Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vaeira 75 - Things get worse before they get better ?

Moses and Aaron asked Pharaoh    in God's name to send the Israelites into the desert so they could worship and celebrate God.  The sidra Va'eira begins with God's response to the complaint of Moses that his mission to Pharaoh was not only unsuccessful, but made things much worse for them. God criticizes Moses for lacking in faith. The Patriarchs had faith and did not complain despite the fact that God's revelation was ' not open but hidden by the miracle of nature' and that promises God had made to them were unfulfilled. God revealed himself to Moses by the name of ' Hashem', a term that implies God's trustworthiness to carry out his word and promises and reveal Himself through open miracles. And despite the initial setback, Moses should have had more patience and faith. Moses dared to reproach God because he could not see his people suffer.

The fact that ' things get worse before they get better ' challenges our resilience and faith in God, ourselves and process.  According to the Kli Yakar we see this phenomenon in nature – the darkest hour of the night is the one preceding daybreak, in the winter the coldest time is before sunrise, sick people nearing death usually have a spurt of energy before death overcomes them. When natural forces or powers are threatened by confrontation and possible destruction, they gather up all the energy they can muster to resist. So here Pharaoh's actions in intensifying the persecution and labor are a sign that his end is near and the ' redemption ' is close by.

'Things get worse before they get better ' is something traditional parenting therapists and educators tell parents. They explain that giving parents tools of ' control', helping parents become more firm, consistent and contingent and reclaim parental authority and be the boss will make things worse in the beginning as the child resists and displays a ' counter-will. This is needed to compensate for the years of passive, permissive, non-consistent and contingent parenting.  Sometimes things do improve as kids become initially very enthusiastic about the ' rewards' but when rewards lose their novelty and punishments, consequences and time-outs are introduced and the dynamic becomes very confrontational and the rewards are all seen to be controlling. So often things don't get better.

'Working with' approaches like the Collaborative problem solving are likely to improve situations without making things worse. The focus is on building a relationship and communication. The kid feels understood and heard when care givers   hear the kids concerns first before putting their concerns on the table, address the concerns of both parent and child and try to solve problems in a collaborative way. We reduce conflict and negative interactions by putting some of our expectations temporary on the shelf and try to create an environment free of ' triggers ' that could cause conflict.  In some cases parents may feel it is getting worse because the kid does not yet trust the process and the parent no longer has the tools of control. But parents need to remember it was these tools of control that were   fueling conflict and confrontation and when parents no longer fuel conflict a kid has a better chance of coming around to the CPS process. It will be also helpful to have a discussion with the child exploring together how CPS can improve the family dynamic, meet all the concerns and needs of family members and make the family home a caring and cooperative place for all.

When teachers want to move away from grades   and  'compliance with all the rewards, punishments and consequences ' etc and try to create a caring community   where kids are more intrinsically motivated to learn and develop an intrinsic commitment to good values, kids are likely to resist.  This is because students have become so dependent on grades, rewards and punishments. They ask themselves – what will I get if I am compliant and what will be done to me if I rebel and not what type of person do I want to be. It takes time and discussion, working with students so they see the value of learning for the love of learning and construct their own reasons why they should act responsibly and generously.  Change should be made gradually, respectfully and collaboratively. The Intrinsic motivation of students needs to be supported by a school that supports student autonomy and participation in decision making, a valuable curriculum , cooperative learning and the promotion of prosocial behavior within a caring community of learners.  If we do not follow this process, the alternative to control will be chaos.

When the focus is on trust and cooperation and not confrontation there is no reason why things need to get worse before they get better.

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