Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pekudei 74 Moral Development depends on Trust

The portion-parasha of Pekudei begins with the words –

 שמות לח:כא אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי משֶׁה ........
Exodus 28:31 -these are  the accounts and reckonings of the tabernacle- mishkan - the detailed lists of materials contributed for the construction of the tabernacle and its equipment and how they were used, which were reckoned at Moses' bidding. Moses' actions seemed to go beyond the letter of the law. According to  the Jewish Code of Law, the Shulchan Aruch Y:D 257:2 based on the verse in Kings 2 12:16 –

מלכים ב יב:(טז) וְלֹא יְחַשְּׁבוּ אֶת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר יִתְּנוּ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף עַל יָדָם לָתֵת לְעֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה כִּי בֶאֱמֻנָה הֵם עֹשִׂים:
Moreover, they –the administrators of the temple project did not keep accounts with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, - they did not demand that the treasurers keep accounts - for they dealt in good faith.

If we appoint treasurers or other people to do a job because of their integrity and moral stature, demanding that they keep records so that you can regulate and keep a check on them contradicts the nature of the appointment. If you appoint people because of trust, trust them to the end.

The modern state operates quite differently. There are laws. You have to have   audited financial reports and there are fines  and  penalties  attached to help people comply. If there are problems of financial scandals and dishonesty, we impose more and better laws. There is  more  regulation and more incentives. And this, says Barry Schwartz - our loss of wisdom   helps in the short run, but in time rules and incentives erode ethical behavior and morality. Rules and procedures mean you don't have to think. Rules replace moral thinking. People are supposed to be guided by moral and ethical principles and let their perceptions of the situation dictate moral behavior. Moral skill is chipped away by the over reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. Instead of asking ' what is my responsibility, what is the right thing to do ' , all we ask is 'what serves my interests .' Instead of being accountable to our system of values, the law  makes  us accountable -by   ' doing to us ' , by making us pay a price if we screw up.

When it comes to the education of kids we undermine their moral development by the over-reliance on rules and consequences. It is when we trust them to do the right thing, we support their moral development. Honor codes are an example of this. Kids commit themselves to values of honesty and integrity in the classroom. We 'trust  them'  and let them write exams without supervision. Supervising exams tells students that  you don't trust them not to cheat and  this  undermines   moral development. When we rely on rules and consequences, we  are  telling  kids  that  we cannot trust you  to behave and act in a responsible and caring way.The Pygmalion effect predicts that our negative expectations of kids, that they won't behave if we don't control them with rules and consequences is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids will behave badly when they are left alone without supervision. But if we ascribe to them positive attributes and have positive expectations of how they will behave and perform academically, kids will behave well and do better in school. Business leaders understand the power of having positive expectations and trusting other leads also to better performances in the work place.

 When we rely on rules and consequences the locus of control is firmly in the hands of the parents or teachers. Kids will behave depending on how adults will respond to their  behavior. Instead , the locus of control should be with the kids. They should be the ' authors of their behaviors', behaving in ways because this is the type of person I want to be,and  this way of acting is a reflection of my values. When we rely  on rules and consequences, kids become dependent on them to guide their behavior. Instead of rules, kids can try to use values and moral principles to guide their behavior. Their behavior can be an outcome of deep reflection on how these values and principles should play out in the family or classroom. But that means we need to ' trust' kids. 

The problem with rules is that when rules are broken, consequences need to be given for the infractions. And when we punish or give consequences we make it impossible for a kid to ask – if this is the type of person I want to be or is this behavior is a reflection of my values and then do 'Teshuvah ' and repent. It just teaches a kid tofeel sorry for themselves, think of what's in it for me and my mistake was being caught. It is better to talk about   expectations rather than rules. When expectations are not met , we then ask -what is getting in the child's way , how can we help him, collaboratively  solve the problem and come up with a better plan. When kids trust us and we trust them , we allow their best motives to surface thus giving them space and support for them to reflect and  engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , making amends, and figuring out how to make things right after doing something wrong.

Moses kept records not only that he should be ' clean and straight ' both in the eyes of God and man, but this was a way of being accountable to himself and his values.
If we want kids and people to have the moral skill and moral will , we have to trust them as people who value virtue and moral wisdom. We have to educate kids and create an environment where rules don't replace moral thinking and values and incentives don't destroy morality.

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