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.

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