Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Acharei Mot 74 Say Sorry!! Empathy vs. Blame

  I am sure we have either witnessed or we ourselves have tried to force a sibling to ' say sorry' because they hit a brother or said a mean word – you are stupid - to a sister. There is usually a display of defiance and when the kid gives in, it is usually said in a mean tone or a whisper or even ' I am sorry that ' You are stupid'.
 Instead of repairing the relationship, forcing an apology makes it worse. I don't know how parents expect this type of apology to be sincere. Some parents don't really care if the apology is sincere or not, what matters is the act of uttering the appropriate words. They may justify this by saying that in time the child will come to say 'I am sorry' with sincerity. According to the principle -that we should do the right thing even if our feelings or motives are not so pure, for in time we will come to do things with the right feelings and for the right motives - mi'toch she'lo lishmah bah lishmah, these parents seem to be doing the right thing by forcing an apology.
The Torah portion –parasha of Acharei Mot talks about the Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement service when the High Priest and the nation confess their sins –the Vidui and say they are sorry to God and to each other  as part of the Teshuvah –repentance process. Rabbi E. Dessler says that the principle of doing things 'lo lishmah' for the wrong reasons so in time it will be lishmah – right reasons does not apply to the mitzvah of Teshuvah or saying sorry. The whole essence of Teshuvah and saying sorry is sincerity.
 If we force apologies and don't give the child time to calm down and reflect, then the only thing we are teaching kids is to LIE. The source of our problem is that we see enforcing an apology as part of our need to discipline kids. It means getting the kid to admit that he did wrong and take the blame. The focus is no longer on the pain of the sibling, but on the adult trying to enforce the apology. If we take blame out of repertoire and replace it with empathy we are now not being disciplinarians enforcing consequences but parents helping and guiding kids to be compassionate and moral.
We may also want to solve the underlying problem in a durable and realistic way using CPS – the collaborative problem solving approach model. The first thing we may need to do is reassure the child that he is not in trouble and that we are not in the 'blame game'. All we want to do is help people feel and do better. The first stage in the CPS process – the empathy and info gathering steps starts with a neutral statement. 'I have noticed that you and your sister were playing ball together, and now she is crying – what's up? We try to get his perspective and hear his concerns which are needed to solve the problem. He will be able to then hear his sister's perspective and concerns if he feels heard. The focus is now on the ' hurt child' – We ask the brother – how does he think his sister is feeling now? Why is she feeling that way? This helps him take his sister's perspective and become empathic .We can then ask him – can we brainstorm solutions that will help both of you be happy and you can play without any fighting. Once we have a solution we can ask how does he think he can make her feel better and also make amends. Some situations demand that we only help him take his sister's perspective and come up with a plan to make her feel better and not solve the underlying problem.
 Instead of using ' Blame ' and imposing consequences and solutions on kids, we can focus on empathy. We should support kids' 'autonomy' so that they can in an autonomous way engage in the moral act of reparation and making amends. We promote competence as the child will thus leave this encounter with a reminder of how others feel or might feel as the result of his actions, and with the knowledge that an adult trusted his competence sufficiently to allow for his input into how this matter should be handled. Also relationships are improved. Using empathy means we encourage kids to feel sorry for siblings or the 'hurt' friend, but when we use 'blame' we encourage kids to feel sorry for themselves.

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