Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shemot 74 Empathy improves learning and thinking skills

Moses- Moshe is raised as a prince in Pharaoh's   palace. He matures, grows in stature and becomes the head of Pharaoh's palace. Although raised as an Egyptian prince, he remains a loyal Jew. His leadership qualities which made him fit to be the redeemer of the children of Israel began to show when he toured the slave camps. He wanted to  observe  the burdens of the children of Israel, identify with the suffering of his brothers and grieve with them. 'If only I could be in their place and bear their suffering. 'Pretending that he was assisting the Egyptian task masters he would help his brothers carry their burdens. He then convinced Pharaoh that his slaves would be more productive having a day of rest. Moses then chose  the 7th day as the Sabbath. Moses' concern for the 'klal', the whole community was unique in that he focused also on the needs of individuals.  Divine providence meant that being a prince he did not have a 'slave mentality' and he had the confidence and courage to intervene on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden. He intervened on behalf a Jew who was receiving death blows from a taskmaster and killed him. He intervened to stop   two  fellow Jews  quarreling. Finally the Torah says that as a complete stranger in a foreign country, Moses   had no problem rescuing Yitro's = Jethro's daughters from the hands of violent shepherds.

The personality trait  and  virtue  of 'nosei  b'ol  im chaveiro' – sharing a fellow's burden is expressed when a person feels and empathizes with  the emotional , physical and financial stress and pain of his friend. He should try to find out more about his needs and see if he can support him with friendship. Learning with a person and giving him spiritual support is very important as well. He should do everything that he can to alleviate the pain and stress. He should be there for him, not only in the tough times, but also be happy for him and share in his simchos at happier moments and in good   times.

The character trait of 'nosei b'ol im chaveiro' – sharing a fellow's burden displayed by Moses meant that he was not only qualified to become the redeemer of the children of Israel but he would be able to ' receive the Torah' on their behalf and ' pass it on' to them. Sharing a fellow's burden is one of the 48 personality qualities needed for someone to acquire the crown of Torah.  One needs   to be a 'fit and refined ' kli '– receptacle to receive the Torah and arrive at the truth. Learning Torah is not just about ' academic study ' but also involves observing others, learning from people in an informal way, especially from wise sages = shimush Talmidei chachamim, and   watching how they conduct themselves.  We learn from life itself and give expression to  our   learning by putting it into practice.

 Social interactions are the arena where lots of socio-moral learning takes place. In order to share  in   a fellow's burden we need to use the same learning skills as we do in learning Torah or Talmud. People are not open books and we have to notice the ' cues' people give with their body and facial language. There is a lot of missing information and we have to notice the inconsistencies in a person's behavior to recognize that something is going on. We need to learn to ' drill down ' with questions to find out a person's concerns and their   perspectives.  People, especially kids are not so articulate when it comes to expressing their concerns and what is bothering them. When we observe   how a wise man conducts himself, we need to be able to recognize and to be aware of the sensitive way he is acting and understand the reasons behind his behavior.

  The research actually shows that kids who had some social skills training improved their academic performances. Social Skills rest on ' empathy ' and altruism. It means  going   beyond one's self , exploring ideas , trying to understand the other person's ideas or what he needs  first, rather than trying to prove oneself to be right or look after one's own needs . Beit Hillel taught us to try and understand the other person first before we try to explain our position. The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach tells us to first to get a clear understanding of the kid's or other   person's perspective and concern before we put our concerns on the table.

How we view kids' behavior and other peoples ' challenges can impact on our responses or interventions. If we view kids inappropriate behavior as being 'defiant, aggressive, lazy, manipulative, controlling, and testing limits' we tend to be more punitive and  use consequences to get them to ' wanna behave'.  But if we are more compassionate and want to share with the child his burden, we would   ascribe his challenges to lagging skills etc. The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach 'mantra' is that kids do well if they can and not children do well if they want to. I think the same applies to adults. Sharing a fellow's burden really understands   what is getting in his way of the kid and trying to help him.

Edward de Bono ,l the creator of the word ' lateral thinking' and programs to ' teach thinking ', recommends his PMI tool to help people be less critical and try to see the positive in what  others are  saying. We are naturally critical thinkers -   it is either a yes or no – we agree or disagree if the idea fits in what we believe or not. It is much easier to be critical than look for the positives in other people and their ideas. Intelligent people have more of a problem of not being exploratory and creative in their thinking, because they are good at defending their positions. So Edward de Bono suggests we  should explore a person's   idea using his PMI tool, looking first for the Positives and only afterwards the Minuses. And then we can note other Interesting observations.

Sharing a fellow's burden means changing one's thinking – less critical thinking and more exploratory and creative thinking so you have  a 'empathic and  compassionate view ' of peoples' struggles , understanding first their  concerns and perspectives and trying to see the positive in them and their  ideas. This makes you a better, creative and explorative   thinker, so you become better at learning what the Torah teaches and have more of a chance to acquire the crown of the Torah.

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