Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mikeitz 74 - Empathy with compassion

The blog is in 2 parts
1 Empathy but with Compassion
The brothers of Joseph entered Egypt to buy food and also to look for Joseph. They are ordered to appear before the viceroy' who accuses them of being spies. They are unaware that the viceroy is Joseph. Joseph then remembers his dreams and he knew that the dreams were   prophecies   that had to be fulfilled no matter how harsh he treated his brothers. They had to be fulfilled in the correct order – first the 11 brothers bowing down to him, so he had to engineer that Benjamin would be brought to Egypt, and only then Jacob- Ya'akov could come. Joseph had another objective and that was the unification of the family. Before this could happen there needed to be a change of heart in the brothers towards Joseph and a change of heart of Joseph towards his brothers. It meant giving the brothers the opportunity to show their remorse and repent over the callous and heartless way they treated him, selling him as a slave and the pain they caused their father. The brothers had to show that they were not resentful of Joseph and Benjamin because of the special relationship Rachel had in their father's affections that they would be willing to fight for Benjamin. He therefore put them in a situation that they could gain their own freedom at the expense of Benjamin's and see how they would react.
Joseph imprisons Shimon and sends the brothers home to fetch Benjamin as a proof that they are not spies. The brothers see their treatment as ' Divine punishment ',' measure for measure ' for their cruel treatment of Joseph. They blamed themselves for their callousness towards Joseph's entreaties, but not for the actual sale  which they  considered as a deserving punishment. They felt at the time that Joseph was the aggressor who was trying to disinherit them , exclude them from Jacob's family and be the sole heir.
Reuben disagrees and says they are being punished for the sale.

The brothers are saying we should have carried out the plan to sell Joseph in a more empathic way and reassure him that he is in God's hands and everything will be alright. The Talmud teachers that criminals must be treated as kindly as possible to minimize humiliation and suffering. The brothers did not act accordingly.
Reuben is saying, empathy alone is not enough. We had to show compassion and take seriously Joseph's  entreaties and concerns. We could have had a dialogue with Joseph and presented   him with our concerns. In fact the brothers were mistaken about Joseph's intentions. Joseph was only interested in the leadership and not to disinherit the brothers.

These 2 approaches to empathy are to be found in different parenting styles. Progressive parenting uses empathy with compassion. Traditional parenting uses empathy or perfunctory empathy.Getting empathy right is crucial to CPS - collaborative problem solving in parenting - Empathy in CPS Parenting

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vayeshev 74 - Morality and the image of one's father

This week's Parasha deals with Joseph's avoiding temptation and resisting the advances of the wife of Potiphar. She was extremely persistent and used threats. She  even tried to convince Joseph that the that being together was their destiny as the astrologers predicted that they  would have children together. They were nearly right as  her daughter Osnat  would be the mother of Joseph's children. Joseph was also aware that G-d sometimes influences the course of events to uncover ' sparks of holiness lost in impurity ' by the union of unlikely partners like Lot and his daughters, Yehuda and Tamar, and  Boaz and Ruth. Maybe being with the wife of Potiphar was part of the divine plan. Temptation becomes harder to avoid when it can be justified in the name of a 'mitzvah – something positive.

A national holiday celebrating the flooding of the Nile presented a perfect opportunity for Potiphar's wife to pressurize Joseph to be with her. Nobody was around and nobody would know.
Joseph began to weaken and was about to give in, when with divine help he was able to access the objective morality of his father Jacob- Ya'akov. He saw the image of his father, who told him that what he was about to do was immoral , it would impact on how he would be remembered by future generations and his ability to be part of the leadership of the Jewish people. His name represented by a one of the 12 gemstones of each tribe would not appear on the high priests –kohen gadol's breast plate if he committed the sin. The image of his father strengthened Joseph's resolve to resist. He explained to Potiphar's wife that no matter how noble her intentions were , if it comes at the expense of somebody else  - her husband , it would be immoral , a breach of trust and a sin in the eyes of G-d.

What helps kids to make moral decisions and withstand temptation?

'The way to help kids become ethical and moral people as opposed to people who merely do what they are told, is to have them construct moral meaning. It is to help them figure out – for themselves and each other – how they ought to act ' AK
It means taking the perspectives of others, seeing how their behavior impacts on others and reflecting on how they can be caring and responsible people both in the eyes of man and G-d.

Most kids think of their parents only in terms of how they will react to them – what parents will do to them – criticize, scold and punish. Kids don't access and reflect on parent's views on a matter in the hope that it will give them 'moral clarity and strength ' and guide them through dilemmas and challenges. The only question asked is whether it is worth the risk of being caught or parents finding out. This leads to immoral behavior as Immanuel Kant explains.
If you punish a child for being naughty and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward and when he goes out into the world and finds that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right and wrong according as he finds either of advantage to himself.
Kids become moral and good people to others when they also have a sense of themselves as moral and good people. They have a sense of 'worthiness and belonging'. And this depends on parents and teachers accepting them ' unconditional ly.

The best predictor of whether children will be able to accept themselves as fundamentally valuable and capable is the extent to which they have been accepted unconditionally by parents and teachers.  As Carl Rogers (1959) argued half a century ago, those on the receiving end of conditional love – that is, affection based not on who they are but on what they do -- come to disown the parts of themselves that aren’t valued.  Eventually they regard themselves as worthy only when they act (or think or feel) in specific ways' – Alfie Kohn

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CPS - Collaborative problem solving between spouses

 The following comment by Teresa Atkin made me appreciate how valuable a tool  CPS – collaborative problem solving is for families – not only for solving problems between parents and kids and of course between kids themselves but also important for the marriage relationship. So raising kids with CPS, prepares them for life and especially for marriage.

'All too often, women think that talking to our husbands is the way to make them see how their behavior affects us. If the behavior doesn't change when we first bring it up, we want to talk more, longer, or louder because we think maybe they didn't get it the first time. One of the biggest pet peeves for men is that feeling of being nagged or badgered, especially if they don't know what the problem really is. Also, the rules of polite, kind, nice conversation that women try to follow often come off as indirect, manipulative and mysterious to men. Women often conclude that their husbands don't care because they haven't changed after a particular conversation. '

What really amazed me was that same lack of skills that parents display when trying to solve problems with kids is evident when trying to solve a problem with a spouse. The husband is coming out of the conversation not really knowing what the problem really is and the woman comes off as indirect and mysterious.

This is because the woman has difficulty in articulating the problem and her concerns and in most cases is being too general and vague. She may be talking about behaviors which can be happening in many different situations and  contexts, such as 'not helping' and with this type of ' clumping '  of problems together , the man does not have a clue what the woman is saying. When the problem is too general and vague the man will have difficulty in responding in an effective manner. The response will be defensive and vague. Problems can only be solved when they are defined, are very specific and in detail.

Before I share in a real problem in the home, here are some tips to help one be more successful problem solvers. CPS is a skill and needs practice.

1 CPS is most effective when done in a pro-active way and not in the heat of the moment. Make a specific time with your spouse to have these discussions.
2 Focus on problems, not behaviors - not helping is a behavior, an untidy home is an unsolved problem
3. Try to understand your spouse's perspective and getting a clear understanding of his concerns before you put your own concerns on the table. If you are willing to hear him/her   and make him/her feel understood, he/she will understand your concerns.
4 The first stage of the CPS process , the empathy or information gathering stage must be specific -  ' I have noticed that when I am getting the kids ready for school , you do not help me – what's up  ( no blame , not telling the spouse what to do , just seeking info )
5 We focus on concerns not solutions. People make the mistake and present their concerns as solutions. If we put concerns on the table, we can in a collaborative way brainstorm mutually satisfying solutions. If we put solutions on the table , the discussion ends up in bargaining or dueling solutions.

Case 1
Empathy –info gathering stage
DW( dear wife )  ' I have noticed that when I am busy getting the kids to ready for school in the morning , you don't help me -  what's up ?
DH-( concerns) I come home from morning prayers and I am very rushed to have breakfast and  get ready for work so I don't miss the train.
DW( concerns ) I am concerned if I don't get your help kids will continue to be very pressurized in the mornings and sometimes be late for school and  also I don't have enough time for myself.
Invitation step – here we define the problem by putting both concerns along side each other
Dw – can we think of a way so that the kids don't feel so pressurized in the mornings and both you and I have the time for ourselves – have a bite, get ready for work etc
Brainstorm realistic and durable mutually satisfying solutions
Here are a few suggestions – dh helping the night before , eating a sandwich on the train, reorganizing his early morning schedule, getting outside help, waking up earlier etc
Review how the solution is working in practice

Case 2
Empathy stage
Dh- I have noticed when I give a small talk to our guests at the Sabbath table, you don't listen and talk to our youngest child – what's up ?
Dw  I am concerned that our  child will be wild and scream and this will disturb you and  the guests, so I try to keep her calm by talking softly to her
Dh I  would like you to also hear my talk and I still find it very distracting when you even talk  softly to our youngest when I am speaking.
Invitation stage  -can we think of a way where you can fully listen to my talk and our youngest does not disturb us.
Brainstorming  to find realistic and durable mutually satisfying  solutions - 


Ki Teitze 74 - Why do women initiate divorce more than men?

This blog post is in 2 parts .

 1. Why do women initiate divorce more than men?
2.CPS- collaborative problem solving between spouses.

 In the USA and UK 66% of divorces are initiated by women, (in 1975 it was 72%).In Israel   70% of divorces were filed by women, 3 times as much as men.

Marriage therapist and author  Laura Doyle   says that one of the reasons for these figures is that 'women are initiating divorces when the problems are not insurmountable.  One  might think that's because men do things to make marriage untenable -- like cheat, hit or abuse them -- but I hear about women divorcing because he didn't help with the baby, he was emotionally unavailable, or because they grew apart. Countless women tell me they divorced because their husbands weren't capable of meeting their needs. When the women I work with learn intimacy skills, it changes the way they see a previous marriage. Some women tell me that they realize they were married to a good guy, but divorced because they lacked the skills to have a happy relationship. Sometimes it causes them enormous grief.'

An Israeli Dayan , judge in a rabbinical Court = Beis Din said that in his personal experience it was the women who were initiating divorces and some often in a hasty and impulsive way  and sometimes for the most trivial reasons like my husband leaves the home without saying good bye.

Laura Doyle's and the Dayan's observations about women being the ones who are initiating divorces hint that this could be part of the explanation why the Torah gave men more say about divorce than women.

The Dayan also said that  ' Cohanim ' , men of priestly descent tended to get angry quickly and then sue for divorce. This explains why Cohanim are restricted to whom they can marry. They can't remarry their wives or divorcees. This is intended to slow them down and think of other solutions than divorce. Divorce is only one of the solutions for solving marriage problems.

Men are happier in their marriages and maybe it is because they have fewer expectations than women. Men also get a lot of their intellectual and social needs met outside the home -at work and when they participate in communal prayer and study. It is reported that they are happier with their intimate lives than women. Divorce for men means a new financial burden, taking on responsibilities and tasks previously done by women and not being with his children. They often are willing to sleep in another room or have a trial separation in the hope that his wife will reconsider.

Teresa Atkin, a relationship coach says that women need to learn communication skills needed in a marriage.

'All too often, women think that talking to our husbands is the way to make them see how their behavior affects us. If the behavior doesn't change when we first bring it up, we want to talk more, longer, or louder because we think maybe they didn't get it the first time. One of the biggest pet peeves for men is that feeling of being nagged or badgered, especially if they don't know what the problem really is. Also, the rules of polite, kind, nice conversation that women try to follow often come off as indirect, manipulative and mysterious to men. Women often conclude that their husbands don't care because they haven't changed after a particular conversation. '

Women also tend to give instructions to men as they would to their maids or other help. This really has the opposite effect. Instead of giving instructions women should explain what they need and want, thus giving men the space to respond in an autonomous way.

Why do Laura Doyle and Tersa Atkin focus on women alone and why doesn't Laura Doyle  advocate joint therapy sessions?

Because women are initiating divorce and want change, they are the ones who  should and can bring about the change. Instead of waiting for husbands to change and be responsible for their wives' happiness, women should learn intimacy and communication skills and become responsible for their own happiness. This will bring about a change in men. Women have the power to make changes in  their homes as the verse in Proverbs 14:1 says –' The wisdom of women builds her home.'

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vayishlach 74 Autonomy – the Key to Character Education

During the night preceding the meeting between Jacob- Ya'akov and his brother Esau, a confrontation takes place between Jacob and Esau's angel guardian. The verse Genesis 32:25 says that Jacob remained 'alone' - le'vado' and he wrestled with a man until the outbreak of dawn. The Medrash commentary notes that in Isaiah 2 – and on that day G-d ' alone' –le'vado will be exalted, the same word, a G-dly attribute  le'vado= alone is also ascribed to Jacob. On that night Jacob achieved the G-dly attribute of le'vado.

Le'vado =alone cannot be talking about being hermits and   independent , as human beings are interdependent, supporting each other to create caring communities. Rabbeinu Yeruchum says that le'vado =alone means man using only his intrinsic qualities, in an autonomous and self directed way. A teenager can react to parental control by seeking independence. This is a reaction and not an autonomous decision by the teenager. It is not something that originates within himself. The teenager is reacting to his parent's agenda.  Rabeinu Yeruchum then shares Ethics Of our Fathers =Pikei Avot 4:1 as examples of a person's expression of his ' autonomy and intrinsic value'. This is based on the Marahal from  Prague 's  understanding of the Mishnah.

The Mishnah says – who is a wise man – he who learns from every person. Who is a strong person – a man who subdues his evil inclination, who is rich – a man who is happy with his lot, who is honored – he who honors other people.

 In the Self Esteem essay I described 2 types of people. The ' To have ' people who are concerned with achievement and having. They see' the self 'as an object and their self esteem is usually contingent on how  others  see them and their achievements. They usually suffer from what Brene Brown calls the scarcity syndrome of not being good enough, not perfect enough or being  just ordinary. The 'To Be' people focus on experience and the process. They see the self as a process and their self esteem is something deep and constant.

The 'To Have' person defines a wise person as having  much knowledge, the strong person as having much strength, and the rich person – as having all the money and things that are entertaining and can make a person feel rich and  happy. A person who is honored is one for eg is honored by many people and whom the government honors. The wise person has more knowledge, the   rich person has more wealth, the honored person has more honors and awards, in comparison with others. But this is all extrinsic and external to the person and becomes important only when we are able to compare to others. 'Having' does not say anything about your attributes or character nor does it change you. Honoring a person, does not intrinsically change them- they remain the same. Winning a lottery does not turn a miser into a 'giving' person, or exercising in a gym cannot transform one into a person of character and therefore become a ' To Be 'person. It can just give a person a distorted sense of self esteem and self worth.

The To Be person is not concerned about achievement but the process. He is a wise man because he has a passion for learning, he is a life- long learner who is continually active learning from all. He is not an 'object ' dependent on a teacher and focused on quantity of knowledge and achievement.

He is a strong person not because he can lift 200 kg , but he is able to subdue his evil inclinations and use them positively. The battle against the ' Yetzer Ha'ra is a life-long battle so he needs to have strength of character to be self –directed and not be subject to his passions and inclinations . The truth is that dealing with the evil inclination has more to do about having a clever plan to outwit the evil inclination and less about grit, self control  and self discipline.

He is a rich person because he is always happy and content with his lot – whatever it is. His happiness comes from his intrinsic passion for life and making meaning from everything he does and learns. He is self-directed, competent and a builder of relationships. He acts wealthy and ' being wealthy ' he is not attached to his money and possessions and expresses this by giving of his wealth to more needy people. New wealth may lead to a feeling of being wealthy in the short-term but people soon get used their new standards of living and the feeling dissipates.

 The respected and honored person is one that honors others. Being honored by others does not say anything about the person – he may be worthy or unworthy of the honor given. But the person who honors others is giving expression to an intrinsic part of his personality – he is somebody who has the attribute of honor.

 Being wise, strong, rich and honored means 'acting' as a wise man continuously learning, acting as a rich man, being happy, content and 'giving', acting as a strong man means giving expression to your strength of character and an honored man –acting as one who gives expression to his attribute of honor.

The goal of education and character education is to help kids become passionate life-long learners, people who honor others and can build relationships, have strength of character to become caring and competent people, happy, content, intrinsically motivated and giving.

This can be done addressing the 3 needs of people vital to their happiness and development. The 3 needs according to the ' Self –Determined theory are autonomy, competence and relatedness=belonging. When kids feel they are self directed , competent and have a sense of belonging to people they will become life-long learners who have strength of character, are happy, content and giving and  who honor the needs of others by being caring and respectful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vayeitzei 74-Should Parents be friends with their kids ?

Lots of parenting articles and books admonish parents - Be a parent, don't be your kid's friend. And when I see this I recall the following Biblical sources usually cited when discussing the parent –child relationship.

In this week's Parasha-portion Genesis 31:46, we read how Jacob- Ya'akov instructs his BROTHERS to gather stones and form a mound. This mound   was to be a monument and a witness to the treaty between and Laban and Jacob. The obvious question is that he had only one brother   Esau and he was not around. Rashi answers that Jacob referred to his sons as ' brothers' because they identified with his struggle and were committed to him. The relationship between Jacob and his sons could be described as an older brother-sibling relationship.
Further on in the Book of Genesis 45:8 , Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and he says that G-d has placed him as an Av= father to Pharaoh.  Rashi explains that the word Av=father as being a friend and a patron = from the Latin/greek  'pater'.  The word patron means a benefactor and protector.
Traditionally kids show respect to their parents by addressing them with the words my father- mother, my teacher. So from these sources the relationship could be described as one of an older brother, friend or mentor.

It is pretty obvious that a parent should not make her kid her confidant and burden her child emotionally with all her troubles and that she doesn't share everything. But being a friend of your kid helps the parent to be a ' real, genuine   and authentic person'. Alfie Kohn Alfie Kohn  reminds us that your child needs a human being – flawed, caring and vulnerable – more than he or she needs someone pretending to be a crisply competent Perfect Parent. If parents don't share with kids things they enjoy or hate, or their needs that they have, kids will never be able to empathy with parents, and see that they are real people who also have needs. Real people are not perfect, screw up and make mistakes. Apologizing to kids not only models how that should be done, but shows that it is possible to acknowledge to ourselves and others that we make mistakes and that things are sometimes our fault, without  losing face or feeling hopelessly inadequate. But apologizing exposes our fallibility and vulnerability and makes us feel a little unsafe when we stand on the perfect parent pedestal, a position of ultimate and unquestionable authority. Even saying thank you to your child in a sincere and genuine way, that without their help you would have been lost exposes your vulnerability. There is nothing to fear because it is when we expose our vulnerability, we create connection and facilitate learning   opportunities.  Brene Brown teaches that it is vulnerability that creates great business leaders and when you shut off vulnerability, you shut off opportunity. If vulnerability is good for business leaders, how much more is it so for parents!

 Another reason why parents fear developing a genuine and warm relationship with kids is that it will compromise their ability to set limits , impose their authority and control them.
In fact the opposite is true. Do you ever wonder why parents and teachers are the last to know when kids screw up or act in an inappropriate way? When kids feel that they are unconditionally accepted and loved by their parents for who they are , and trust them to be their guides and help, kids will come to parents for help. It is our healthy attachments with kids that allow us to be their guides and mentors.

We can set limits in a unilateral way and demand compliance or we can let kids participate in setting limits using the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach. When our concerns and expectations are addressed by the agreed solutions, we are in fact setting a limit together with the child.

As parents and educators we really want our kids to learn to set limits. Instead of giving a list of rules and consequences we can offer them principles and guidelines to help them navigate the world. We want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need .If so, then our coming up with   limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act.

Parents should be friends with their kids, but it is not a friendship of equals but similar to the trust, respect and caring that a mentor shows for his student.

Barbara Coloroso was once asked to help parents with their young teenager. When he was a pre-teen he was such a good kid, he always listened to us. Now he no longer listens to us, just to his teenage friends. She answered the parents that nothing has changed – he used to listen to you, now he is listening to them. When a parent is a friend and a mentor the child is not being compliant but self determined and acts in an autonomous way giving expression to the values he acquired from parents and teachers and has made his own.