Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Exit Interview

In Rabbi Horowitz's latest article he writes about the concept of the "Exit Interview". Overall, I think it's a worthwhile read. After going over it, I found myself thinking more and more about this concept of the Exit Interview, and after some time, it made me figure out something that's been bothering me for a really long time.

The analogy of the exit interview is a truly excellent one. Because an institution that truly cared about improving itself would eagerly want to do such a thing, and they'd want to be brutally honest about it. And it wouldn't be afraid to face the flaws that such an inquiry might reveal about itself. Frum society likes to think that it does these sort of exercises. When a problem finally becomes big enough that the public starts grumbling about it and the leadership can no longer ignore (or deny) it, that's when we usually start to see some sort of activity. Articles start being printed. The issue gets talked about at conventions. Organizations start. Studies are done. Reports are published. Experts are trotted out. Panels are held. Tehillim starts being said for it. And you know that it really has their full attention when it's pronounced "a crisis".

It's all crap, in my opinion. It's a farce. It's all just empty gestures. Ok, not totally empty, but not anything worth applauding. Because no one really is seriously responding to, admitting to, and most definitely not addressing any real issues. If we pictured some actual "Exit Interviews" at a real company that were conducted similarly to how the frum world responds, I imagine they would look something like the following exchanges:

Company Representative: Please tell us what we're doing wrong.
Former Customer: I think your service sucks.
CR: What are you talking about?! Our service is the best. If you don't like it, you're obviously the one with the problem, not us! Can't you see how many satisfied customers we have!

CR: Why are you leaving our company?
FC: Your service doesn't provide anything of value to me.
CR: What do you mean no value? How can you say that? You're just not using it properly!
FC: Maybe not. But I tried it for 10 years and it didn't do squat. I think that's enough time to try something.
CR: No, you're just not doing it right! Stick around and we'll show you how to really do it. You just need to try harder!

CR: Why are you going to our competitor?
FC: They offer me much more of what I'm looking for.
CR: No, you're mistaken. They're lying to you. We're really the best. We're the only ones that matter! If you go to them, you're going to regret it terribly.
FC: Are you kidding me? Look how many successful people are with them!
No, it's all a lie. They're not really successful! Our people are the only ones who have real success! Really!

Tell us why you're leaving our company.
FC: I found your representatives insulting, abusive, manipulative, obnoxious, and all around offensive.
CR: No, that can't be. You're just leaving because you're angry.

CR: Tell us why you're leaving our company.
FC: I'm leaving because I'm angry with you! You people don't respect me, you ignore my needs, and you make my life miserable!
CR: Oh, please! You sound like you have some emotional problems you need to deal with. Stop blaming us for your problems.

CR: Tell us why you're leaving our company.
FC: I find that you're not meeting my emotional needs.
CR: It doesn't matter how you feel! We're the only ones who are based on truth! And we've been around the longest! You have to stick with what's proven, and not go with what the latest popular fad is.

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: I think you're business model is a crock of sh*t and founded on a pack of lies. Totally unsustainable.
CR: No, you're really just angry. You were probably abused. You know, it's just dishonest to try to rationalize your emotional reactions with intellectual justifications. What's really going on is that you're not prepared to make a commitment.

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: Your company abused its customers, lied to the public, and covered it up for years!
CR: Impossible! You're making that up!
FC: It's not impossible. And it's true.
CR: You're always looking to bad-mouth us! Don't you know how much good we do?!

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: I find your company out of touch with its customers. You don't know what the hell is going on in today's market. And your executives are totally misinformed about how things are running in the company.
CR: What?! How can you say that!? Do you know who our CEO is?! Do you know how many degrees he has?! Do you know how many billions of dollars he's amassed?! He'll make more money in one minute than you'll ever make in your lifetime. Who do you think you are to question our executives? Misinformed?! Our board knows more about the market than anyone else out there! You have no idea how many connections they have and how much they do behind the scenes! It only looks like they're not doing much because they try to stay out of the public eye. But really, they're the ones holding it all together! You have no idea!

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: Why am I leaving you? I've been trying to tell you for years why I want to get out. I just never had the opportunity or the guts! You've never listened to a word I've said!
CR: You're acting impulsively! Come, have some kugel and we'll talk about it. Can't you see how concerned we are for you?
FC: Oh, now you're concerned?! That's really convincing! If you were really concerned, how could you have let things gotten to where they are now!? Don't you see how screwed up everything is!?
CR: Oh, please, stop exaggerating. It's not that bad!

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: You obviously don't value your customers. You treat us like children. You try to control every aspect of our relationship!
CR: You misunderstand. We truly do value you. But we know that our way is really the best way for you. Trust us. We know what's best for you. We're just trying to look out for your best interests.

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: How can I possibly stay with you? Your clearly do not have my best interests at heart.
CR: No, we truly do care about you. We care about every customer. You wouldn't believe it, but our executives cry themselves to sleep trying to figure out the best way to serve you! We promise!
FC: Really? Then how come I lost all my money when I followed their advice?

CR: Why are you leaving us?
FC: To be honest, I just can't keep up. You're standards are just too demanding for me. I'd like something a bit easier to handle.
CR: Well, our standards are absolute. We don't bend just because someone can't handle it. Either you keep up, or maybe you really should be finding someplace else.

CR: Why are you switching to a different group in the company?
FC: Well, I found a different group where I feel much more comfortable. In fact, I'm glad I didn't have to leave the company entirely, I want to stay with your company, but your department's style and standards weren't a good match for me. Now, I'm still in the company, but without the discomfort I had prior.
CR: No way! You're not serious, are you?! That division sucks! They don't know what they're doing! They're just pretending! Believe us, its not worth investing in that group. Those guys are idiots! And you've got to be an idiot to join up with them!

Yes, they're parodies, and exaggerated (but only slightly). But they all illustrate how the frum world just doesn't really understand what this process is supposed to be about. They say they want to know, but then they just defend themselves. This isn't what listening is supposed to be about. They're mouthing the words, "We care", but their body language and tone very clearly says, "Go screw yourself." And when faced with real issues, they just keep on denying it in some way.

Yeah, the frum world likes to think they go through lots of "soul searching." And to their credit they actually have finally come to grips with some of the serious problems in their society. But they never really want to admit the real problems. They won't admit how it was some of their society's values and the insistence that their lifestyle is the ultimate, the perfect, the God-ordained lifestyle and society, that caused those problems to become so pervasive.

You can't pat yourself on the back for saying "Oy! There's sexual abuse in the community!" when you were the ones preventing anything from being done about sexual abuse for decades! Your act of "coming clean" about that abuse might be admirable, but it just deflects from the much more deeply rooted problem that you were a society that allowed child molesters to get away with their shit for decades! (And still do!)

I remember ten years ago when they first raised the issue of how kids were dropping out of yeshiva. And all the articles, and all the experts, and of course all the Gedolim (well, some of them), concluded then that there needs to be more remedial learning, and people shouldn't be held to such high standards, and that they need to give everyone a chance to become a successful learner, not just the smarter guys. So they started new programs. And they adjusted curriculums. They were so proud of themselves for all they were doing, their Jewish Observer Special Editions, and their panels, and their "tackling the issues", and I was just disgusted by it all, because never at any point did someone say, "Hey, instead of all that crap, maybe we should just stop teaching our children that they have to be learners to have value in our society?" The real problem was never addressed, never raised, never even mentioned. And from what I can tell they still haven't seriously said that. (But there are more people realizing it, thankfully.) But of course they won't look at the real, underlying issue, because that would mean they'd have to reexamine one of their core values and see if it really is working for them like a Torah True(TM) value is supposed to.

Besides for all that avoidance of looking at the deeper issues, there is still so much denial about problems even when they're being spoken about outright. People just don't listen to what is being said. The following exchange actually happens all the time:

Yeshiva Guy: I really don't believe in God, Judaism, Torah, all of it.
Rabbi: No, you don't know what you're talking about. You just want to have sex.

When you're in the frum world, you're taught how to see the world, how to see life, how to see people, how to process and understand all that you may encounter. And no matter what others tell you, about themselves, about their choices, about their experiences, about their values - if you've been properly indoctrinated, you know better than them. After all, you're frum. You have the Torah perspective. You have the Gedolim. You have Da'as Torah informing you. How could they possibly know more about life than you. You have the Shulchan Aruch guiding you. Those other people have nothing, only MTV and the Internet. How sad for them. And they don't even know it!

That's why this whole pretense of doing an exit interview, of being self-critical and truly looking at why people are leaving is just a farce. Because the frum world never really thinks there's anything wrong with their system. They believe their system is Torah True, through and through. It's the system God wants there to be. It's the system frum yidden have been living by for the past 3000 years! It's the system guided by generations of gedolim going back to Moshe Rabbeinu! There are no flaws in God's system. Yes, they acknowledge, at times things might not be working out exactly right. But that's not a problem with the system. That's only a problem in the implementation. Somewhere, at some juncture, we're just not doing something exactly right, and we'll investigate that, but the system is as sound as ever!

That's not a true self-examination. That isn't honesty. That's just an infantile way to make yourself feel like you're doing something to better yourself while allowing yourself to maintain the fantasy that everything about your life is just fine.

You're all so full of it.


PS - I invite the readers to submit their own interview exchanges.