What a Bunch of Flaming Idiots Taught Me About Values

What a Bunch of Flaming Idiots Taught Me About Values

When I received an email from the New Victory Theater announcing a family comedy show called "The Flaming Idiots", my trigger finger clicked to buy four tickets faster than I could stop it. Little did I know that, in between the crackerjack juggling and zany shenanigans, I would experience a dramatic illumination of my personal values.

The three performers stepped on the stage and immediately announced that we, the audience, would play an integral part of the show. Having spent seven years performing with an improvisational comedy troupe both in college and in some of New York City’s top comedy clubs, I knew firsthand how important lively audience participation was to the success of the show. At that moment, I committed myself (and, unbeknownst to them, my husband and children) to volunteering ourselves in any way possible.

Value in Action: Contribution

Our first opportunity came within the first five minutes. One member of the trio announced that he needed a child to stand in the middle of a machete juggling act. He cemented our inklings about the inherent risks of this by waving his 4 ½ fingered hand at the audience. What else would a Jewish mother do when her child had the chance of becoming temporarily famous but perhaps permanently earless? Well, this Jewish mother raised her hand wildly, and was pleased to see that her son Jacob joined her in her vigor. But alas, another child was selected. Jacob and I accepted this setback and clapped politely for the raven-haired girl who may or may not have gotten her bangs trimmed during the act.

Value in Action: Courtesy

Our second opportunity arose almost immediately. A performer called for an adult volunteer willing to don a protective suit while a flame-thrower sat on his (or her! Please let it be her!) shoulders, while juggling fiery batons with the rest of the gang. Both Michael and I raised our hands – well, maybe I held his hand while I raised mine – and prayed to be picked.

Value in Action: Recognition

They picked a ripped, bald gentleman in the front row who looked like he ate flaming idiots for lunch. Oh, well. We knew another opportunity would be around the corner.

And it was. During the second act, the Idiots proudly announced that one member of the troupe held the Guinness Book of World Records title for making the fastest sandwich — with his feet. I heard Sophie and Jacob gasp – a world record holder, right here???

Value in Action: Achievement

Michael and I gasped: Foot sandwich???

Value in Action: Cleanliness

And then the moment we’d be waiting for came: they needed their final volunteer (ooo! Ooo!) who would be willing to eat (triple ooo!) the sandwich that this guy was going to make with his feet. Blech, of course, but all four of our hands shot up.

Oh, and one final detail he had to mention. The sandwich would be bologna and cheese.

And with that, our hands fell to our laps with a collective thud. In that moment, we all silently acknowledged that we were out of the running due to a core value that we simply couldn’t, wouldn’t mess around with:

Value in Action: Kashrut

Had it been a nice slice of avocado and some sprouts, or even a tuna melt, we could have been contenders. But as soon as the announcement was made that the foot sandwich included unkosher meat, the addition of cheese was just adding insult to injury. In the battle of core values, honoring our commitment to kashrut won out over our allegiance to core values like contribution, recognition and achievement.

Our core values direct us, help us make decisions, and drive us to act. They help us determine what’s most important to us, with whom we want to associate with personally and professionally, and guide us in understanding why we make the choices that we make. Our personal core values even drive the way we act on and act out our Jewish values. My values of fun, family and even recognition shine through when I routinely invite other lovely, lively families to share our Shabbat dinners. My husband’s personal core values of thrift and competition are what drive him as he drives to Costco in search of best deal on kosher meat for the aforementioned weekly dinners.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a flaming idiot to see that most of us act both in and out of alignment with our personal core values every single day, because these values are often in conflict with one another.

At work, you may value both collaboration and recognition, and find that you tend to credit the team more than honor your own need to be singled out. At home, perhaps you lean into the value of tradition (we have to have gefilte fish on the holidays – everyone expects it!) more than indulging your value of innovation (what if we tried pickled salmon instead?) And if you’ve ever tried to announce to a room of traditionalists that this year we’re trying something different – whether it’s salmon or a staff retreat — you know that there can be a high price to pay for bumping up against others’ core values without their permission.

We also pay a high price when we don’t even know what’s truly important to us or to the people we care about, and we risk personal and interpersonal stress when do come to learn our own and others’ values, and then make choices that ignore or violate them. Whether I’m coaching someone making a career transition, a corporate team that needs to collaborate more effectively, or a Jewish non-profit that wants more buy-in from its staff and volunteers, we start by identifying and articulating what core values are really important, and how these are being honored – or trampled on – in word and deed.

Value in Action: Pragmatism

Ok, enough talk, more action. On this downloadable worksheet, I’m giving you a Five Step Plan to Put your Core Values into Action. Unless you have a core value around procrastination, get started recognizing, responding to, and reorienting your choices around your core values today.

Besides, even a bunch of flaming idiots could do it.

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at www.myjewishcoach.com or www.elevatedtraining.com.

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