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We Have The Power!

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(^ Paraphrasing the always-quotable He-Man. Well, OK, this is probably his only quote.)
 
A recent video on the website “Upworthy” showcased a debt collection agency with an interesting twist. For those of you who aren’t familiar, “Upworthy” is a website filled with good things from the vast world of the internets, things that are both “awesome and meaningful” (their words), instead of “depressing and shallow and did I really just spend five minutes of my life watching/reading that?” (my words).
 
So then, you are probably wondering how debt collection could have anything to do with “awesome and meaningful.” That’s where the interesting twist comes in. The goal of this particular debt collection agency—which hires “customer care representatives,” not “debt collectors”—is to get the debtors back on their feet. They operate on a simple premise of, “If people are in debt, they probably don’t have money.” The agency helps debtors in every area—from refinancing loan terms, to helping them pay bills, find housing and get jobs. The agency will even fix your resume, get you an interview and call you the morning of the interview to remind you to get ready!
 
But how can a debt agency afford to be so … nice? How do they get pay their overhead and their employees’ salaries—with sparkly smiles and bear hugs? Surprisingly, the agency does well. Very well—the owner says they can make twice the amount of other debt collection agencies. How? Because, when they help people get jobs and make money, the (former) debtors have more money to pay the company. Being nice actually pays!
 
So … what’s the lesson here for the rest of us? The answer: Most of us, at some point in our lives, are responsible for the well-being and happiness of another person. It may happen during business dealings or during family dealings, but there will come a time when we find ourselves holding the key to someone’s happiness, to their ability to move onward and upward. This person, whose life may be in your hands (figuratively speaking), may be having a difficult time. He or she may have screwed up and even owe you something. And when this person is before us, we will be faced with a decision: Will we shame and embarrass this person until we get the desired result? Or will we use this opportunity to help this person solve a problem, regain his confidence and achieve his potential?
 
As a parent, I often find myself in this position. A certain child of mine is a chronic school-supply-forgetter. And yes, I often yell in exasperation, “You forgot your folder again?” But while yelling and shaming may help him remember, it won’t be nearly as effective as working with him to find a way to remember on his own. Same is true at work—when an employee hands in a subpar presentation, you certainly could reprimand him and make him feel really bad about it. Or, you could take this opportunity—frustrating as it may be—to help him see the issue from another angle, come up with a better idea/response/presentation and fix it on his own.
 
Like the debtors, if someone is having trouble doing something, yelling at them for not being able to do that thing is … well, less than effective. However, helping the person get to the root of the problem and improve himself along the way—that is nothing short of tikkun olam.
 
The premise of this unique debt collection agency, the premise that should form the foundation of all of our interactions with others, is “dan l’kaf zechut/judge others favorably.” This doesn’t just mean “give people the benefit of the doubt.” It’s a much more positive, proactive tenet of Judaism. It means believing in and respecting the essentially good nature of man. Believing that, in general, people are decent and worthy, not lazy screw-ups.
 
People want to do well, to stand on their own, be self-sufficient and make those around them happy and proud. They want to achieve and reach their potential. Supporting and guiding them on their way is not only an opportunity for us, but is in fact one of our greatest responsibilities to our fellow man.

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