Shy, I’m not! On a stage in front of a room of people, on the bima before a congregation, or in front of a video camera — it’s all just fine with me! When Judith Umlas and I first spoke about the idea of an interview format for her Rockland Jewish Family Service Author Series presentation (in partnership with the OJC), I knew that it would be a lot of fun. What I didn’t realize was how profound an experience it would be for me.
On Tuesday evening, our own Judy Umlas, author of three books (The Power of Acknowledgment, You’re Totally Awesome: The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids and Grateful Leadership) spoke about her calling to teach the simple yet life changing lessons of acknowledgment. Judy considers her writing and speaking about acknowledgment to be a fulfillment of the Jewish call to Tikkun Olam, repair of the world.
One of Judy’s favorite sayings is: “Gratitude – it’s not just a platitude.” In her teaching, Judy is clear that acknowledgment must be authentic and heartfelt. Surface thank-yous and thoughtless praise are not what true acknowledgment is all about. In answer to my questions on Tuesday night at the Rockland Jewish Community Campus, Judy shared real stories about people who changed lives by generously telling others that their actions and words matter. Thanking a barista for always remembering her coffee order made that young worker feel noticed and appreciated. She burst into tears. Telling a phone operator that she appreciated his going the extra mile shocked him. “No one ever says thank you,” he explained. “I only hear complaints.”
We practice acknowledgment with people who are not in our intimate circles so that we become adept enough to share our thanks and appreciation with those closest to us: co-workers, friends, partners, spouses and our children. For so many of us, acknowledgment does not come easily. We take our spouses for granted; we feel competitive with co-workers; we feel awkward showing gratitude to our friends. Judy convinced us all that the results are well worth the effort. Judy posts testimonies from people who experience heart-opening joy through giving and receiving acknowledgment each week on her blog, http://www.thepowerofacknowledgment.com.
Judy challenged the audience to complete a writing assignment she calls “Knock Your Socks Off.” At the end of the presentation, we sat quietly and wrote to any person we wanted to acknowledge. One woman thanked her postman for his consistency, dedication, and willingness to ensure that her slightly broken mail box was always closed tight. Another woman thanked her teachers for creating safe space and for always acknowledging their students. The evening could not have ended in a more precious way than the final audience member who shared her letter of acknowledgment. Judy and Bob’s daughter Stefany acknowledged her brother with a wonderful list of things that she appreciates about him.
We should all practice acknowledgment! I’ll start right now by sharing that Judy Umlas is a treasured congregant and friend in the OJC community. She shares her wisdom with generosity and humility, and I do believe that her work can repair the world.
With acknowledgment to all of you for reading our blog each week,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill