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How to share news?
June 1, 2010 by nammie

The "Sandwich Method" for sharing critical/potentially negative news is a simple concept of starting with the first layer of "bread".  Here one provides an initial positive remark, compliment, or other warm and fuzzy so as to set the stage and begin building the sandwich by showing that "feeding someone" is as much about the care being taken in the information's delivery as it is about the information itself.

The "meat" of the sandwich can then be shared.  This is often the negative feedback, constructive criticism, and/or critical information that often leaves the recipient a little taken aback by the impact of the information.  And then, finally, one closes the sandwich with a positive comment about the future, how the information may help someone grow, or general optimistic statement.

So why do I share this methodology on a Jewish education blog?  Well, besides the fact that we are most certainly a gastronomic faith, I actually believe that this sandwich method is a very Jewish and ancient method for sharing difficult news and can be observed in the events of this week's Torah portion.

It is this week, in Parashat Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41), where Moses sends out a group of representatives of all the Tribes to scout the land of Canaan.  What we know is that this group returns from their travels and they share terrifying information about the "giants" who live there.  These stories in turn cause panic and hysteria amongst the Children of Israel and ultimately brings about a punishment for this generation of never being able to enter the land.

Similarly, the consequences for the scouts is death... for all that is but Joshua and Caleb.  Why not these two?  Common understanding tells us that these two scouts did not share the negatives and fear-inducing stories of what they saw.  Rather, these two were optimists and wanted to only focus on the good.

My conjecture, however, is that these two were saved for the way they shared the information. Not because of what they actually said (or did not say).

In Numbers 13:27 we read that the scouts (the collective group) describe the land as "flowing with milk and honey" (laying the first piece of "bread") they then share the "meat" of what they saw which is a land with numerous enemies, "huge and fortified" cities, and even descendants of the giants (13:28).  Nobody suggests that they are embellishing their story, or worse outright lying!

No, what happens here is that for the majority of the scouts their report of what they saw ends on this note of fear and anxiety.  In fact, this scary focal point becomes the focus of what they go on to share with the other Hebrews in the encampment.  Not Caleb and Joshua however.  Their report continues and ends with the closing slice of bread.  For Caleb and Joshua there is still optimism and potential fulfillment of their destiny as we read in 13:30 where Caleb says, "We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it."  So even with the fearful news of what they saw; even with this incredibly scary report, the fact is that what Caleb and Joshua know about what they could do still outweighed what they saw on their trail. They didn't want/try to leave anyone paralyzed by the news.

When it comes to sharing information, and as educators we share, recommend, advise, counsel, and talk to people all day long; it is wise for us to always keep the sandwich method in mind.  Remember, how one says something is just as important as what one says!