Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mattot 76 - Anger - Validating concerns, not feelings

The Parasha talks about the battle against Midian for the purpose of avenging the harm done to Israel and  the slight to, and contempt for  God's honor.  After the blessings of Bil'am and the great military victories over the mighty kings Sichon and OG, the children of Israel felt a certain arrogance and ובעל גאווה נמסר ביד יצרו   - and arrogant people are controlled by their desires.  In their arrogance –that they  were independent and did not need to ask for water from the surrounding nations - they drank from the well of Shitim without any fear, knowing that the waters of the well make one drunk with a desire for sexual immorality. This made them fall to plan of Bil'am and be enticed by the daughters of Midian and commit sexual immorality and idolatry. As result of sin , many of the children of Israel  died in a plague.

 The army is victorious, destroys cities and takes spoil and captives.  The returning commanders are met by Moses, Elazar and the elders. Moses gets very angry with the commanders as they kept the females alive.ויקצף משה על פקודי החיל  There are certain values which are greater than life, so you have to give your life and not commit idolatry, sexual immorality or murder. These women had lost the right to live as they enticed Israel to commit sexual immorality and idolatry.   Moses had not given the commanders specific instructions as to how to act in the war. For Him, the whole purpose of the war was to destroy the enticing females. Moses continues and says' it must have that you have sinned with the females, like in Shitim, as it is for this reason that you kept the women alive.' The commanders answered that no one sinned but they still wanted to offer sacrifices to atone for and make amends for any sinful thoughts. Moses could not help but praise the army who aspired to high levels of holiness even in war,  and achieve the ultimate goal of the army, conquering the enemy within and without.  

Although Moses' anger was justified, anger has negative side effects – one forgets one's learning and loses one's wisdom.  The laws of Kashering of  the vessels  that were previously used for non-kosher food הגעלת כלים  had to be taught by Elazar as Moses had forgotten them because of his anger .' The purpose is to get rid of the absorbed taste of non-kosher food in these pots and pans etc These laws allude to the importance of getting rid of negative emotions and atoning for sinful thoughts of the returning soldiers. The returning soldiers are described as ' coming TO the war ' and not from the war as one's personal struggle with refining one's character is made more difficult by war, so the battle never ends. – הבאים למלחמה  (מנחם ציון )'

A collaborative problem solving approach would look like this - Moses:  I see that you have kept alive the women, what's up?  The commanders share  their perspective or concerns - the greatest revenge is to take the women of Midian and let them become part of the national effort of the people of Israel. Moses could then shares his perspective , corrects their mistaken thinking and gives instructions how to deal with the captive women, deals with the  concerns of the soldiers  for atonement and teaches the laws of kashering the vessels. In hindsight Moses was initially justified to feel angry about the situation rather than being angry at the commanders, who although did make a mistake, yet they  inspired  the army to great spiritual heights.

Although our anger about an issue shows that the issue is important to us, but how we manage our anger is important if we want others to internalize our message. The problem with anger or even attaching threats of punishments or consequences to future misdeeds is that people don't internalize the actual message and the value involved. They only  remember  the anger or threat of punishment. We want people and especially kids to internalize the value, so the misdeed, the  inappropriate behavior, the sin  and the  עבירה  is the punishment  'עבירה היא העונש 'and the good deed or mitzvah is the reward itself- שכר מצווה מצווה.

So what should we do about our anger and other emotions and those of our children or students?

It may be important for us to acknowledge our emotions or feelings and more important ' gut feelings', but we have to put them aside and evaluate them later at the end of the problem solving process. Identifying feelings doesn't help with the problem solving process. Some authors talk about validating the feelings and emotions of children but not validating their actions. 'I see that you are angry, upset, frustrated when your sister ….. Etc. . . . The problem is that when we validate feelings we can actually trigger more anger and upset. Talking about and naming feelings   can be valuable in problem solving in that it may help to convert emotional expression into thinking  and we then externalize feelings so we can put them aside and start solving problems. Trying to solve problems in the heat of the moment and deal with emotions is not a good idea.

'Children can feel in control of themselves and their world when they can use words and describe how they are feeling. If a kid has a vocabulary that describes a full range of emotions he is in more of a position to describe how he is feeling. Many kids when asked how they feel say things like ' good, terrific, bad, awful, or terrible. Very few answer ' happy, sad, frustrated, or afraid. When a kid names his feeling ' I am frustrated ', he then continues to give the reason – I am frustrated because I have an unmet need, concern etc., he is then in a position to actually do something about it. A child might do something different if he feels sad than if he feels frustrated. Just thinking he feels ' bad, terrible or awful will not help him make an informed decision about his next step. '- Myrna Shure Thinking parent, Thinking Child 

The vital step in collaborative problem solving is to help the child articulate his concerns or unmet needs and put them on the table.  In the heat of moment of conflict or a meltdown, when a kid is struggling with the emotional rush, naming emotions can give fuel to them. Because naming feelings does not contribute to solving problems, the focus should be in clarifying and understanding the kids concerns. Out of the moment - Talking with children about feelings and emotions is important. We can talk about ' what makes me happy, what do you think makes your sister happy, sad, and angry, frustrated, disappointed etc. This helps kids to consider other peoples' views and feelings. 

So instead of validating feelings, focus on validating concerns and needs which is vital for collaborative problem solving.

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