A Message of Hope from Ari Weinzweig

Zingerman’s co-owner and founding partner Ari Weinzweig sent this note to the staff in response to the recent election. It meant a lot to many of our community, so we decided to share it with you.

Although I’ve worked at it over the years, I’m still not all that great at processing strong emotions quickly.  Usually I kind of shut down for a few days, probably I suppose as self protection, and then slowly start to sift through what’s happening and what I can effectively do about it.  That sort of summed up my week.  Regardless of who you voted for (or if you chose not to vote) I will imagine that it’s been a challenging week. To be clear, I’m not sharing any of this to change anyone’s minds about politics or who or which causes you choose to support.  Each of you will do what you believe best and most aligned with your values.  But more than a few ZCoB’ers have asked me to say something…so…I am.

I, of course, can only speak for myself.  For me, the week has been hard.  Very hard.  The last few times I felt this way . . . were also pretty rough.  One was after 9/11.  Another, though less intense because it happened more slowly, over a period of months, was when the economy crashed in 2009 as announcement after announcement shook our reality over and over again. In both cases, I remember talking to Paul and to others of you . . . . and, after talking together, arriving at the same conclusion that I’m arriving at now.

When the economy crashed Paul and I had a conversation on the phone that started with, “What are we gonna do?” and ended surprisingly quickly, within about ten minutes, with the quick realization that a) we have our vision and that’s where we’re headed regardless of what may be going on around us and, b) we have our guiding principles in writing and when times are tough or challenging, that’s the time to double down on those guiding principles by living them even more mindfully than we would in calmer times.  To be more generous, more inclusive, kinder, more caring, more engaged in helping those who have less than us, more intent on creating a energizing and uplifting work experience for everyone in the ZCoB, more focused on great food, great service and great finance.  That although the world may seem to be turning upside down and going in directions that don’t feel very good in the moment, because our values and vision and mission have been chosen, by us, from the heart, none of them change.  In fact, I realize, it makes the work we’re doing on our ZCoB Statement of Beliefs even more timely and more important.  We may feel like we’re swimming against the current in difficult times, but we’re going to the same place in the same caring way regardless.   In the context of my focus over the last few years, it’s all the more important—despite social pressure and the news to the contrary—to focus myself on positive beliefs, on building hope and on living the spirit of generosity gently and effectively every single day.

This is, as I think about it, been our work from day one.  It will remain our work, I believe, as long as we’re here. If times seem unstable and negativity seems to take over the social stage, then it’s all the more reason for us to push forward with the same positive, difference making, inclusive program that we’ve been working on, ever imperfectly for the last thirty five years.

This is also the week that Leonard Cohen passed away.  Here’s something he said which, when reading it, reinforced this approach for me: “I always had a sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.”

As Leonard laid out, our work continues, and will continue, for a long time to come.  Every little action, every hug, every dime we donate, every espresso shot and loaf of bread, every sandwich, every box, every extra mile, make a difference.  Acts of compassion, caring and generosity energize both the recipient and the giver.  The more of them we all do, the better our community will be.

Thank you all for all you do for the community, for people in need here and around the world, to bring kindness, care and inclusiveness into the world every day.  I’m honored to work with all of you every day.  Thank you for being you and for doing what you do.

I’ll close with some words that have long inspired me, from Ashanti Alston, who said, “You all can do this. You have the vision. You have the creativity. Do not allow anyone to lock that down.”

Take good care.