By: Alex Elbogen, NFTY-SW
The NFTY-SW Leadership Training Institute took teen leaders from workshop to workshop, program to program, but one in particular stood out to me. Lynne Butner, our NFTY-SW Regional Director, wrote a program on the Science of Character where she utilized the Let it Ripple video by Tiffany Shlain on character building. She also provided talking points based on the Making Mensches: A Periodic Table by Rabbi Avi Orlow. This program struck a chord with me because it made me realize that before we can become established leaders for our Temple Youth Group or region, we must first prove to ourselves that we embody the character that is necessary in upholding the responsibilities of a leader.
Character is best explained in a quote by legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Character is what defines the human. Your character is what you have to go to bed with every night and wake up with every morning. Your character is what you hold onto even after you’re six feet under. Your character is not what others perceive of you; rather it is what you perceive of yourself. Your character is yours from the day you’re born until the day you die. So the million dollar question is, what are you going to do to establish your proud character? True leaders are known for developing a character that provides a certain self-pride but are also known for showing resilience from forces that are looking to poorly influence that development. What Lynne was trying to plant the seeds for in the minds of the NFTY-SW leaders is that there may be a science behind character development. She gave us the tools, but it was up to us to find what values we need to possess in order to achieve a character that we are confident in.
The Periodic Table of Making Mensches, inspired by Tiffany Shlain’s Periodic Table of Character Strengths, provides a display of 43 various character strengths split up into six distinct categories: Wisdom, Courage, Honor, Justice, Moderation, and Transcendence. After discussion with my youth group, we were able to conclude that if an individual worked to achieve at least one character strength in each of those categories, then that individual would be well on their way to becoming a leader. This brings me back to my initial talking point. Prove to yourself that you can aspire to achieve these sfirot (attributes). Prove to yourself that you can be a leader before you expect others to believe it. Ordinary people leave behind a legacy highlighted by a reputation. Influential leaders leave behind a legacy highlighted by their character. There’s a difference. Just ask Coach Wooden.
In my opinion, this program was perfectly timed. It was our first program of the weekend and is responsible for setting the tone for the NFTY-Southwest 2015-2016 school year. It allowed the teens to look inside themselves and realize why they belonged there. It made them realize why they had been chosen to lead and carry on the character filled legacy of NFTY-Southwest. Thinking back on the weekend, I now know why I am set out to be a leader in not just NFTY-Southwest, but for any venture I take on 10, 20, even 50 years from now. I finally learned how to become the leader of me.