Almost exactly three years ago, I was so moved by the joy of our annual Coming of Age service that I was saying to myself: “it’s time you got to know some of these great kids.” The very same Sunday, at coffee hour, a member of the Nominating Committee asked me to consider serving on the Board of Trustees. After some stewing and brooding I decided that the earlier call to get involved in the RE program must have been a hallucination and accepted the nomination.
It was the end of a year of discord in our community. In my opinion, a lot of the disaffection we had suffered through early 2015 sprang from difficulty really listening to one another, and reacting instead to what we thought we heard others saying. Therefore, I resolved to spend more of my time on the Board listening, rather than talking.
By nature, I am not well suited to participate in meetings, as my colleagues can tell you. Despite my resolve to listen, I grow impatient with rambling discourse and redundancy—and yet am no more concise than anyone else when I speak. So I tended to sit silently and glower, then interrupt others when I’m not sure where our deliberations are leading.
This year, in addition to sitting on two committees, I’ve taken on the responsibility of creating the first draft of each Board meeting’s minutes. Using the Clerk’s notes and my own, I try to generate a concise summary of conversations that are often complex and far-ranging. I approach this as a reporting job, imagining that the reader is someone who doesn’t come to Board meetings and may need a little context for understanding.
The task has shown me that my listening often isn’t as good as I think: it’s not unusual that the point a participant was making, or the consequences of a decision, aren’t clear to me until I’ve struggled to write it down. And I think it’s made me more tolerant of seeming irrelevant comments: an interjection at one point in a multi-party conversation can sometimes clarify statements or arguments made earlier or later. Besides, I’m too busy scribbling to glower,
Although it’s not always been easy, serving on our Board has given me a much greater appreciation for the responsibilities inherent in being a self-governed institution—a Society that has the authority to ordain a new minister, as we did a few weeks ago. I’ve learned a great deal, gotten to know many fine people better, and peeked into many corners of our community.
And as I was writing this column, I received a discreet, modest inquiry about helping out in RE next year. Maybe it wasn’t a hallucination after all. -Eric Haas