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Protocol and People

As a magazine, it’s not our role to dictate communal standards. Instead, we share what worked for others, we focus on initiatives that look promising, we highlight numbers and data — but mostly we start a conversation

 

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here’s a constant dialogue we have here in administrative meetings as we review protocol and procedures for new hires. One side says, “This is the job description, this is what we expect, and this is what we need our employee to accomplish.” The other side says, “This is the person, this is where he or she shines, and this is beyond the boundaries of what we can reasonably expect.”

Sometimes the first side wins — at least initially. (Sometimes the first side even wins in the long term, and a new hire grows into a job description with time.) But often, the personal package trumps all those pointers neatly typed up on paper, and the job description ends up bending and morphing until it takes on a new form adapted to the strengths, weaknesses, and personality of the person it’s assigned to.

As we worked to build this week’s package examining wedding costs today, a similar dynamic kept peeking out at me.

When we produce a project like this, we’re not presenting a neatly-tied package of solutions. As a magazine, it’s not our role to dictate communal standards. Instead, we share what worked for others, we focus on initiatives that look promising, we highlight numbers and data — but mostly we start a conversation.

Most of the material in this project addresses the middle class, those who “should” be able to make it through the month and still pay for a simchah — but who are buckling under the prohibitive costs of “a respectable event.” Virtually all the experts we consulted provided some direction to make the burden more manageable, more joyous. I would boil much of it down to “you have to know who you are and what you can afford, and then you’ll find that there are options you can live with.” It sounds so simple, so liberating.

But along with those insider experts, we also asked parents who’ve married off many children to share their takes on what they’d do differently had they had a chance. And almost always — even for the most thrifty parents — it came down to the human element, the emotions and sensitivities that can’t be quantified in Excel charts of Who You Are (and aren’t) and What You Can (or can’t) Afford. The mother who kept her guest list down, but in retrospect wishes she would have invited some special teachers. The woman who wished she could have accommodated a kallah’s request for matching gowns.

It reminded me of those boardroom struggles between the perfect job description and the flawed albeit real-life employee. Or of the inevitable tension between the family budget and the unspoken, albeit irrefutable, teenage wardrobe requirements.

A very wise teacher of mine told me that the hardest decisions in life are between right and right. That reflects some of the struggles that I saw in these monologues from parents. Sure it’s right to stick to the budget, but isn’t it also right to ensure our mechutanim feel comfortable at their simchah? Sure it’s right to stay within a spending limit, but isn’t it also right to make sure the kallah starts off her new life feeling cushioned by affection, approval, and support?

We can talk about prices and packages, standards and strictures, limits and lessons. We can talk about “the way it used to be” and “the way it should be.” But unless and until we factor in the human element — the emotions, the feelings, the insecurities and sensitivities of the people who are struggling to balance all those numbers — then I don’t know how soon we’ll be able, as a community, to put budgetary concerns before the unarticulated but undeniable emotional needs that drive so much of our spending.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 773)

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