May 30, 2011

Finger Pointing in the Wrong Direction

A rabbi is quoted as saying, "Cell phones have wrought devastation in people's lives.  Before the advent of cell phones, we would never have believed that people could stoop to such levels of rudeness and worse." 

He doesn't think people necessarily have to get rid of their phones (that would be a futile goal) but says, "If a person feels that his cell phone is beneficial or indispensable, he does not have to discard it, but he cannot become a slave to it.  A cell phone does not have to be attached to him at all times.  Nothing will happen if he leaves it at home when it is not absolutely necessary."

Seems to me that the problem is not the cell phone at all.  For just as knives and fire and numerous other even more innocuous items can be used for the most beneficial purposes or in harmful ways, cell phones are no different.

The issue is one of discipline with which we, as a generation, are struggling.  Lack of discipline is adversely affecting us in numerous areas of our lives and cell phone usage is yet another way we demonstrate our lack of control.  So it's not the poor phone that should be vilified for wreaking destruction but we ourselves.  It's not helpful to shift the blame.  Let's confront ourselves and see where in our lives we need to "tighten up" the discipline and take responsibility for our actions.

May 17, 2011

Say "May I"


Two reasons for Restricted Refrigerator Access:

1) As related by Shaya Ostrov: A rosh yeshiva wanted to help his children understand that we don't "just exist."  Everything in life is a gift.  He told R' Ostrov that when his children were young, they were taught not to go to the refrigerator and take any food without first asking permission.  "We never refused them.  They just needed to remember to ask."  His reason was that a child needs to learn that nothing in life is a given.  Everything we have is a precious gift for which we need to experience gratitude.

R' Ostrov goes on to say: When a child is hungry, he says to himself, "I am hungry and therefore I will eat."  This translates into, "I am hungry and therefore entitled to eat -es kumt mir."  Of course, children need to feel secure in knowing that they will always be cared for, loved and fed.  However this rosh yeshiva did not want his children to confuse their need with the feeling of entitlement that leads to taking.  The rosh yeshiva was teaching his children that the gift of food can never be taken for granted, "I'm hungry, so I'm just eating what is rightfully mine."  The attitute of the child who believes that the food he is holding is his because, "I was hungry and I took it," is very different from that of the child who believes that the food was given as a gift from his parents because, "I was hungry and my parents understood this and they love and care for me."

2) As related by Rabbi MM Gluckowsky: "I remember when I was a child, we were not only not encouraged to be independent, we weren't allowed to be independent. We could not open the fridge without permission! We weren't considered mature enough to make decisions about what and when to eat without parental involvement, and we weren't! There were strongly enforced rules ...Somebody older and wiser was making decisions for us and we had to abide."

The emphasis here was on teaching obedience, rather than the currently very popular goal of encouraging independence.

It is likely that the parents in both these examples would be condemned by many as control freaks.  Perhaps we as a society wouldn't be suffering from obesity-compulsive eating and many other problems due to feelings of entitlement and/or lack of discipline if we were raised with some more control!

May 13, 2011

Clashing Beliefs

If you took a poll among frum people and asked them whether they believe Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong will go wrong") to be true, what do you think they would say?

I've heard people refer to to Murphy's Law and although it might be done jokingly, I think they believe it to be true to some extent.  How does this fit with what we believe? Does it take into account R' Bachya ibn Pekuda's Chovos Ha'Levavos, Shaar ha'Bitachon? He writes:

If we knew we had a friend who:

1) never ceases worrying about us

2) is able to fulfill our wishes

3) knows our exact needs and what is good for us

4) controls all the people and powers in the world and does not allow any of them to harm or benefit us without his consent

5) is overflowing with kindness and compassion even if we are undeserving

we would completely relax and stop worrying about ANYTHING.

Hashem is merciful and gracious; He neither slumbers nor sleeps, He is your Father, He made you, Hashem is good to all and His mercy is on all His creations etc.

Can you refer to Murphy's Law and simultaneously take "gam zu l'tova" seriously?

May 5, 2011

Reframing Getting Out of Hand

Her child dismantles the bathroom sink yet again.  Following her teacher's instruction she chooses to view this positively as in, "How very industrious and creative of him!"

It's all about how you look at things. "You don't mean lazy," the parenting teacher said. "You mean laid back," and so on.

Yes, if you live in small quarters and cannot move, it is beneficial to view your home as cozy rather than crowded.  It's called having an ayin tova, viewing things positively.  Likewise, reframing one's life circumstances so one isn't bitter is a positive application of the concept.  I've read people's life stories which were quite tragic and yet some of the people involved were upbeat about life.  "Holy Woman" - Rebbetzin Sarah Kramer is a good example of someone who lived through a nightmare and yet faced life with joy and counted her blessings.

But something seems quite amiss when, in educating children, we opt to view all their foibles, bad traits and actions in a rosy light.  Mishlei describes the lazy man in very unflattering terms.  Shlomo Ha'Melech doesn't "reframe" the lazy man's approach to life as one in which he "looks before he leaps."  He says the man is lazy!

If you don't identify negative traits for what they really are, how will you modify them? If a child is being destructive and you call it creative, who are you kidding? It's true that a parent will look benevolently upon a child if what they do is reframed in positive terms and it is a good thing for parents to look benevolently at their children, but isn't there too much of a good thing? Middos can be used for good and bad and have to be identified and scrutinized. If the child is being bossy, that's not being a leader, it's being bossy! Can the child be guided into becoming a leader? Yes, but calling bossiness - leadership is not true and not helpful.

In our society today we have trouble calling evil, evil; and terrorists, terrorists.  In our Western world that champions moral relativism we say, what's evil to me might not be evil to someone else; my terrorist is someone else's freedom fighter.  This sort of reframing is evil!

Koheles 3:4 "There is a time to cry and a time to laugh; a time to eulogize and a time to dance," etc. Likewise, there is a time to reframe and a time to confront the truth.

May 1, 2011

Wanted: Mothers!

I read of a study in which researchers attached electrodes to the heads of 16 sleeping newborns within the first 24 hours after birth.  They found that when other women (doctors, nurses) spoke, the section of the brain that controls voice recognition fired up.  It took the sound of the mother's voice to trigger neurons in the part of the brain responsible for learning language.

I thought - since so many mothers have relinquished caring for their own children and give them to babysitters and daycare centers from infancy, maybe this study explains the explosion in keria and reading problems I've been reading about.

Then I read a letter to the editor of a frum publication which gives professional backing to my thesis.  A woman wrote in response to a chinuch article and said that the author of the article suggests that a mother help her child overcome "auditory processing deficit" by keeping a running conversation with him as they shop together (naming fruits, vegetables, and groceries) and as they walk along the street (naming stores and what they sell).

The letter writer says:

"Sounds wonderful but most young children today are not being raised by their mothers.  Many mothers are working or are otherwise busy, and many young children are in a play group from a very young age.  When do they have time simply to walk along the streets with their children and name trees, stores, and car colors?

"A renowned special-ed professional once told me that the number of children with these deficits mushroomed when mothers were forced to go to work, whether to support Torah learning, pay tuition, or make mortgage payments, and that if mothers returned to their primary task of raising children, most special-education teachers would eventually be unemployed.

"The 'quality time' theory doesn't take into account the fact that the woman a mother hires to watch her young child for most of his or her waking hours will not spend time engaged in meaningful conversation with the child.  The current situation, in which most of our young children do not benefit from their mothers helping them acquire language-processing skills, is a hidden crisis that might also be a significant factor in the burgeoning kids-at-risk phenomenon.

"Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva, Rebbes: Please unite and help rectify this 'gezeira'!"

I rest my case.