Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shemot 75 - Setting a Personal Example

Setting a personal example is said to be crucial in the parenting or educating children.  Albert Einstein   said  - “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”
 For sure the ' Do as I say and not Do as I do '   attitude and approach of care givers just undermines the credibility and authenticity of a parent and teacher. However, there are many kids and students who are being raised and educated in an environment where parents and teachers are setting great personal examples and yet it has no impact on these kids or on students.  So what is the problem?

The problem is the behaviorist nature of ' setting a personal example'. Education is not about a passive student or child absorbing information but a child and student actively noticing what is happening around them and then making meaning of this. In order to learn from the personal example of a parent, teacher or Rabbi, the child needs to notice and to be sensitive to the nuances and the motives behind the behavior or personal example set by his parent, teacher etc. One can only benefit from ' Shimush Talmeidi Chachamim ', being an apprentice to great sages or being exposed to them if one keenly observes and is sensitive to the example they set.  Education is not only noticing the inconsistencies and incongruent passages or words in a text, but to notice them in situations and on peoples' faces. Kids and students don't learn from 'personal example ' because they are simply not sensitive enough to be aware of what is happening and certainly they are not in a position to reflect and learn from personal example.

The portion-parasha of Shemot has examples where actively noticing something peculiar in the environment actually changed history. Pharaoh's daughter noticed a basket hidden among the reeds. This led her to being a mother to Moses – the future savior and redeemer of the Israelites in Egypt. Moses himself while looking after Yitro- Jethro's flocks in the desert noticed a fire, a burning bush. This excited his curiosity. He went to investigate and he saw that the bush was burning but not being consumed .If he would not have noticed the bush, he would not have experienced God's revelation and accepting the leadership role to take the Israelites out of Egypt.  As they journey towards Mount Moriah, the place where the 'Akeidat Yitzchak' – the binding of Isaac would take place, Abraham and Isaac notice a cloud hovering over the mountain. Abraham says – do you notice what I see and Isaac says yes. Abraham asks the same question to his 2 attendants and they did not see anything unique. This ability to notice reflected on Isaac's spiritual insight which made him fit to be an offering, while the attendants who did not notice could not continue the journey.

Kids and people have a problem about being grateful and expressing gratitude. As a sign of gratitude, Moses does not execute the plague of blood that turned the Nile and other water resources into blood, and the plague of lice that infected the dust and ground, because he was saved by the Nile and he hid the dead Egyptian in the sand. In order to be grateful and express gratitude - ha'carat ha'tov  in  Hebrew, one has to be aware and recognize the good that was done. People simply are not aware and don't see the good done to them. This is reinforced by the fact that people don't like to feel indebted to others so we tend to subconsciously minimize or ignore the good done to us.

We are told in the Ethics of our Fathers that a wise person learns from every person. The difficulty people have in learning from the example of others is that they tend to be very judgmental and only notice things that already fit in with their  world view and justify their  opinions about  people and events. This is very true if kids don't have a good relationship with parents and teachers and don't see them as their teachers and guides. Kids must have a good relationship with parents and teachers and seek relationship in order to   benefit from the example set by care givers and teachers.

Setting an example is not enough. We have to bring kids ' behind the scenes ' and share our thinking, our motives and values behind our decisions and actions. We can share our dilemmas, our concerns and perspectives and get a kid's input as well. Kids can also pick up our attitude, enthusiasm and why we feel joy and privilege in what we do. The best way to set an example is to get them involved with us, cooperating and collaborating when appropriate and solving problems in a collaborative way. In this way, we teach them the skills needed for their lives, adult life and marriage.

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