Thursday, March 17, 2016

Vayikrah 76 - Social Thinking and Da'at = Social Intelligence

The Book of Leviticus- Vayikrah deals with the sacrifices, holiness and purity. It opens with … 'And Hashem- God called Moses and spoke to him saying '…The commentaries explain that Moses did not want to enter the Tabernacle- Mishkan until God had given him an invitation and permission to enter. The Midrash commentary says 'that any sage or wise scholar who has no da'at – social intelligence, is worse than a rotting carcass. Moses, who was extremely close to God, his representative and emissary in the world to teach God's Torah, perform miracles etc and he even built the Mishkan, did not enter the mishkan until God called him and invited him to enter. And just as Moses acted with דרך ארץ – derech e'retz and sensitivity, God called Moses and addressed him by his name. From this למדה התורה דרך ארץ, the Torah taught derech e'retz, the way of the world, as how people should interact with each other. If a person wants to have a conversation with someone, he should first address him by his name and then start the conversation.   
God's call to Moses was out of affection and relationship. On the other hand, God just appeared to Bilaam, the prophet of the surrounding nations, as if by chance. Out of humility, Moses wrote the words 'and God called '- וַיִּקְרָא with a small ' aleph ', so God's revelation to him would be written as similar to that of Bilaam –ויקר by chance. It seems that a precondition for prophecy, the frame of mind for engaging in the offering of sacrifices and a relationship with God and people is humility. R' Akivah says a person who is arrogant because of his Torah learning, is like a rotting carcass. "אִם נָבַלְתָּ בְהִתְנַשֵּׂא '… you became like a rotting carcass' by being arrogant.-Proverbs 30:32. This wise scholar or sage may be academically intelligent but lacks social- emotional skills, sensitivity to others, derech e'retz, common sense and common courtesies. Because of his arrogance he fails to take into account the concerns and perspectives of others, how they perceive his teaching and behavior and the possible impact and consequences of his actions on others. The sage desecrates God's name with his behavior, people say that the Torah is to blame for his behavior, and at worst, it is possible that some people would learn bad ways from him. A rotting carcass does not do much damage and people know to keep away because of the bad smell. A leading Rabbinical Judge R' Shlomo D'chovsky in his farewell speech on retiring, encouraged fellow judges – your decisions don't always have to be ' glatt', taking into account all the stringencies of the law. Sometimes a b'di'eved or lenient decision may more accurately reflect the situation and meet the needs of the parties concerned. A stringent decision may cause more problems and certainly not be true, just and contribute to peaceful relationships. R' Isaac Sher asks that( 1) all people , not only wise scholars and judges have to act with derech e'retz, be sensitive to others and act with common courtesy so why does the midrash refer only to a sage and (2) why does the midrash use the word ' da'at '  instead of the word ' derech e'retz . The wise scholar and sage, because of their learning of God's Torah are expected to reflect on the highest levels of understanding as to how people are supposed to interact with each other and be highly sensitive to how they impact on others and how they perceive their needs. The scholar should be learning practical lessons on human refinement and sensitivity from his learning and finding ways to apply his learning to an imperfect world taking into account how people experience what he says and does. This is not just derech e'retz but da'at , a highly sophisticated social intelligence and understanding of  'da'at elyon', the highest form of intelligence. When such a person is honest in his business dealings , and he speaks pleasantly to people , people begin to speak positively about him and say that his teachers and parents who have taught him Torah are sure to be happy and proud of him. The reason his ways are fine and his deeds are righteous is because this man has studied the Torah.

When it comes to children and teenagers, their lack of derech e'retz, da'at or social intelligence has less to do with character or personality flaws like arrogance, but more to do about lagging social skills. Adult problems may also be due to ' untreated lagging skills ' when they were kids .We are born to a 'social mind ' which has a predisposition to ' empathy' and available to learning. New born babies identify with the cries of other babies, showing the trait of empathy. Crucial for the development of the social mind is child- directed play with others, and also an exposure to a lot of non-verbal and verbal language. Unfortunately, children are being introduced to academic learning at a younger age and this comes at the expense of social and emotional learning – less time for play and adults focusing on compliance. And some kids are developmentally delayed and have difficulty in naturally learning these social skills and therefore are challenged in area of social interactions.

Teaching kids by rote ' social scripts or behaviors' in the hope that they can generalize to other situations and help them function more socially does not help very much. Instead of static skills, they need to learn dynamic skills that enhance their dynamic intelligence so they learn to be flexible and adapt their behavior depending on situations and people involved. This is done by promoting ' social thinking' so the skills developed are not isolated, but a product of a problem solving process. It is not only being able to perform the skill that is important, but understanding the context and the purpose of the skill. Social thinking is how we navigate the space we share with others. We have to interpret and understand peoples' motives, intentions, concerns, to assess how others are feeling and predict what will happen next – how people will react and the consequences of our words and actions etc. it is not enough for a kid to understand his intentions but how others are reading his intentions. A kid maybe able to identify his concerns and the concerns of others, but he must also be able have some understanding as to how they interpret his intentions. In the social arena, a problem is not only about the kid having a problem pursuing his concerns, but often the problem includes addressing the concerns and expectations of others. The child also needs to learn to initiate conversations, articulate his concerns, and participate in brainstorming solutions that are realistic, durable and mutually satisfying.

In Schools and even in homes, social and emotional learning is about adult expectations and the consequences imposed on kids for infractions and rewards or praise for compliance. Besides promoting the most primitive form of morality , helping kids to ask what's in it for me ,  they never learn to ask themselves what are the consequences of my actions on other people and the environment. Adults never model perspective taking and seeing the kids ' world through their eyes'. They fail to learn the lesson – that it is not what we teach that matters, but what kids learn, and how kids experience what we do to them and say. What matters is just ' behavior ', ignoring the whole child, his feeling and motives, in the blind belief in the power of the Lo lishma, m'toch she'lo lishmah ba lishmah.  Hillel taught – if I am not for myself, who is for me and if I am only for myself, who am I. If we totally ignore kids concerns and expectations, we don't teach them the social skills and social thinking as how to pursue their own needs in appropriate ways and yet take into accounts the perspectives and concerns of others. If we want kids to have derch e'retz, da'at and social skills we need to take steps - more play and more social, emotional learning focusing on social thinking.

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