live with them, an offer he accepted. Trapp stayed with them until his death a year later. During this time, he also converted to Judaism. The day of his funeral, the synagogue was packed with people who would have never expected to be there just a few years before.

I have many takeaways from this story, but here are a few that stand out the most:

  1. When we put hate out into the world, we get hate in return. This cycle continues until someone is willing to break it. This pattern of behavior is sadly becoming prevalent across the world today.
  2. In all aspects of our personal and professional lives, we can all be better at seeking to understand. What we see on the surface is often the symptom, not the cause.
  3. It takes an enlightened person to get to the “why” behind people’s actions, decisions, behaviors and beliefs that otherwise seem inexcusable.

To hear more of this story in Rabbi Weisser’s own words, you can listen to this incredible podcast episode that we listened to with our children, or read this article.


Quote of The Week

“The truth is, human nature is good, not bad.”


Rabbi Michael Weisser



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Valuing Vulnerability (#152)

Two weeks ago, we held our AP Summit, an all-company annual retreat. Our theme for the week centered around Embracing Relationships, which is one of our company’s core values.

A big part of embracing relationships is the willingness to be vulnerable. In business, this typically shows up in the form of being open to radical candor and new ideas, stepping outside of comfort zones and being transparent about mistakes and shortcomings.

When team members are vulnerable with each other, it builds trust. In turn, they’re more comfortable and confident about being open with their questions, sharing new ideas, debating and discussing challenges and expressing differences of opinion, all of which allows for stronger team performance.

As researcher Brenè Brown explains, vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.

Our opening speaker at our AP Summit is an inspiring example of how vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness, especially in leadership. JT McCormick, the CEO of Scribe Media and author of I Got There, openly shared how he overcame racism, poverty, neglect and heartbreaking sexual and physical abuse to achieve the American Dream. His talk was so emotional, raw and powerful that it brought many to tears.

JT was followed by Eric Kapitulik, founder of The Program, a leadership and team-building training company. Prior to starting The Program, Eric served in the United States Marine Corps as both an Infantry and Special Operations Officer. Eric opened by sharing a story about how he and his platoon were in a helicopter crash that resulted in the death of seven Marines.

After sharing his story and some of his life experience since that harrowing day, Eric and his team led our employees outdoors to a large field where it was raining, muddy and cold. Teams were put through various leadership drills and missions. And when we failed, we had to do push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and other physical “consequences,” all surrounded by swampy puddles and goose droppings.

Sounds terrible, right? Yet, I didn’t hear a single complaint. Having just heard these stories and knowing that we could all shower, change into clean clothes and be comfortable again, there was a tremendous sense of gratitude and camaraderie. In fact, most people ranked this training as a highlight of their week and year.

Both of these presentations and experiences opened new conversations and brought transparency between team members to new levels.

Knowing how important strong relationships are to our happiness and health, in advance of AP Summit, I asked employees to send to me five relationships that they’d like to start, grow or rekindle. Many of the responses were very personal. The most common themes were “spouse,” “myself,” “parent,” “grandparents,” “out-of-touch friend,” “sibling,” and “relative I’ve never met.”

Then, at our closing dinner, our culture team surprised several employees by informing them that their Embrace Relationship submission had been selected to become a reality.

Shortly after the presentation, other team members came up to those employees, embraced them and shared something with them that they hadn’t before, at least not in a professional context. This willingness to connect vulnerably created further increased trust, respect and understanding in ways that might not have been possible otherwise.

It was an unforgettable moment and one that I have no doubt will lead to much individual and team success and a new appreciation of what it means to share your authentic self with others.

Quote of the Week

 “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown



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Family Matters (#126)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a Friday Forward called Fighting Words about lessons I learned from engaging with toxic people. Although the situations I shared were related to people who were strangers, I received many heartfelt responses from readers who experienced the same septic characteristics in people they knew well: their family members.

Many shared that they had come to realize they needed to move away from – or even completely sever— the relationship with a member (or members) of their family. Here are a few examples.

“I recently had to face the fact that my Dad is a hammer (everything else is a nail).  At 70, that’s not going to change. I’ve had to completely disengage with him. Which means he’s also lost regular contact with his granddaughters. It’s sad, but I do not miss the toxic energy.”

This is a lesson I learned 5 years ago and keep re-learning to some degree. When the toxic people in your life are family, it’s hard to disengage, but walking away was the best decision I ever made.”

Well, my dad is one such person. Having had a very tough childhood from his hands, I grew up hating him, then matured to not contest. He is 76, and exactly the same.”

For most of us, including me, family is one of the most important things in our life. I feel very fortunate to have healthy family relationships and not be faced with these incredibly difficult decisions. However, that doesn’t mean I think family should be an absolute.

Yes, family is important. That said, if someone in your family makes you miserable, and cannot or will not change, then I am of the belief that the only real choices are:

  1. Change your reaction to their behavior or
  2. Walk away from the relationship

Ironically, when you take the “walk away” option off the table because they are “family,” you are essentially giving the person permission to continue their behavior without consequences. What’s more is that this behavior – and your permission of it – will be recognized (consciously and unconsciously) by others, including your children.

What kind of message do you think that sends? And is it one you feel good about?

One of the biggest frustrations I hear repeatedly from people is that they consistently receive unsolicited feedback and opinions from their family members. From my perspective, what constitutes a valuable opinion should ideally meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • It was requested
  • It has relevance or a direct impact on the giver
  • It’s given out of genuine concern for the receiver

If these criteria are not met, chances are that such feedback falls into the unsolicited advice or judgment category. Often, the true intention behind this “advice” is to make the giver feel better about themselves and their own decisions or to make the receiver feel worse.

Just as it’s unhealthy to stay in an emotionally or physically abusive romantic relationship, toxic family relationships can cause a great deal of harm. The key to a happy, healthy life, according to a 75-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, is good relationships. And that may mean making some hard decisions.

In the end, who we consider family should be determined more by behavior than by our genes.


Quote of The Week  

“Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.”

Iyanla Vanzant

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Gaining Perspective – Part Two (#123)

Last week, I wrote about my family’s recent service trip to Puerto Rico for April break and shared some key learnings from the experience, including the importance of community and getting out of our comfort zone.

I wanted to follow-up this week with a few more thoughts and takeaways.

Giving to Get

When giving, you often gain something unexpected. In my case, while cutting thousands of vegetables for World Central Kitchen, I saw one of the chef’s doing a rock and cut motion that has alluded me for over a decade. After a few lessons and hours of practice, I now have it down and acquired a new life skill. Similarly, my daughter never felt comfortable around knives in the kitchen. She too got some instruction and, by the end, was comfortable cutting anything. She took that confidence with her into our own kitchen at home.

Perspective & Adaptation  

Even before an all-day power outage, many of the traffic lights were not functioning, often at large three-lane intersections. While you would expect this to result in chaos, people cooperated and adapted to keep their driving situation safe. A few cars would go from one side and then let cars from the other side go; everyone was civil and respectful. This situation gave me a better perspective for how we can work together when faced with a challenge. I was also reminded that we tend to adapt to changes faster and better than we believe.

Bursting the Bubble

The best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance depicts the deepening divide between different cultures and classes in the United States –  particularly from a “city versus country” perspective.

I saw this same dynamic in Puerto Rico. For example, at first glance, you would not know that there had been a devastating Hurricane in downtown San Juan less than a year prior. But travel 30 minutes outside the city and the havoc and destruction that Maria wreaked is pervasive.

When the power went out countrywide, almost every building we could see in San Juan had power thanks to generators. In the rural areas? It was dark.

We also saw the same discrepancy visiting the private children’s hospital downtown and the public hospital outside of the city. The former looked very similar to what I would except to see in Boston, with lots of glass, bright colors and modern infrastructure. The latter felt more third-world, with few windows, metal-barred cribs and heavy doors that kept patients isolated in their rooms.

Our worlds become very small when we stay within our own bubble. Sometimes, even a short drive minutes away can burst that bubble, significantly altering our perceptions and perspectives.

Asking Questions

While volunteering with Lola, I asked her what she needed most besides food and money. Her response was “beds.” She explained that several people in the community did not have a clean bed to sleep on since the storm, including one who recently had a stroke and heart attack.

Our company just so happens to work with a lot of mattress companies. So, upon returning home, we reached out to them. As of right now, we are in motion with a few partners on an initiative to get clean, comfortable beds to those who need them most – and it all started with a question.

The best advice I can give you is to experience something different this year. It could be a trip, a new way to get to work or just changing your routine. You will be surprised by the impact.

If you haven’t yet, I’d also encourage you to read the Esquire article that spotlights the work organizations like World Central Kitchen and people like Lola are doing to bring light and hope back into the lives of Puerto Ricans.

If you missed Part One,  you can read it here.


Quote of the Week

“Sometimes the only reason for us to be somewhere else is to see things from a different perspective.”

Leila Summers

The post Gaining Perspective – Part Two (#123) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122)

Two weeks ago, I completed one of my five-year goals. It wasn’t a race, financial achievement or a book; it was a service trip with my family.

Inspired by a similar trip that The Points Guy and his team took, we headed Puerto Rico over the kids’ spring break and donated our time to help the community recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

We split our four days working at two food banks and two children’s hospitals. As part of his Mitzvah project, my son was also able to raise $2,000 to purchase gifts for each of the children we visited as well as diapers and water for the hospitals.

On this incredibly rewarding trip, we each gained far more than we gave, especially in terms of stepping outside of our comfort zones and appreciation for the roles community and relationships play in our lives.

Expanding Our Comfort Zones

On our second day in PR, we volunteered for World Central Kitchen (WCK) a wonderful organization started by chef José Andrés. Since the storm, WCK has served more meals than the U.S. government. We cut, prepped and cooked food for hours alongside volunteer and paid chefs, despite the entire island losing power a short time into our work. No one blinked an eye, we just kept going.

While there, we were offered the opportunity to join a dedicated community organizer named Lola to deliver the food we just cooked.  With the power still out and no GPS, we followed our liaison, Griselle (Ñaña), to Lola’s house. When we arrived, Ñaña explained we were heading into some “rough” neighborhoods and put a sticker on our rental car to identify us as part of WCF. She explained that Lola would take us to the places she knew the food was needed, we’d follow them in our car and serve it out of the back of her hatchback. When we asked if where we were going was “safe,” she replied that most people knew and respected Lola, but there were a few places we should not get out right away and to follow her lead.

At this moment, my wife and I looked at each other with a bit of fear in our eyes. We were going to be following Ñaña’s car in our bright blue Jeep rental car without any way to know where we were if we got lost. On top of that, we were already in areas that made us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, we thought about turning back. Then we realized that this is where the rubber met the road.

That next hour was by far the most impactful of our trip. We weaved through some of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, even before the devastating effects of the storm. Most of the houses still standing had blue tarps for roofs and were open to the elements; power lines were down everywhere.

At the first stop, we tentatively got out to help and I locked the car for the first and last time. After a few stops, my kids were leading the way. They connected with the men, women and children coming to the car for a hot meal served by Lola. On several occasions, we heard and saw people thank god after they received their food, which was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time.

Seeing everyone so thankful and respectful shifted our comfort zones and perspectives. Nowhere was this more evident than during our ride back to the hotel; we now felt comfortable in areas that just a few hours earlier had made us very nervous.

Community & Relationships Matter

Study after study has shown that money doesn’t make us happier or live longer. The one thing that has proven to do both is having quality relationships in our lives.

Community runs deep in Puerto Rico. As my kids delivered toys to the children in the hospital, we noticed how many of them were surrounded by multi-generational families. Most of the successful initiatives in Puerto Rico have been driven by the community or had significant community components, such as WCK.

Additionally, the majority of the community leaders and organizers we encountered were women, something that was not lost on my daughter. These women led not by positions of authority, but through earned respect and deference. Lola was an amazing example.

We did not take many pictures in the communities we visited as it did not feel right, but we were glad to learn that one of the volunteers working with us at WCK was also a reporter and documented our entire day with WCK for Esquire magazine.

There’s more to share from our trip, which I’ll continue next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the Esquire article. I think you’ll be as moved by the incredible work that these people, communities and organization are doing as my family and I were.

Quote of the Week

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The post Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Thankful Reflection (#99)

As we head into the last few weeks of the year, it’s a good time to reflect, celebrate and make connections. Two weeks ago, the Acceleration Partners team did just this. We gathered our employees from around the world for our sixth annual AP Summit, our most impactful one to date.

I thought I would share a few themes that I took away from our week together that have both personal and professional applications this holiday season.

Connecting in Person: These days, we have a lot of ways to communicate with each other. And while video calls are a big upgrade over voice alone, in-person face time matters. People connect differently in person. They tend to open up and share more vulnerably. For example, one of the highlights of the week was our employee TED talks. Team members spoke on topics that were important to them and shared ideas they felt would add value to others.

With this in mind, let’s make the time this holiday season to cultivate our most important personal and professional relationships. Let’s spend quality time together, face-to-face, talking about things that matter; not on our phones.

Demonstrate Gratitude: Throughout the entire week of our AP Summit, there was a lot of gratitude given, formally and informally. Everyone likes to be appreciated, but I think we often underestimate the impact showing gratitude to others has on our own outlook. When we take the time to recognize and appreciate others, it often feels better to see the impact it has on someone than to receive it ourselves.

Celebrate Humbly: Historically, empires fall from within. There’s no faster way to ensure your demise than by believing you are great and have nowhere to improve. Sure, it’s important to reflect on what went well and celebrate successes – both individual and as a team. But, especially at the end of the year, it’s also important to keep a level head and acknowledge that future success is never guaranteed.

In my opening AP Summit presentation, I shared what I believe to be one of the best speeches of 2017, delivered by Dino Babers, head football coach at Syracuse University. Just after his team defeated the number one-ranked team in the country in a major upset, Dino displayed some key leadership themes, which members of our organization took notice of.  He:

  • Did not take credit
  • Was humble
  • Showed respect for the competition
  • Was emotional and vulnerable
  • Reminded his team to take care of each and get back to work the next day

Before you rush to the store for a Black Friday shopping spree, take a few minutes to watch Dino’s Barber’s powerful speech. This is what great leadership looks like.

Quote of the Week

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.”

Frank Clark

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