#BlogElul Day 12: Forgive

Suffice to say that if you have been involved in the world of I.T. for more than 15 minutes, you have also likely gotten into a disagreement. It could have been about Star Wars vs Star Trek, or which comic book character could beat another comic book character’s butt, or whether the board game Settler’s of Catan is better than Flight of the Boodles.

Or it could be a disagreement about how to migrate to a new software platform, or how to configure the network, or how (or if) to implement security protocols.

The challenge is that these disagreements can become (or at least feel) extremely personal – as if YOU are being criticised, rather than the idea you are presenting.

And when the shouting is over and decision is made, you need to find a way to move on. Except frequently people don’t. Working relationships are strained or ruined. Professionalism is tested. People quit.

In thinking about today’s prompt I was struck again about the difference between disagreements in IT and those in “my other life” as an Orthodox Jew. In the traditional setting for Jewish learning – the Yeshivah – there is rarely a moment’s quiet. Two, three, or more people gather around a book and begin to debate it’s meaning, it’s relevence, it’s relationship to other text. The debates are loud, forceful, impassioned. Each side refuses to back down or give an inch until they have either completely proven their point or had it refuted beyond a doubt.

And then there are smiles, pats on the back, shaking hands, “Yasher koach” (something like “Nice job!”) spoken.

What’s the difference?

In the Yeshivah world, the argument is for the sake of capital-T “Truth”. Not for ego, personal advancement, or reputation. If the group feels they have made progress toward a better understanding, then the shouting was worthwhile.

Thinking about this dichotomy led me to recall a time when IT and Yeshivah overlapped.

I was working overseas, and was teamed up with a brilliant monitoring designer named Francois. To say that we didn’t get along would have been an understatement. Every single design choice I made was questioned. I tried being diplomatic. I gave a little to his questioning, validated his points (even when I thought they were dumb), tried to find compromise. And the more I did that, the more frustrated he became.

After about a week, it finally became intolerable. I finally pulled him into a empty conference room and asked him what the issue was. Why was he challenging every single thing I said.

“Because that’s my job. And I don’t understand why you aren’t showing me the same respect. Do you think I’m that stupid that it’s not worth it?”

I was flabbergasted. After a while Francois, who had more experience with Americans than I had with his culture, was able to put it into terms I could understand.

“You and I are two people in the entire company who understand any of this. But everyone is going to question our decisions later on. Our job is to make sure every choice is solid. If I can defend my design against your best argument, then nobody else’s question has a chance. But if you don’t question me, I will never know whether someone is going to blow it up later on. We have to push each other now while we have the chance to revise things.”

Francois was fighting for the capital-T “Truth”. And in that moment, I understood. And in that moment, every perceived slight, every question of my design (and authority, and intelligence, and permission to exist) was forgiven.

The vast majority of the time, people argue with us for reasons that have nothing to do with us. If we can’t see it, forgiveness is impossible. Once we understand it, forgiveness becomes a non-issue.

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