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Lessons from the 2011 Chicago Blizzard

February 4, 2011

Lessons from the 2011 Chicago Blizzard:

It’s been a long time since I have lived in winter. Eleven years, to be precise, spent in California and Arizona. Even though I was raised in New York, people in Chicago said to me, “Oh, if you are from New York, you have never really experienced winter.” I was sure they were jiving me. Wrong. While I do remember assorted blizzards in my past, and the trials and tribulations of each, I would agree that Chicago’s winter is definitely more severe than that of the greater metropolitan New York area.

In spite of the snow and wind, the extreme conditions and being holed up for a day or two, what most impressed me has been the behavior of neighbors and community. My sidewalk had been shoveled, as well as my steps – all the way to my front door – before I awoke. Sure, I had to do a second pass due to continued snow, but I was so touched at the gift. Throughout the day and the next, neighbors were out shoveling together, checking on each other, offering an extra hand and a cup of coffee. This went on into the night and through the next day. I was instantly taken back to Steve’s blog post this past Monday, January 31, 2011, entitled “The Wonders of Meeting People Much More Than Halfway.” Steve spoke of reaching beyond the midline to those with whom we are in loving relationships in order to make our relationships robust, stating that 50% simply isn’t enough. He said, “Each partner needs to meet the other 65 or 75 percent of the way, or more, happily and consistently.”

This is a significant recipe ingredient for satisfying, healthy and loving relationships. Going beyond halfway, however, isn’t limited to how we behave in close relationships. It is a recipe for how we engage in all our interactions and decisions. While it may seem obvious to some, I learned it in rabbinical school. There is a Jewish legal principle called “lifnim mishurat hadin,” which means “going beyond the letter of the law.” It applies in business practices, with one’s neighbor and community, with one’s relationship to self, and, for those who believe, how one relates to God. The principle refers to fulfilling that which is stated in the law, and then going the extra distance. In fact, there is a teaching that states that one isn’t even fulfilling the law unless one is going beyond what it asks!

In business, Nordstrom and REI come to mind. In either of these stores you can return a purchase at any point for a full refund, whether the product is used or unused. One of the reasons these two companies have such a strong reputation is because they consistently go beyond 50% for their customers.

On an interpersonal level, this is what I have seen in the last few days in my neighborhood in the Chicago blizzard. The neighbor with the snow blower cleared his sidewalk and proceeded down the rest of the block, then went into the street to help dig out snowed-in cars. Other neighbors were out in shifts, clearing snow as it was falling, to prevent anyone on the block from having to deal with 16”-21” of accumulation all at once. A neighbor of mine came around through my back alley to dig me out because my back door was barricaded by over two-and-a-half feet of snow.

I have heard stories like this all around town: people going beyond what’s necessary, going the extra distance to help a neighbor even before the neighbor asks. This is another aspect of what it means to meet someone more than halfway.

How can it be that someone can’t even fulfill the law unless one goes the extra mile? One rabbi wrote with regards to this precept that it is logically impossible. I can see his point, even though I am not adept at arguing the law. In reality, however, if each of us were to live only up to the minimum of what is required of us, whether in business, personal relationships or in our communities, not only would we not thrive, but I would question the viability of our future. It isn’t only in disasters or difficult times that we depend on people to go beyond the minimum. Think of those whose generosity has helped you or someone else get a start in business, the woman who always offers to take your kids for the afternoon, the neighbor who waters your plants and takes in your mail when you are away, the one who sits in town meetings pushing for a neighborhood watch organization… all of these individuals have gone way more than halfway, because it speaks to their heart. It brings them joy, and is the right thing to do. It’s our ideal, and we depend on it, even if it is beyond what’s required of us.

Robin Damsky

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jerry permalink
    February 11, 2011 11:45 am

    it’s about grace.

    love, forgiveness.

    nice thoughts Robin.

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