Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shelach -73 The Spies and Parenting

The children of Israel are about to enter the land of Israel. They then display a lack of faith in God by demanding that spies be sent to check out the land. The mission of the spies was a disaster. They spoke badly about the Promised Land causing a national crisis of faith. God then decreed that the people would spend the next 40 years in the desert until that  generation had  died out. The following generation would have the privilege to enter and conquer the ' promised land.'

 The Bible commentaries ask – what went wrong, what caused the greatest people of that generation to slander the Promised Land and undermine the people's will to enter the Promised Land?

 The Zohar explains that the spies went on their mission knowing that in the new order in the land of Israel, they would no longer live  spiritual lives in close proximity to Godliness, but would have to get involved in the physical world. This would require a new leadership. This was the beginning of their ' descent 'from leadership and greatness. 

So they set out on this ' national ' mission tainted with subconscious negative thoughts and feelings that distorted their ' view ' of the land of Israel. God made sure that the spies would go unnoticed by causing the ' evil nations ' living in the land to be busy attending many funerals. The spies interpreted this in a negative way.' It is a land that eats its inhabitants'. If they were wearing positive lenses, they would have seen the hand of God coming to their aid.

The lesson – how we view people or incidents has sometimes more to do with our state of mind, our feelings than the person or events themselves.

For parents having a ' rough parenting time' or having their buttons continually pushed, how they view our kids can have a big impact on their kids, the interventions they use and of course on their own emotional growth.

Negative feelings, helplessness and despair can easily lead parents to view their kids as ' oppositional, defiant, difficult, aggressive, coercive, lazy, rude, manipulative, attention-seeking, and irresponsible etc. And if you are getting professional help, this description will help your kid get the Oppositional, defiant disorder – O.D.D label. If a parent is feeling negative and down, it is easy to attribute kid's behavior to negative character traits.

If we are feeling positive about ourselves, and see ourselves as a source of help and joy for our kids, we are more likely not to say – my son is a difficult kid, but rather my son has difficulties and challenges. We will be able to view him with ' compassion' and say the CPS – collaborative problem solving – manta ' children do well if they can, and not children do well if they want to'. We will attribute his problems to lagging skills and not ' motivational 'issues. We will not try to make him ' wanna' behave but rather find out what is getting in his way.

Our view of our kids can impact on our own personal growth.  If we see our kids as defiant, coercive, manipulative etc we are more likely to use control, power, leverage, threats, bribes, rewards, punishments and consequences , ' doing to' your kids. If we see kids as having  lagging skills , we will ' work with them ' collaborating to solve problems , teaching skills and enhancing our  relationship with them. In this way, if we as parents become more aware of ourselves, our challenging kids can become the catalysts to tremendous emotional growth.

Positive feelings enable us to see our kids in a more compassionate way, and help us also connect to our inner beings and values. We can then, in the words of a leading business consultant Rabbi David Lapin, - Lead by Greatness.  CPS and its mantra ' children do well if they can allows us to ' lead by greatness' and help not only our kids but ourselves realize great potential

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beha'alotcha-73 Are You a Complainer or Problem solver ?

The weekly Torah=Bible reading of Beha'alotcha from the book of Numbers relates various complaints against God that the children of Israel had in the desert.
The people had 'manna' from heaven as their food. They began to complain about the lack of meat and vegetables recalling  the vegetables that they got ' free' in Egypt.

 On the other hand , the Torah tells us that there were those who expressed a certain sadness and disappointment on not being able to contribute and participate in the 'pesach=pascal sacrifice. This sacrifice was a symbol of the covenant between God and his people culminating in the redemption from Egypt. They could not participate in the pesach=pascal sacrifice because they were impure. This impurity was caused by their carrying Joseph's coffin. Aaron, Moses brother was also depressed that he and his tribe were not invited to contribute offerings to the newly established tabernacle in the desert.

As parents and teachers we should be helping kids to deal with the challenges and frustrations of life. CPS – the collaborative problem solving approach is a great way to give kids these cognitive problem solving tools. But just as important we should help them with an approach, and a philosophy to life's problems, disappointments and frustrations.

Are we ' complainers' who express frustration and feel deprived? Or do we see life's problems as challenges, problems to be solved, and opportunities to grow? Are mistakes our friends, which provide learning opportunities, and do we  say failure is not in the falling, but not getting up? Are we frustrated that we are being deprived and did not ' receive '  something or are we disappointed because of  missed opportunities to ' give ' and make a contribution to others.

The basic difference between the ' complainers ' and ' problem solvers'  is how they respond to reality. Complainers try to fight reality and this is usually takes the form of a lot of emotional negative statements and complaints – ' He shouldn't….. why did he …. Why can't I …., why don't I have ……   .  Problem solvers don't try to fight reality. They accept reality , they accept heavenly decrees. This liberates them emotionally from any negative feeling and sets the stage for problem solving.

Instead of complaining about your kids , accept the reality that ' kids do well if they can ' and not kids do well if they want to '  = ( the CPS approach mantra). Now you are emotionally free of the ' he shouldn't being doing that …', he is not trying hard enough.., he shouldn't be so rude and defiant… etc to ask what is getting in my kid's way , so how can I help him.

One of the ways to solve a problem is to ask for help. Complainers don't ask for help. They generally express a lot of negativity and their complaints are not really problems to be solved but are symptomatic of the problems they have with life itself.

Modeling and teaching collaborative problem solving skills and an approach to life's problems and frustrations we can help our kids and ourselves to be Collaborative Problem Solvers and not Complainers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

' Nasso-73 'Punishment is not a deterrent - it can encourage bad behavior !

The weekly Bible reading of Nasso from the book of Numbers has the laws dealing with an unfaithful  woman –the  ' Sotah' who having being warned by her husband not to be alone with a certain man, is then reported by witnesses as seeing her alone with him in a secluded place. She is brought to court and 'miracle waters ' are used to test whether she committed adultery or not. This procedure is carried out only if her husband was free of sin and exceptional in his relations with her. If she committed adultery the waters caused her suffering and disgrace.The following section deals with the Nazarite who wants to become more holy, so he abstains from wine, abstains from cutting his hair and from coming into contact with the dead for a month. The sages ask why the section dealing with the nazarite comes after that of the Sotah= unfaithful woman.
The positioning is to teach us that if someone witnesses the unfaithful woman being disgraced, he should abstain from wine for a month and contemplate how the inappropriate use of drink can lead to illicit relationships.
The obvious question asked by the commentators is that shouldn't the punishment suffered by the unfaithful woman be enough of a deterrent against the inappropriate use of wine?
It is similar to a situation where a teenager has seen someone lose his driving license and been heavily fined, decides to stop driving for a month to reflect on safe and responsible driving.

The answer can be found in research showing that teenagers that visited prisons to impress on them that crime does not pay , became more  impressed by the audacity of the inmates, being real ' macho' men , taking on the establishment. The visits had the opposite effect. When a teenager hears of someone driving 250 kph – his mind is not on the punishment or pain, he is imagining the thrill of driving so fast and the driver becomes a hero. When someone is caught for inappropriate sexual conduct, the mind is more attracted to the pleasure of the forbidden fruits than the punishment.
The medrash commentary tells of a man who was very much into drink. He met a man suffering from a hang -over. He went over to the man and asked him from where he bought the wine. The same goes for drugs – the more potent, the greater the damage, the greater the pleasure.

The lesson learned here is that punishment is not a deterrent. Rewards and punishments are very similar in that they teach kids to ask – what will I get, what will be done to me, what's in it for me.  So even if you threaten a kid with punishment – he will ask – what's in it for me and the mind will naturally seek out the pleasure and thrill. Punishment, like that in the case of the unfaithful woman, can lead people to ask – what's in it for me – and the mind seeks the excitement of forbidden sexual relations above the pain of punishment. In any case people see punishment as a result of the mistake of being caught and not because of the crime committed as the verse in Jeremiah 2:26  כְּבֹשֶׁת גַּנָּב כִּי יִמָּצֵא.   The shame of a thief is to be caught.
So is exposure to crime reporting in the media a good thing? Do kids learn that crime does not pay or perhaps what remains with them is the thrill of driving 250 kph and the fun? Crime reporting does not focus on values and thus does not help kids reflect on how crime affects others and what type of community do they want to live in. Reward and punishment get in the way of kids asking – what kind of person do I want to be, or does this reflect on my values?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Praise and Self Improvement

Praise , especially when given to kids is pretty problematic. The problem is not too much or too little praise , but praise itself.
It is by nature judgmental, kids tend to ascribe the reason why they do things is because of the praise and so lose interest in wht they are doing and do less. It gets in the way of internal feelings of pride and appreciating the intrinsic reward in doing things. It may give us a good feeling that lasts for 2 minutes, but as OBJECTS of praise we lose the ability of a SUBJECT  to reflect and think.

The Medrash commentary Ruth Rabah 5:6 discusses the noteworthy acts of the Biblical characters Boaz, Aaron, Reu'vein ( Ruben) .  The Bible records how Reu'vein saved his brother Joseph by taking him out of the pit and then suggested that the brothers, who saw Joseph as a threat to their membership of Jacob's family and destiny, put Joseph's fate in the hands of God rather than letting him die. Joseph was subsequently sold as a slave. Medrash criticizes Reu'vein and says that if he had known that his good deed would have been recorded for eternity in the Bible  , he would have been more thoughtful and returned Joseph to his father.
 The Bible recalls how Moses (Moshe) refused to take the leadership role of the children of Israel  in Egypt as  this promotion would be at the expense of his older brother Aaron. God tells Moses that his brother is on his way to meet him and in his heart he is not jealous but very happy for his brother. Again the Medrash is critical. If Aaron would have known that his good deed and attitude would be recorded for eternity in the Bible, he would have gone to meet the new leader with drums and dancing. This was not a family issue with Aaron the older brother happy and supportive of his younger brother's promotion ahead of him. It was a national issue .He was going to meet the new leader and future redeemer of the children of Israel in Egypt. It demanded a more public response.
 In the book of Ruth ,Boaz  the greatest sage and leader of the people of Israel shows kindness to Ruth, a Moabite who had converted to Judaism.  He invited her to sit at his table and eat with him. The Medrash is critical. If he had known that his act would be recorded in the Bible , he would made a festive meal for Ruth. Ruth was destined to become the great grandmother of King David.

The problem of praise is that it gets in the way of reflection. If people praise us, at most we can enjoy the good feeling , but as objects of praise it is difficult to become a subject and reflect how we could have done a better job and make our actions more complete and perfect. Instead of praise we can ask questions or just describe what we have seen. These great people managed to treat 'praise' they received as mere information and thus they were able to reflect how they could have done better.