A Modern Mikvah

A little over a year ago, a few friends and I hosted a women’s circle to celebrate our bride-to-be friend Carrie. I never blogged about it although I got permission, because I don’t feel like I can capture its meaning and beauty in words. But, I’ll share our introductory words and the format in case it inspires, excites, or otherwise moves you to revisit and update your own rituals to bring more meaning to special times.

In the Jewish tradition, a mikvah is any body of mayim hayim, which literally means “living water,” or running water as opposed to stagnant water. Water like the beautiful ocean behind us in an example of an outdoor mikvah. A mikvah is often visited by Jews as a part of rituals as an act of purification. Brides have historically gone before their wedding day, often with her girlfriends by her side.
The word mikvah literally means a collection. Usually, it refers to the collection of water, but we can also think of this women’s gathering today as a mikvah, a collection of women. Our community is formed by women who have traveled from different places to sit in their circle, literally and metaphorically. Each of us has our own story, but it is Carrie’s role in each of our stories that created this particular collection of women. Together, in our closing mikvah ceremony, Carrie, we all are witnesses and supporters of your new partnership as well as your ever­evolving independence and kinship.

We had several of the women in the circle from different parts of Carrie’s life – family, crafting circle, lifetime friends – offer different blessings (seven total) and pour a small bit of ocean water over Carrie’s hands. We talked about it’s power to cleanse and refresh, and to ready her with a fresh slate to build a life together with her (wonderful) husband. Most importantly, we were able to draw from tradition and community to create a meaningful, structured gathering that marked a significant milestone with resonance to our friend and her mikvah.

In general, I think rituals – religious or otherwise – exist to create known structures to recognize the significance of a moment or place in time. From a courtroom rising when a judge walks in, to political appointees getting sworn in using a bible, to the recitation of the pledge of allegiance in elementary schools in the morning, to singing take me out to the ball game in the 7th inning stretch, to saying grace before a meal, to putting on your right shoe first, rituals aren’t always right or wrong, meaningful or not; they just are. They can help disparate people form connection or also distance, and inform process for those who like knowing how things will happen.

For me, I don’t like blindly doing things just because it’s how they’ve always been done. Carrie, my friend who is now a year happily married and growing her mikvah every day, is the same; bringing meaning to what we do and how and why we do it – the process – is more important than the end itself.

What’s one ritual that you want to rethink, revise, and rebirth?

Human Centered Design: What, Who, Where, When, Why, How

I’ve been on hiatus from this blog since I began curating the blog for GrantCraft. I will try to at least cross-post my personally-authored posts here and revive my own writing as time permits!

Affinity clustering activity following a Rose-Thorn-Bud from Foundation Center’s youth philanthropy retreat, May 2014

What: Human-Centered Design (HCD) puts humans at the center of a creative and critical thinking process that promotes rapid generation of ideas, helps organize and process lots of information, guides group input, and ultimately helps make better decisions. It relies on our human capacity for empathy, as well as our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional.

Who: You! HCD helps to harness the unique perspectives and ideas that we can find difficult to get our arms around. It’s inclusive, allowing all voices to be heard including introverts and extroverts, senior program officers and communications associates, the tech-savvy and people who prefer pen and paper only.

Where: In meetings, at your desk, at strategic planning sessions, in the field. Make sure you’re in a place that has a flat surface like a wall or a table and some post-its, markers, and sharpies.

When: HCD can be used for observing people, seeing how they interact with a product or service, understanding challenges and opportunities, and testing ideas in real-time. In short, there are opportunities at any point in a project to use design thinking.

Why: HCD approaches problems and solutions more thoroughly and thoughtfully by allowing more ideas and diverse perspectives to surface. It focuses on action instead of just thinking, makes abstract ideas more tangible, allows for uncertainty and challenges, and better integrates the human experience.  It supports thinking outside the box and provides anonymity of ideas, making it easier to iterate and ideate as a group without bias or confrontation. Plus, it’s fun and keeps things interesting!

How: Read up, get trained, and seek out resources to find out more. There are a few non-negotiables when doing HCD:

  1. Plan early and with a partner.
  2. Secure necessary supplies.
  3. Set ground rules.
  4. Clearly explain the activity so people can fully participate.

As the activity progresses, you’ll also want to digitally record outcomes (take pictures!) and create a safe space by being mindful of different personalities and perspectives.

Looking for more? Here are three great resources for those getting into HCD:

  • The Luma Institute provides terrific resources on HCD, including books, planning materials, and activity templates. I can personally vouch for their terrific two-day trainings, too.
  • Ideo created a free HCD toolkit designed to help social enterprises and nonprofits “understand a community’s needs in new ways, find innovative solutions to meet those needs, and deliver solutions with financial sustainability in mind.”
  • Beth Kanter’s blog, especially her post summarizing a day-long meeting in which we both participated at a foundation.


The ceramics te…

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Quote from Art and Fear shared by a colleague. So, so true. 

new mantra: Make More Pots

It’s not all-inclusive, but definitely interesting. There were many more takeaways from the researcher’s work including demographic trends and budgeting for tips; here are some that weren’t included in the chart that I found interesting about other professions:

  • Apparently no one tips flight attendants, and if you do, you’ll probably receive free drinks thereafter.
  • Golf caddies say that golfers tip better when they play better, but they always tip the best when it’s happening in front of clients.
  • Tattoo artists expect $10-20 on a $100 job and $40-60 on a $400 job, but they get nothing from 30% of people.
  • massage therapist expects a $15-20 tip and receives one 95% of the time—about half of a massage therapist’s income is tips.
  • whitewater rafting guide said he always got the best tips after a raft flipped over or something happened where people felt in danger.
  • Strippers not only usually receive no salary, they often receive a negative salary—i.e. they need to pay the club a fee in order to work there.

It amazes me how many people think that I’m the president of HP. Anyone who really knows me, after all, knows how much I really, really hate computers. (And don’t get me started on tracked changes. But I digress.) Other people think I work for the Packard Foundation, or for any number of other organizations that have either Hewlett or Packard in the title. When I first told my mom about this job, she couldn’t understand why I would leave the law school to go into the home printer business. To solve this annoying brand confusion problem, we are going to propose a merger with the Packard Foundation, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, the HP Foundation, and HP itself. The new entity will be named HF-PF-LPCH-HPF-HP.

Larry Kramer, on the Hewlett Foundation’s blog devoted to transparency. Learn about other breaking April 1st news in philanthropy through his most excellent post.