Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tzav 75 Encouragement vs Praise

The Parasha opens with God telling Moses –' Command -צו ' -  not say  or speak  to דבר  -   Aaron and his sons concerning the laws of the elevation offering, olah = העולה. The message behind the choice of the word ' command' to introduce the olah , is that the Kohanim- priests   in every generation need to be motivated and urged to be especially zealous in performing this service.  The kohanim had to volunteer to do the sacrificial temple service and give up their regular means of earning a livelihood to perform the temple service. Unlike other sacrifices where the Kohanim receive a portion, all the meat of the olah is burnt on the altar. Because the Kohanim suffer a further monetary loss in the case of a korban Olah, they need more motivation to perform this mitzvah.

Some mitzvoth like Sabbath meals, buying a lulav, or collecting the spoil from the Red Sea as opposed to the Olah sacrifice, giving charity or tending to the bones of Yosef are more intrinsically rewarding and enjoyable.  But these mitzvoth have their challenges as well.  The kohanim are supposed to eat the meat of the sacrifices for the sake of the Mitzvah לשם מצוה and not for sake of filling their stomachs – לשם אכילת גסה

The question is how do we motivate people and kids not just to do mitzvoth, but to do them focusing on what they give to the mitzvoth and not what they get?

The answer is given in verse 5: והאש על המזבח תוקד בו לא תכבה - and the fire on the altar shall remain burning on it,-it shall not be extinguished. The verse can be read as the fire on the altar – the passion and commitment to the values represented by the altar and its sacrifices shall remain burning  ' bo' = in him, in the Kohen and never be extinguished. Moses is  to promote the intrinsic motivation and  intrinsic reward for the mitzvah of the Olah   – elevation offering .Our goal is not to be motivated by some pay-off of the mitzvah, but to convert money and economic norms into spirituality. We don't see a monetary loss involved in doing a mitzvah but a worthwhile investment in spirituality and the reward of the mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.

So we certainly should not be using extrinsic motivation, if we want to inspire kids. Instead we can offer encouragement and informational feedback.  We should however not confuse encouragement with praise.  Kids who get a lot of criticism actually welcome praise, but praise like other extrinsic motivators has the following problems.  Praise or the' Good Job' devalues the activity the kid is involved in, as it becomes the means to an end, not valuable in their own right, the end being to receive that expression of approval . And so when that approval is not forthcoming the next time, the desire to read, draw, learn and help is likely to diminish. Generosity can become a means to an end. Our goal should not to use praise and make the kids dependent on our approval, and on our evaluations or decisions about what's good and bad, but rather they should be  learning to form their own judgments, getting pleasure in their own achievements and feeling a sense of competence and self-pride.
 Praise makes kids focus on superficial and extrinsic  ' performance goals', while encouragement and informational feedback meet intrinsic ' competence goals. Praise undermines self-esteem, makes kids less secure  because kids become  dependent on and addicted to  praise even as adult people  who continue to need someone else pat them on the head and tell them what they did was OK . Praise is also experienced as controlling because the words, even if positive are judgmental and evaluative.  All agree with Carol Dweck's work that praising ability is problematic, but praising effort still has a downside that it communicates to a kid that he is not very capable and therefore unlikely to succeed at future tasks – if you are complementing me for trying hard, it  must be because I'm a loser. Praise like rewards undermines interest, intrinsic motivation and impacts negatively on quality. 
   The biggest problem with praise is that it signals conditional acceptance of the kid, that attention, acknowledgment and approval must be earned by doing a job that adults decide is good. Unconditional acceptance and care, to be loved just for whom you are and not for what you do is a vital emotional and psychological need of a child that adult care givers must address and meet.

The alternative to praise is encouragement and informational feedback -  a conversation between the adult and child where the adult uses responses that describe rather than judge and asks questions about the process – why the child decided to act or write in a certain way. The adult will help the child reflect on how his behavior or learning – (socio-moral and academic) may intrinsically please the child or how it can be functionally useful to the self or others, self – assess and give support for improvement in learning, self – assess and give support for improvement in learning, self – assess and give support for improvement in learning. Praise ends learning, encouragement and informational feedback is a conversation in learning. When we are less judgmental and controlling and use encouragement and informational feedback instead of praise we promote self-determination, intrinsic motivation and commitment to values. Any monetary loss  becomes  an investment.

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