About Utah: Jewish scholar Dr. Erica Brown offers old-school approach to modern leadership

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 11:23 p.m. MST

EB: Good question. I think people who are intellectually curious and also committed to personal growth do best in intentional studies of leadership. It's not about loving an abstract idea. It's about changing the way you lead to be more effective and impactful.

DN: Are there modern dilemmas that perplex you; that bump up against the boundaries of your faith and understanding?

EB: I think power corrupts and those with religious power are most likely to be caught up in it because their followers have such profound trust in them. These abuses have no boundaries and we are witnessing that in terrible proportions. I am also wildly stumped by the levels of incivility we have reached in this country so that critical issues have become partisan issues and we cannot talk about them in any coherent, intelligent way — gun control, health care, abortion, social security, taking care of the most vulnerable. It's not that we don't have solutions. It’s that we will never have them unless we can have a respectful and robust debate without name-calling. It all feels so juvenile.

DN: Given your strong convictions regarding Judaism, what is your view about the role of other faith traditions in the world?

EB: I think most people have some faith tradition that they grow up with, even if it lies dormant. Judaism is one path of many to reaching God, to forming communities of kindness and to helping every individual achieve goodness. There are so many paths. I am grateful for mine and always grateful when others find theirs, as long as it is a tradition that is tolerant of others and minimizes violence. Too many have killed in the name of God for any person of faith not to be shamed by it.

DN: How does a person of strong faith convictions work productively with those who share similarly strong convictions from another tradition?

EB: I have much more in common with those of other faiths than those of no faith, generally.

DN: What kind of study and faith practice can help people today feel confident about living their beliefs?

EB: I think that shared prayer is important but will not reach everyone. I do think that shared study of sacred texts is critical in beginning conversations around ethics, friendship and life in community. Find texts that inspire you and help reinforce justice and kindness and make time to study them. Study always reminds me what I stand for and what I live for. I also think that we don't remind ourselves enough that we are not only descendants. We are also ancestors. Someday people will think of the legacy that we have left. What will be yours? What will people remember about you?

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com.

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