Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bamidbar - Shavuot 75 - The Positive and Negative of In-group loyalty

The Book of Numbers begins with God's commandment to take a new census of the Israelites as they were about to enter the land of Israel. A census was needed to prepare for the military campaign and know how many people were eligible to receive a portion in the land according to their tribes. Unlike previous censuses, this census counted the people according to their tribes. It took place after the building of the sanctuary – mishkan, a year after leaving Egypt.

The literal reading of take a census - ' S'ooh '- is elevate the heads of the assembly of the children of Israel. It is forbidden to count people, so a census was taken by counting half-shekel contributions made by the people for the running and upkeep of the sanctuary –mishkan. If we counted people, we might be mistaken and think that the ' whole is the sum of the parts.' Knesset Yisrael ' – Israel as a unified group are so much more than the sum of all the individual Israelites. Individuals now share the destiny of the group and benefit both the blessings and power of prayer of the group.

By being part of the group or community individual choice is limited, but  choice per se is not,  as the community has the ability to get people to cooperate and work together to provide for people and solve problems collaboratively.  The author and speaker Jonathan Haidt who studies Moral Psychology says HERE  in his Ted Talks that when people become loyal contributing members of a group they feel uplifted and elevated and experience a sense of spirituality. They ' transcend themselves ' and attach themselves to the group and its values. They lose themselves and give up their selfish and personal interests for the group. This is why it is so important in education to create schools that are cooperative communities of caring and responsible kids who love learning. Instead of rewards and punishments that focus on self-interest, kids in the community now ask themselves moral questions - how my behavior impacts on others, what type of person do I want to be, what type of school or community and their values I want my school and community to be and have.

After examining multi-disciplinary literature on morality, Jonathan Haidt came up with the 5 foundations of morality, the draft of the moral mind with which we are born.  Harm and care - caring, bonding, feeling compassion for people and strong feelings against those who cause harm to others. Fairness- reciprocity as expressed by the Golden Rule –' treat people as you would like them to treat you.'  In- group/loyalty – Being loyal to a group, contributing and cooperating. Authority/ respect – ideally based on voluntary deference and even at times, love. Purity/Sanctity  - not  a hedonistic  life , but controlling what you do with your bodies and what you put into your bodies – the political right moralizes more  about sex and  the political left is doing a lot of that with food. Conservatives generally have more of a five-foundation  morality. Liberals have a kind of  two-foundation  morality – care/harm and fairness/reciprocity. They have problems with in-groups, authority and purity as these can become the foundations of xenophobia, authoritarianism and Puritanism preferring to celebrate diversity, questioning authority and saying 'keep your laws off my body'. These foundations can be repressive and restrictive to those at the bottom, women or those who do not fit in. On the other hand we need some ideology that tells people to suppress their carnality, to pursue higher and nobler ends rather than individuals focusing on their own individual pleasures and self-interest which ultimately will reveal the truth of social entropy. Moral arguments within cultures are especially about issues of in-group, authority and purity.

One of the most important principles of morality is that morality binds and blinds. It binds us into teams that circle around sacred values and thereby makes us go blind to objective reality and the truth. Because when people all share values and morals , they become  a team and once you engage the psychology of teams , it causes polarization, shuts down open-minded thinking and paralyses any chance of society dealing with the major issues facing that society.

Jonathan Haidt shares 4 asteroids that are on their way and will  cause disaster and destruction – Global warming, wealth and income inequality, family values- risingnumbers of  single mothers, and national debt. Each group has their own agenda. The left – global warming and poverty. The conservatives deny the problem of global warming, it does not exist and the solution for poverty is with the individual – no raising of taxes.  A rising National debt is not an issue or problem for the left and the kind of family is a choice. Wealth and income inequality divides and separates people. Some people are sitting safe and sound in gigantic yachts while others are clinging to a piece of driftwood. When we are not all in the same boat that means nobody is willing to sacrifice for the common good.

That reminds me of the public discussion and debate within the Orthodox Jewish world between those who champion keeping most men in full-time learning as long as possible to deal with the challenges of the open society and those who say - not only is this unsustainable but people have to contribute to society by serving in the army and support the economy by working. Because each value is the agenda of the other group, it becomes a non-issue for the opposing group. The challenges of the open society for those in the army, working or studying in universities with regards to modesty, keeping mitzvoth  and dedication to learning etc. is not an issue for the  group that is very involved with the world, while  dealing with poverty in a way that individuals make a contribution – is not an issue for the more insular  group.  So society is polarized and issues are not addressed.

The answer is in Parashat Bamidbar - the census according to the tribes and encampment around the Sanctuary – mishkan and the lesson of Matan- giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The counting of the people according to tribes could lead to tribalism and factionalism, but after the building of the Sanctuary-mishkan, the tribes now all shared the same values and formed a circle around the sanctuary. The separateness of each tribe was only there to support them in their service of the nation as a whole and support national unity.  ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר'' (שמות יט, ב). ופרש''י (שם) עפ"י המדרש: "ויחן שם ישראל – כאיש אחד בלב אחד". At Mount Sinai, at the giving of the Torah there was an incredible unity - the nation was like one man and one heart  - a precondition of being able receive the Torah and strive for the truth.

 Unity, feeling we are in the same boat, is a prerequisite for seeing the objective reality and truth. Jonathan Haidt quotes the Zen Master Seng-ts'an ' if you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between for and against is the mind's worst disease'.
Society can face the asteroids and deal with problems only by feeling we are all in the same boat, objectively looking at problems ,collaborating and addressing the concerns of all and being guided by the values of the Holy Torah.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bechukotai 75- Shalom-Peace and Solving Problems in a Collaborative and Proactive way = CPS

The parasha of Be'chukotai begins with a promise by God that if you will follow My decrees by engaging in intensive study of Torah with the intention of performing the mitzvoth , then the performance of the mitzvoth will merit many blessings , the greatest of them all being  shalom -peace and harmony in your land. Peace is a gift from God, the vessel that can contain all other blessings, for without shalom- peace,   other blessings are meaningless.  The highest or culminating point of our prayers and of the Priestly blessings – birkat kohanim is a prayer for peace.  In the Kadish prayer we ask that God should make peace. 

The question is, is it only God that can make peace? And if so what is our role –' we are to seek peace and pursue it'. The answer is that we have to make ourselves ' receptacles' - keilim- that can receive and accept God's blessing of peace. It means we have to emulate God and that the peace we make is based on our understanding of a Godly concept of peace. After praying a person must take 3 steps back in one bowing  like a student taking leave of his Rabbi and then extend  a greeting of  peace-shalom to those around him in the following way. Before straightening up, while he says about God – He who makes peace in his heavens he turns to his left and while saying He should make peace upon us – he turns to his right and afterwards he bows in front. The commentators note that in order for there to be peace people need to seek peace by being able to step back and compromise and bend over backwards and forwards to make peace.  The ability to compromise, make concessions and not stick to ones demands, claims or solutions is important in any process of conflict resolution and making peace. But it would be difficult to say that we are emulating God. It is difficult to think of God compromising or making concessions.  One of the names of God is Shalom =peace because God has the power to unify and harmonize opposites, contradictory and conflicting forces. Each force finds its place in the world.

 The ultimate of conflict resolution is not just a win-win situation but where the concerns of each party are met.CPS – Collaborative Problem solving or now known as Collaborative and Proactive solutions originally created by Dr. Ross Greene as a model to ' work with ' challenging children says - when solving problems we should not be focusing on ' behaviors ' but the problems underlying the behaviors. We begin by gathering information about the concerns and perspectives of the parties concerned.  The difficulty is that people tend to present their concerns as solutions, without giving enough thought about their concerns and this leads to negotiating or the dueling of solutions. In the end we may get a compromise after parties make concessions, but there has been no discussion on the concerns and perspectives of the parties. If we forget about solutions which are often preconceived, and just focus on concerns, and like Beit Hillel trying to understand the others' concerns before presenting your concern, we will get a better hold of the problem. Then we can invite the parties to try and brain storm a mutually satisfying solution that addresses both concerns. CPS in families is best done out of the moment, proactive when all are calm and connecting. We need to first focus on the general atmosphere in the home and the relationship and try to reduce negative interactions and conflict by using Plan C. Here we put low priority problems on the shelf and use Plan B – solving problems in a collaborative way for high priority problems.  Plan A is imposing parent will even at a price of a meltdown but out of the moment we need to still use Plan B.

 Here is an example.  A boy has a problem with some kids of friends of the family who come over to play. The boy announced to his mom that a certain kid would not be welcome at his Barmitzah party. The mother said the kid is coming and that if he did not like that kid, she would compensate him and that her son did not appreciate all that was being done for him. The boy answered that it was his barmitzvah so he could decide and his mother generally did not care about him. The first problem to overcome is that we have to give up our theories and assumptions why the kid or mother is acting in a certain way. ' Assumption free living' and not being judgmental  is important because it enables us to just describe what we see and focus on getting input from the other party rather than relying on preconceived theories and solutions.  A friend witnessing the scene suggested trying CPS. He asked each party what were their concerns. The boy said that the kid would disrupt and mess up the party, the mom said that she had to invite the kid; she could not tell their friends that their boy could not come. They attempted to brain storm a solution that would address both concerns – the kid came up with an idea that they would pay somebody to be with the kid and play with him. The mother remarked that this was the first time she felt heard and the boy said he felt understood.

 For sure people jealousy and not appreciating one's blessing gets in the way of peace but people need to be more generous and kind and welcome with love and happiness the success and happiness of others. We can make peace through negotiation and make concessions so a compromise is reached. On the other hand we can emulate God and use CPS to resolve conflicts and make peace. We act in a Godly way and are more likely to merit God's help in making peace when we are active in understanding the concerns of others and addressing them and our concerns in a collaborative way so we find mutually satisfying solutions.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Behar 75 True Freedom and Autonomy

The portion-parasha of Be'har Lev. 25:10 talks about sanctifying the 50th year- the Yovel= Jubilee and proclaiming freedom-' dror'   for ALL its INHABITANTS, it will be a Yovel for YOU; you shall return each man to …. His family. 

The importance that all people should be free is because God says in verse 25:55' For the Israelites are servants to me, they are my servants whom I have taken out of the Land of Egypt.'  They cannot serve another Master but God alone. Because God has taken the Israelites out of the Egyptian bondage– and each Jew has to see as he himself left Egypt- , they owe their lives and freedom to Him. Because they are totally indebted to Him, they   are willing to give their lives to Him as His servants.                                                                                                                                                                   Here are 2 questions.

   1 Why do we celebrate freedom in the Jubilee year if that freedom means we have to submit us ourselves to a new Master?  2. Verse 25:10 talks about freedom for all its inhabitants, should the verse not read freedom for all the indentured servants and a Jubilee for them and not for YOU who are already free?

First, we must define what true freedom or autonomy is.  According to the SDT – Self Determination Theory a person is autonomous, self-determined and self- directed when he endorses his actions at the highest level of reflection. When self-determined people experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing this often happens when we do things enjoyable or interesting and they are an expression of our deepest values. When a person's basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness= having a sense of belonging and feeling supported people are  met , people feel self- determined and are  intrinsically motivated and engaged. It also leads to enhanced performance, persistence and creativity.

Autonomy does not mean independence. It is a state of mind. We can very willing subject ourselves to a security check at the airport because we identify with its value and purpose. In the same way we act with volition when we intentionally choose to subject and commit ourselves to God and his Torah. And this is what the Sages say –the only people who experience true freedom and autonomy are those who deal and are involved with revealing God's will through the Torah. In this way they follow the example of  Abraham, the Patriarch  in the leadership role of serving God and being of service to man. To be a servant of God one has to be a leader who can inspire people and such a person needs to be truly free, autonomous, self-determined and powerful.

It is not only the master- servant or master-slave relationship where the master is' controlling' and denies the servant any autonomy, but often in a marriage – husband and wife, in the family –parent and child in the workplace – boss and employee, or in school – teacher and student where people with power – boss, teacher and parent or even a spouse are very controlling, dominating and sometimes intimidating. The truth is that it is not only the people who are being controlled whose needs for autonomy are not met, but the person who has a need to control others does not experience autonomy and true freedom. The need and goals of autonomy are intrinsic – more about the person himself, his self-control, ability to teach, inspire, influence and lead because of his ability –competence and relationship with people. The person who needs to control others has extrinsic needs and goals for power and control over people. They compensate for feelings of weakness, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear of losing control, and relationships where there is no trust and connection. So the controlling person lacks true freedom and autonomy because he is being controlled by his fears and inadequacy.  

The Jubilee and call for true freedom is directed to all the inhabitants. Not only do people with power have to relinquish control and support the autonomy of their servants, employees, spouses, students and children but people who have power to be controlling have to focus on intrinsic needs and goals of autonomy, competence and relatedness so they can lead by their greatness rather than by their power, position and status. If one gives up control, one gains influence and connection.The servant returns to his home to lead his family in the ways of God. If he feels autonomous , perceives himself as competent , feels a  love for his family and respects  them  and their autonomy he will be highly motivated and feel a sense of true freedom in serving God and being of service to man.

Education is about building leaders. Leaders are not servants, but they lead themselves, and others in serving God and being of service to man. If we address our kid's needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness they will make the Torah theirs, and be leaders in their own way.