The Lessons of Incivility
Robin Axelrod is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. She is the Undergraduate Coordinator at the University of Michigan’s Department of Classical Studies, and the founder of Axelrod Consulting. She can be reached at email@example.com
It is remarkable how quickly my siblings and I fall into our familial “roles” whenever we are together. In addition to being “the tall one,” as the eldest of five I am also the “responsible one.” Indeed, I am the tallest of my three sisters and I am nearly as tall as my brother and, growing up, I felt a tremendous sense of obligation to be a good role model for them–always. Part of it is the nature of being a first born, and some of it no doubt is how I am wired: doing the right thing is both expected and innate. Yet over time, particularly in more recent days, I came to a new understanding of what being responsible really is. Sometimes, the responsible thing to do is to step back rather than forward.
Like you, I am passionate about serving the Jewish community. And, like you, I have enjoyed tremendous successes and fulfillment in the work I have done. Unlike most of you, however, I have scaled back my Jewish professional work for the time being. I am currently working in a mid-level position at the University of Michigan’s Department of Classical Studies, a decidedly secular position and one that has allowed me to step back. And to listen. What I hear is refreshing; there is a certain civility that permeates the culture of my workplace. As invigorating as it is, I am disheartened by the incivility that rears its ugly head in parts of the Jewish communal world. One could argue that my attitude stems from a boss who publicly announced that I “don’t have what it takes to be successful” in the organization, and repeatedly reminded me that my very being “contributes zero percent” to the organization. Knee-jerk reaction to those instances would be sour grapes, hurt feelings. But it is not what I am talking about. I am pointing to a palpable disrespect for one another that, up to now, has been an elephant in the room—a silent contributor to problems of retention in the Jewish professional world. When that silence became deafening to me, it was time to step onto the balcony. What I saw was the elephant on the dance floor: a pervasive brazenness among colleagues and an uncomfortable impudence between professionals and lay leaders. I respected myself enough to leave the party a bit early. Incivility is an important issue that I challenge us to confront head-on. I enthusiastically look forward to returning full-time to my professional roots at some point, but for now I stand tall and find comfort in knowing that being true to oneself is the purest form of leading by example.