BILL MOTCHAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT
December 16, 2021
Rabbi Yonason Goldson partnered with psychologist Margarita Gurri (right) on a podcast, “The Rabbi & the Shrink.” (Goldson photo: Bill Motchan)
When is it OK to mislead, deceive or outright lie? What causes hate? How should a person deal with a friend or relative who dismisses COVID-19 protection?
A weekly podcast tackles these weighty questions — and some lighter ones. “The Rabbi and the Shrink” podcast is all about ethics. St. Louis area Rabbi Yonason Goldson offers his take on ethics from the perspective of Jewish values and the Torah. His partner (the shrink) is Dr. Margarita Gurri, a Catholic Cuban psychologist who taps into her practical side during their lively chats.
Their podcast launched early this year, and the pair is building an audience by taking on any subject that can uncover the secrets of successful relationships in business, family and community.
A podcast all about ethics
“Ultimately, ethics is all about prioritizing,” Goldson said. “Things that are black and white should be easy when it’s obviously right or wrong. But most of life is in gray areas.”
Goldson is familiar with the search for that balance. It’s also the subject of his latest book about ethics, “Grappling with the Gray: An Ethical Handbook for Personal Success and Business Prosperity.” A retired teacher, Goldson was participating in an online panel discussion when he first met his podcast co-host.
“We just had a chemistry, and Dr. Gurri contacted me a short time later and said she’d been thinking of starting a podcast and wondered if I’d be interested,” Goldson said. “I said, ‘Sounds great!’ I really didn’t want to do the hard work of producing it, and that’s one of her strengths. I’m a philosopher, and she’s very good with the details. So it was a good match.”
Gurri quickly determined that Goldson would help her achieve the balance she wanted for the podcast.
“I thought he was funny and interesting,” she said. “I love the fact that he is worldly, and I love his stories. I’m super-practical, he’s super-theoretical. I thought those opposites would work well together.”
Communication and critical thinking
The goal of “The Rabbi & the Shrink” podcast is to improve communication and critical thinking, Gurri said.
“I was disappointed at how Americans were dealing with challenges on social media,” she said. “People forget that it matters what we say and how we say it. I thought of this podcast to elevate civil conversation.”
For Goldson, the podcast was an opportunity to do what he loves: talk about meaningful issues.
“I retired from teaching in 2016,” he said. “That’s when I started a speaking business. The message has always been clear to me. I wanted to take traditional Jewish values and apply them to the business world so that professionals who engage in the secular world see the value to their own business and their lives, their own relationships. I came up with ethics and ethical leadership, and that’s how I frame my keynote speeches and articles.”
Initially, Goldson and Gurri talked about the same issues on the podcast in a point/counterpoint format. After about 10 episodes, they began inviting guests in to create a new dynamic. They try to find guests who take them out of their comfort zones, including some with differing opinions.
Leaving your echo chamber
Goldson said the best way to achieve understanding for people of differing opinions is to step outside your own echo chamber.
“One of the greatest evils in the world is groupthink, where we have our own little cliques and we don’t really talk about anything substantive,” he said. “If anyone says anything that goes against the established outlook, they’re terrified that they’re going to be attacked or ousted from their group. So there’s no growth or perspective.”
Following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Goldson tried a thought experiment with his audience. He said: “Donald Trump is responsible for the events of Jan. 6 and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” Then he asked people who agreed with the statement to write a short essay arguing the opposite point of view, and those who disagreed with the statement to write an essay explaining why it was true.
“What fascinated me was there were people who attacked me for simply asking to consider the other side,” he said. But others who actually did the exercise thanked Goldson for compelling them to look at the issue in a meaningful way.
“They found it very instructive,” Goldson said. “And if we’d be willing to do that more often, then we’d find so much more common ground between us and so much less to fight about.”
A platform for improvement
Goldson said he and Gurri want to use their platform to improve their audience’s lives by focusing on ethics. Their message is resonating with audiences who have been positive with their feedback. The have also achieved a perfect five-star rating on Apple’s “Society & Culture” podcast lineup.
“Relationships depend on ethics,” Goldson said. “Trust inspires loyalty and passion. It also drives productivity and prosperity. We’ve got a unique style and we have this message. It’s one that you don’t find a lot of out there.”