Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner shared her Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 23 February 2017
Earlier in the week the Chief Executive of Birmingham Children’s hospital – who have just received the rating of “outstanding” from the Care Quality Commission – spoke on this programme about a remarkable turnaround from the severe criticism they faced eight years ago. They recognised that the staff had the answers all along, but the leadership hadn’t been listening. So, after 2009, they consciously reconstructed the hospital’s culture and its systems.
The hospital learnt from their failures. These kinds of scenarios are what organisations stress test for. They predict moments of pressure, shock and fast change in order to avoid such intense moments in the future.
On an individual level, however much we may not like it, it is generally believed that a certain amount of stress is vital and we languish if we live with very limited stress. But, there’s an optimum level of stress. If we exceed this limit without the right support, we become overwhelmed. For many people, stress can trigger a natural cycle of rupture and repair; when things go wrong and we attempt to repair them. Through this, it is possible to develop the capacity to be more resilient – where the rupture repairs more robustly than it was before.
On a national level, we’re experiencing part of that cycle of rupture and repair in Britain, due to global political changes and Brexit, whichever way you voted. Change, even very positive changes like a new job or a new home, can bring stress.
The archetypal Jewish stress test moment was the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. We read in synagogue last week that “at daybreak, there were loud claps of thunder, flashes of lightening, a thick cloud covering the mountain, and an ear-piercing trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp shuddered in fear”. They must’ve been terrified that the mountain, was a volcano about to erupt. So the first time Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the Israelites failed the stress test. They didn’t wait for Moses to return but built an idol – the golden calf. But they were given a second chance. They repaired their rupture of trust with the Divine by waiting for Moses for 40 days and were rewarded with the giving of Torah.
I believe that identifying failings under stress can strengthen us. If we’re supported and can properly internalise our mistakes, they can be the beginning of a process of repair and resilience building – whether our mountain feels like it’s scalable or feels more like a volcano.