The Nonprofit Hero Factory

Episode 10: Labels and Ethics in Nonprofit Communications with Yonason Goldson

In this Episode:

What role do ethics and diversity play in your nonprofit’s communications? Are labels helping or hurting your cause? Yonason Goldson is a community rabbi, TEDx presenter and author, teaching leaders how ancient rabbinic wisdom can apply to the challenges of the modern world.

Listen to this Episode

Introduction 0:02
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast in Honduras, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more Heroes for their cause and a better world.

Boris Kievsky 0:20
Hi, everybody, and welcome to Episode 10 of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m really excited to be back with you today. We missed last week for all kinds of reasons. But we’ve got an amazing show for you today. It’s a little bit different than most of the other guests that we’ve had. Our guest today is Yonason Goldson, who is a community rabbi, a TEDx presenter, the author of five books, including “Fix Your Broken Windows, a 12 step system for promoting ethical affluence”. He has extensive experience teaching business leaders how good ethics is good business, and the benefits of intellectual diversity, applying ancient rabbinic wisdom to the challenges of the modern world. When I first came across Jonas, and he was introduced to me by a friend, a mutual friend of ours, I watched this TEDx talk. And I immediately saw the value that he’s bringing to conversations that are particularly relevant today, but really are important at all times, and couldn’t wait to get him on the show to talk about ethics, labels, and diversity in organizations. So, when I asked him what his nonprofit superpower is, he had to pick one of many and he selected taking complex ideas and making them simple. interested in getting as much value out of him today as we can. So without any further ado, let’s bring Yonason on to the show.

Yonason Goldson 1:40
Good morning.

Boris Kievsky 1:41
Good morning. And thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Yonason Goldson 1:44
It’s a pleasure.

Boris Kievsky 1:45
We’ve known each other for about 48 hours and already feels like we’re good friends. I see the beginnings of a great friendship or what is the line?

Yonason Goldson 1:54
It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Boris Kievsky 1:56
There it is, there it is.

Yonason Goldson 1:57
I didn’t do my Bogey impression for the benefit of the Audience

Boris Kievsky 2:01
For the benefit, got it. So you understand. As you know, I focus a lot on storytelling. And I know you tell great stories as you did in your TEDx talk. So tell us a little bit, what is your story? How did you get into ethics and labels and diversity and all the great things that you talked about today?

Yonason Goldson 2:19
Well, a lot of our best stories come out of profound foolishness. And when I graduated from college and University of California with a degree in English, I had to decide what to do with that degree. And so I went hitchhiking cross country. I then went backpacking across Europe, I ended up in Israel. And that’s where I reconnected with my roots. I’ve been raised with no knowledge of Judaism whatsoever. And I discovered this beautiful community of deep thought and profound ideas and changed my whole way of life. I embarked on the course I never would have imagined I stayed in Israel for nine years, not much. Wife, there had a few children there became an orthodox rabbi. And then I embarked on a career teaching high school, Jewish high school students to try and instill in them an appreciation for the wisdom of their tradition and the beauty of their culture. And four years ago, my school closed victim of local politics, we were too far in the middle. As I like to say, though, we can talk about that, because that’s my experience with nonprofits. And that’s when I started my business as a keynote speaker and consultant, Coach, Trainer, and I tried to distill all the wisdom of 3000 years of Jewish teachings into a single soundbite. And I came up with ethical leadership and intellectual diversity. And that has really become my passion. It’s always been my passion that is focused more on how I can help organizations businesses. Non-profits, individuals realizing the benefits of creating an ethical mindset, and contributing to a culture of ethics, which is really what drives success and prosperity and productivity.

Boris Kievsky 4:16
I have so many tangential points that I would love to explore based off of that and not Trojan tangential, but direct as well. But I didn’t realize it and I listened to your TED Talk a couple of times now, but your journey of self-exploration coming from not being connected to your own roots into your own history and heritage. I went on a very similar journey much later in my life but having been born in the Soviet Union, I was very disconnected from Judaism from my history. And when I was in, living in Los Angeles already, I was looking for the subject matter and I was exploring my own history my grandmother had been at that time in her mid to late eighties and I saw that she was the connection to my history. She was the last of that generation, especially on my father’s side, I started interviewing her. And that led me down a massive journey of exploration, without which I wouldn’t be who I am today, not a rabbi, but a storyteller and someone who is fascinated by the human condition, and what creates who we are. Right? Our history affects us whether we are aware of it or not.

Yonason Goldson 5:30
That’s really what your whole focus is here with the power of story. Yeah, there’s a study I read a while back, but an article about it that people who read literary fiction demonstrate a greater sensitivity to ethics and morals than people who read nonfiction. Because literary fiction is profound ideas couched in a story. I mean, the truth is, you can do it with nonfiction too.

Boris Kievsky 5:55
Good nonfictions

Yonason Goldson 5:56
To capture the story. Stories of what we remember there. what resonates You remember the story is powerful. And if that’s the message of that story will become more implanted in you. That’s what we want to do. communicate our ideas and our passions.

Boris Kievsky 6:09
Well, those great nonfiction, those great fiction books and some of the nonfiction ones, what they do is they help you identify with that character who’s perhaps in a similar situation to you, or perhaps completely different, empathize with them. And that is really what opens up your mind to really seeing other people in the first place.

Yonason Goldson 6:27
Yeah, and empathy is the E and ethics. all starts with that

Boris Kievsky 6:32
perfect transition.

Yonason Goldson 6:33
Yeah, the ability to connect with people on an emotional level. Those relationships ultimately are what drive everything.

Boris Kievsky 6:44
So let’s take a half step back from ethics first, and I want to start with labels because you start your TEDx talk with labels. Can you tell me a little bit about labels, how they work, how you’ve seen them in your own life and in organizations

Yonason Goldson 7:00
Labels are inevitable. We often call those stereotypes, how I start off my, like, you know, diversity. It’s a convenient psychological reflex. Because you think about how many people we come in contact within our lives. And it takes a lot of time and effort to really get to know people. And so our minds looking for shortcuts. And if I look at you, and I can make snap judgments based on your dress, your personal appearance, the way you speak, whatever cues or clues I can latch on to right away. So that simplifies the process of understanding where you are and how I have to start relating to you. And that’s fine. As long as we don’t stop there.

Boris Kievsky 7:53
Right. Right. It was an evolutionary, evolutionarily if I could get that word out. necessary, right? It’s heuristics. That’s, that’s what the behavioral psychologists call it, right? Where we have to be able to quickly identify things. And our brains are great at it, because it helped us survive. It helped us be able to avoid large bears that might kill us or whatever other animals that we don’t need to get to know every little thing about something or creature or person in order to start forming some sort of danger or friend, you know, Friend or Foe fight or flight responses. But at this point in our societal evolution, that’s become oftentimes a negative, right.

Yonason Goldson 8:38
Yeah. And you know, Susan Cain talks about this beautifully in her TED Talk. And she talks about the power of introverts that In you go back a few centuries, and people lived in little rural areas, and a lot of people would never come in contact with more than 30, 40, 50 people in their lives. And so you really got to know the people around you And you could evaluate, you could choose your leaders based on a knowledge of the substance of their character. But after the, after the Industrial Revolution, and people moving into large urban areas and coming in contact with so many people, we had to start relying more on snap judgments. And so people with charisma and who are gracious. And outgoing, those are the people that make an immediate positive impression. Even though there’s absolutely no correlation between extraversion and competence. it’s the default. So then when we have to do if we want to be, well, if we want to have intellectual integrity, we have to look beneath those labels. You have to know when to set the labels aside, and actually get to know people for who they are. And also recognize that even if people don’t share our labels, we still have quite a bit in common with them. And we have a lot to learn from them because the differences are what make us stronger partnerships are built on differences. You only want a partnership with somebody who has all your skills and all your shortcomings. Because what’s the point? When we complement each other, we can learn from each other, we can pool our resources. That’s what builds success.

Boris Kievsky 10:18
So what happens? How do we, is there any tricks or any suggestions you have to how we identify that we’re even using labels in the first place? Right, because it’s so natural, so ingrained? How do we first even realize that we have a problem if you will? And then what might we do to get past that because I see this in well, certainly in politics or in another big election cycle right now. And boy, are labels being flung left and right literally, but also in organizations. You know, as I was watching your talk and reading your books, I was thinking about how even I teach two identify to a villain when it comes to nonprofits because we all gather around a common enemy. But that can become dangerous if we inadvertently label someone as a villain or say that they are the other. Right? So what do you coach? What do you teach people to change their way of thinking around that?

Yonason Goldson 11:20
Well, this is a big topic today with the whole idea of unconscious bias. And the first step is to make a conscious, it’s okay if I have a natural bias, as long as I recognize it as that and I don’t allow it to take control. And one of the best ways to do it is to seek out people who think differently from us. I was on a podcast this week with a black Muslim woman. And we both commented that we just love the optics of the screen with the Orthodox Rabbi in one side white orthodox male Rabbi on one side and the black Muslim woman on the other and, we were able to have a very thoughtful conversation. we disagreed on a few points, we did it respectfully and civilly. And we came away understanding each other better. And then there’s an added benefit. It’s been suggested that talking to people who, with whom you disagree, on can actually help slow down or stave off the advance of dementia and Alzheimer’s, because we’re using our brains in ways that are a little uncomfortable, and a little challenging. It’s that descent into groupthink into affirmations, where we simply say the same things over and over again, and we nod and we agree, and we don’t learn anything but what’s worse is we become more and more confident that everybody thinks like us. You know the joke from the desperation. I don’t know anybody who voted for Richard Nixon. Just plug in any candidate you want. If we don’t, we don’t allow ourselves to see that there is another side and to understand where other people are coming from, and to be able to accommodate the uncomfortable reality that we don’t all agree we won’t all agree, but we can still respect each other.

Boris Kievsky 13:26
Yeah. So this comes to nonprofits specifically but with everybody right now, this is the double-edged sword of social media, right. On the one hand, we can be exposed to more people who disagree with us. On the other hand, we wind up in trenching into our own little camps and, and getting that echo chamber effect. How do we get past that how does an organization for example or an individual within an organization get past that tunnel effect that that echo chamber and actually engage with someone else around these topics that are obviously nice?

Yonason Goldson 14:12
There’s this great story I think I just read it in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, and it’s talked about quite a bit. I think it was Pixar when they were designing their, their, their building or the campus. They put the restrooms in the center of the atrium. So that people from all the different departments had to go to the same place and would bump into each other. And they discovered that that generated a tremendous amount of creativity. Because if you’re just talking to the people who are doing what you’re doing, you’re going to get locked into certain preconceptions into certain modes of thinking when you start talking to people outside your field. All of a sudden, there’s a mastermind group that was created between plumbers. And I’m blanking on the name of the surgeons who vascular surgeons. What in the world would they have in common? Well think about it, right? The flow of blood, the flow of water through pressure, transference. I mean, each discipline discovered something from the other, whoever would have thought to put these two groups together. It’s so exciting. When you start talking to people say, Well, I’m discovering new things, learning more about myself talking to somebody else, and I’m worried about somebody else. And in the process, I create connections and create teamwork. I create community. The community I think is really at the heart of what we all are all looking for now that we’re cut off from each other physically all these online communities but in terms of Creating passion creating allies and creating success. A sense of community is incredibly powerful.

Boris Kievsky 16:10
Yeah, you have a quote in one of your books this is “iron sharpens iron and one person sharpens the mind of another” from King Solomon, right? Absolutely. And think about the imagery thereof two swords rubbing against two blades rubbing against each other and they’re really going the sparks are flying. And they come away with these keen, sharp edges. The story I tell in my TED Talk is the two great Jewish academies 2000 years ago, that history says that when they argued in the study hall, they were so passionate it was that they fought with swords and spears. But when they left the study hall, they were fast friends never was personal. It was all about the desire to get to the truth to understand more deeply the process they forged this tremendous alliance between one another and their debates and discussions are still studied today and have a direct impact on Jewish law Jewish life.

Boris Kievsky 17:13
So, you talk a lot about ancient wisdom and how you apply it today. I gather much of your ancient wisdom does come from the rabbinical teachings of thousands of years now, as you said, but recently you, you, and I were just talking and you were talking about Abraham Lincoln as well. And how he applied? Well, how some of his methodologies couldn’t help him apply to current situations. Do you want to speak a little bit about that?

Yonason Goldson 17:43
Yeah, in their field, surprise, winning book, Doris Kearns Goodwin, books team of rivals. Yeah, and it’s such an incredibly powerful and inspirational and relevant story, that when Lincoln and he was at Dark forests, nobody expected him to win the nomination, become the Republican nominee in 1860. And he, the first thing he did was he invited his Republican political adversaries into his cabinet. And his close friends and advisors warned him Don’t do it. It says they’re not on board with your mission. They are resent that you got the nomination they did. And they are not in line with your political philosophy. And you’re just going to create chaos and mayhem. He did it anyway. And by doing it and by giving them a voice, and by he was a person of extraordinary patience. You know, the people there were even within his own party. The hardcore abolitionists wanted slavery to eradicate them that moment, and he believes slavery was wrong. The people on the left one in a more balanced approach let’s that appeases all these different factions. And they’re calling him names. And this guy this is telling saying he can’t make up his mind and this side saying he won’t Yeah, he’s too much radical. And he had this profound patience and ability to just wait and watch and listen and learn and hold off until the opportune moment arose when he could enact the policies he wanted to I mean, the subtitle of the book is the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. And in an age of sound bites, and name-calling and tweeting, and slogans, and character assassination and gridlock. And I mean, just toxic partisanship. are such a powerful story and the lessons are relevant for business as well. What leader should want a bunch of Yes, men? Yeah. Yeah, it makes me feel good. My own ego is assuaged. But if I’m a good leader, I want people to tell me when I’m wrong. I want people to tell me what I don’t know. I want people to challenge me to think more deeply and in new ways, because that’s how we get to a real sense of purpose and direction.

Boris Kievsky 20:31
Absolutely. And I know that a lot of organizations, including many of the nonprofit’s that I’ve been in contact with, are currently rethinking, reevaluating, discussing, which is wonderful in and of itself, but it’s even become a point of conversation, their own diversity, their own inclusivity practices, and what they can do to increase the number of voices within their own organizations and then within the world from different points of view, and so I was thinking in, I’m gonna quote you back to yourself, you said, in the end, it all comes down to this code, capital C, capital D, capital E values, communication, diversity, and ethics. How does that break down? And we’ve talked a bit about diversity and ethics, but specifically, how does it apply to communication?

Yonason Goldson 21:28
Well, let’s, let’s take it first, briefly from the point of start with ethics and diversity because ethics means I have a vision of a world a community greater than myself. I recognized it’s not about me, it’s about the world I live in the community I’m part of. And by contributing to a better community, I get to live in a better community which makes me a better person by being a better person, I create a better community. Diversity is part of that because what we’re just talking about I only know what’s true and what’s right and what’s good if I can see all the angles until you look at something. And there are all kinds of optical illusions and then optical games that make this point that when you change the perspective, you suddenly see things you didn’t even realize were there before. And you make assumptions based upon a narrow point of view. So what I call intellectual diversity, which by extension goes to cultural diversity, but without the tribalism, that can often result from them. If we retreat into our tribes, then we’re simply reinforcing the problem. If we build bridges, and we learn to understand one another, better, then we are using our differences as a source of strength. And that’s where communication comes in. I have to be able to communicate my ideas so that you’ll understand them even if you are not already on board. Even if you don’t naturally agree with me. That means first I have to understand myself. I have to be secure enough and aware enough of my own ideas, and I can communicate them to you so that you can understand them, then I have to listen to you. And I have to be able to communicate back to you your ideas so that you know that you’ve been heard. So if I’ve made myself clear to you, and you know that I that you’ve made yourself clear to me and I understand you, now we can start to work together from a position of respect, and collaboration.

Boris Kievsky 23:28
There’s a whole lot to unpack there. But that’s a great overview of the philosophies that I think we all need to kind of consider and incorporate what happens and you do break this down. What happens when you have ethics, but without communication?

Yonason Goldson 23:52
Well, think about someone who presents himself As a model of ethics model of morality, but he doesn’t communicate the universality of his philosophy to others, then you have the, you know, the sage on the mountaintop who, okay? I don’t really want to climb a mountain to find this guy. I don’t really understand where he’s coming from, okay, he’s a saint. But I’m not a saint. What’s it got to do with me that we have a problem in the, in the Jewish religious community that we love to admire the sages of previous generations. And we have lots and lots of biographies about them. But a common complaint is that these biographies because there’s an unwillingness to get into the nitty-gritty of the struggles that people have to become saints and sages. And so there’s certain inaccessibility, okay. Oh, at three years old he had, he was saying the prayers by heart and then five years old he had mastered all of the rabbinic literature and Okay, that’s great. You know, what about me, I’m just an ordinary person. The communication comes from finding that is a central message of learning how difficult it is, for a saint to become a saint, recognizing people are not born to safely. We’re not born naturally good or naturally bad. We’re born as blank slates. And some of us have more advantages than others, depending on family and community, and they were quite an odd country and all these variables, but it’s what we do with our circumstances. And therefore when the when you have a model of ethics, who can communicate the universality of ethical values that can inspire people who are ordinary strive to become extraordinary. That’s when we’re really on to something

Boris Kievsky 26:06
that’s absolutely on point. When we look at the stories that nonprofits are telling, both internally and externally, having their ethics out in front is usually what actually connects people to the organization in the first place. We build empathy through the stories that we tell. But if the organization is trying to create a better world, they need to be communicating that modeling that with their own ethics with their and having that out in front, right in everything that they communicate. And I think actually, you know, I talked earlier about how helping defines a common villain. In this case, it’s, the villain becomes the lack of ethics, the lack of inclusivity, and more and more people will rally around the cause to improve the world with This level of ethics inside it.

Yonason Goldson 27:04
Yeah, absolutely. The function of ethics is trust. No, empathy is the E in ethics. trustworthiness is a T in ethics. And it’s a natural progression. You trust someone that you believe has integrity. You trust someone that you believe has your best interest at heart, and everyone’s best interests at heart. There’s a story that I heard a little bit before my time of political awareness. But when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California, and he was a very big, economic conservative, all in favor of lower taxes, and when the subject of raising taxes arose. He said, My feet are in concrete. Well, the economy didn’t go the way you go to would? And he had to reverse his position then so he began his speech saying the sound you hear is the concrete breaking between my beneath my feet. And because he had the credibility with his own people, they knew that he wasn’t being wishy-washy wasn’t waffling. He was dealing with a reality that he had to deal with. But if you fast forward during or when George Bush was the first was president, and his campaign slogan was read my lips, no new taxes And then he had to get to raise taxes. He lost his own face because he didn’t have that credibility. He hadn’t achieved that trust. And so people thought, Okay, he’s not one of us. We can’t rely on him. We can’t believe what he says. There’s no trust. So accredit an ethical leader is somebody who communicates his values to the point where if he does To make mid-course corrections, his own people can recognize, okay, this isn’t flakiness. This isn’t being disingenuous. This is reading the reality of the circumstance and the time and the place. And eventually, we’ll try to get back on track. But it’s that trust that makes it

Boris Kievsky 29:22
this is awesome stuff. Yes. And I’m sure we could be talking for another few hours. And I’d love to keep this conversation going. Between you and I regardless, and maybe even have you back on the show at some point to talk more about it. But we do try to be respectful of your time and our viewers and listeners. So in the, in the mindset of trying to wrap it up anyway. Can you tell me Are there any tools or resources or books that you recommend our listeners check out? We’re, of course going to link to everything in our show notes, including your TED talk and some of your books and things that you have put out there into the world which I do recommend. But what else should organizations be looking at and thinking about and doing?

Yonason Goldson 30:04
Well, I already mentioned a couple of them, a team of rivals. I think it’s a book everybody should read, to understand politics, business, and all human relations. Good to Great which is business classic by Jim Collins, which I think I read reading. He also is what makes the calls a level five leader. Is his formula is to get all the right people on the bus and make sure they’re all the right seats? And then basically leave them alone. And that so that comes into that this idea of community that we’re talking about. I think one of the most valuable tools we have today is Facebook groups. It’s a real opportunity to generate a feeling of community because when you have community, you have allies, you have advocates, you have salespeople, and you can generate that excitement and that passion that nonprofits really need because the profit is the mission. And if, if the mission is not being communicated, then it’s going to be a lot harder to keep a viable enterprise.

Boris Kievsky 31:12
Fantastic. Yeah. Facebook groups are a huge, powerful tool, especially as you said earlier now that we are not as able to meet in person, not as able to communicate in the ways that we used to any platform where you can create a group setting where people can ask questions, discuss, and hopefully have some input from your organization, although not necessarily securing everything, but giving a forum and giving a platform where people can connect and who knows come up with some great ideas or find new ways to support you is incredibly powerful these days. And I do think a lot of nonprofits should be taking advantage of that if they haven’t yet, although many already do. So, what should people do when they’re done listening to this show? or watching this show? How can they follow up with you and learn more about the work that you’re doing? Maybe even get you to come and do a keynote for them?

Yonason Goldson 32:08
Yeah, well, you know, the keynotes are a little complicated right now, but I’m always looking for opportunities to connect with people. There are other options and coaching and online teaching. So the best place to start is my website, just my name, yonasongoldsan.com hard to spell, but not too hard to find it also very active on LinkedIn, a little less on the other social media. But I always encourage people to reach out, always happy to have a conversation.

Boris Kievsky 32:38
And they could request your book, your ebook, when absolutely, which has some great quotes and great ideas, many of which I referenced in this conversation today. Yonason thank you so so much for your time and for helping distill all the wisdom of the ages for us and all the nonprofit listeners out there nonprofit professionals that are looking to make a bigger difference in the world, I know that they’re gonna get a lot out of this episode. So thank you again, and I look forward to continuing the conversation

Yonason Goldson 33:09
I appreciate that Boris. Until next time.

Boris Kievsky 33:17
Thank you all for watching and listening to the nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating war heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on Youtube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Labels are inevitable; we often call them “stereotypes.” It’s a convenient psychological reflex to categorize and comprehend new situations.
  • Make unconscious bias conscious; natural bias is understandable as long as you recognize it as such and don’t allow it to take control.
  • Seek out people who think differently from you to improve yourself and challenge your own thinking.
  • The measurement of an “ethical leader,” is someone who communicates their values to the point where if they do have to make mid-course corrections, people recognize that it’s not being disingenuous—but rather simply reacting to the reality and circumstance of the times.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Yonason Goldson

Yonason Goldson

Director, Ethical Imperitives

Yonason Goldson is director of Ethical Imperatives, LLC, teaching business leaders how good ethics is good business and the benefits of intellectual diversity, applying ancient rabbinic wisdom to the challenges of the modern world. He’s a community rabbi, TEDx presenter, recovered hitchhiker, retired high school teacher, and author of five books including “Fix Your Broken Windows: a 12-step system for promoting ethical affluence.