By Mensch change-maker of the month, Bryan Opert
Pesach is not about the Exodus; it only starts with the Exodus. It is about the creation of a nation that can look after themselves — whether they appear to be on the edge of chaos or just journeying towards contentment. G-d was in fact the first coach!
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.’’ This opening line of Rousseau’s ‘The Social Contract’ summarises his philosophical system. While I do not claim to be an expert on Rousseau, I do however find the contrast between this quote (from the 1700’s) to that of Victor Frankel’s – who survived the Holocaust, as fascinating.
In his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Frankel famously says “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Rousseau, it appears, sees man as limited in his choices and thus needing to focus on his external struggles. Frankel, on the other hand, minimises the effect of context and places the power within man. While Rousseau correctly points out the ‘standard’ reality of man, Frankel emphatically states that man can move beyond. This, I believe, is where coaching finds its place and why I’m so passionate about it.
The belief of the coach is that each person’s challenges should be accessed and addressed through their own thinking process. The task of the coach is to focus the client on their present with a look to their future. The coach assists them to find their strengths and access abilities they might not have known existed. The coach does not lecture, does not teach, does not direct. They hand the power to the client in a focused manner, allowing them the space to build belief in their own resources and the vital skill of problem solving.
Coaching is built on the idea that the quality of everything we do depends on how we think about it first. Nancy Kline in her book ’Time to Think’ enumerates 10 components required to create a Thinking Environment. Within such an environment the coach makes space for the coachee to think for themselves with rigour, imagination, courage and grace. The coach listens, asks incisive questions and sometime nudges the client to imagine solutions they had not previously considered.
The coachee comes face to face with their authentic self (with all its imperfections), but more importantly the client uncovers their hidden gems.
This wisdom is ancient. It is taught as a narrative in the Biblical Exodus story. This story is not about freeing a motley, spiritually broken clan and creating a powerful nation. There were easier ways to achieve this! This narrative is one of an unfolding of the power of individuals and true leadership. The lessons are eternal. This is possibly a very early example of coaching!
The process begins with the nation being completely passive as Egypt slowly disintegrates before their very eyes. But this is not good enough. One does not free oneself from chains that bind without pro-actively engaging with all facets of life. Slowly the Israelites ‘are given’ greater responsibility for their own lives – and their own inner-strengths are manifested. It was a slow process. Sometimes they succeeded and other times they failed. Their ‘muscle’ of self-development was flexing and strengthening.
They are faced with the sea and successfully cross it, they are forced to collect manna, they prepare for the Divine Revelation, and ultimately they are able to protect themselves when attacked by the nation of Amalek.
For 40 years they develop a resilience in their ability to bounce back from adversity. They built a set of personal strengths — so they not only coped, but thrived. This is so beautifully shown as their children too learned these skills as they entered their Promised Land. This is the real lesson of Pesach.
Once I attained my degree in coaching, I used this skill to create the NGO ‘Quantum Growth’. The key focus is to bring the benefits of coaching to areas where English is not spoken as a first language. Coaching was and continues to develop in a Western culture using concepts from psychology, sociology, and anthropology. To massage this into a workable solution for other audiences took time, learning, failing and a refinement of methodology. We eventually succeeded!
Working with Leadership Teams at schools in the Western Cape, we help create a space for individuals and teams to reflect, learn and grow within their chosen personal, professional, leadership and strategic agendas.
By being a part of the Mensch Network, I was introduced to and coached participants and leaders from the ‘The Scalabrini Centre for Refugees and Migrants’ and ‘Waves for Change’ (W4C). It is a privilege to be part of a Jewish social change organisation like Mensch which is helping to bridge ours and less privileged communities in meaningful and empowering ways.
To watch each participant drawing on their own inner wisdom, manifesting and actively using it to improve their lives and those around them — is like watching a contemporary re-enactment of the Biblical Exodus — The Story of Pesach. It is indeed an honour.
Bryan Opert is a valued member of the Mensch Network who has generously given his time to coaching other Network Members. To find out more visit www.mensch.org.za.
• Published in the print edition of the March/April Pesach 2021 issue. Download the March/April 2021 issue PDF here.
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