Thursday, January 17, 2013

Less Brimstone, More Support

David Brooks cited a letter written by Nick Crews, a British father who could no longer stand to watch the undisciplined lifestyles of his children. He sent them a stinging e-mail, now referred to as "The Crews Missile." 

Captain Crews, while he does have a point, is not completely in the right; being in the navy means dad isn't around to be a father. Then he shipped his kids off to boarding school. My take: What did you expect, Daddo?

Brooks' disagrees with Crews' angle for another reason: haranguing does not encourage change. 
People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape. 
Crews had signed off his letter that his children should only contact him once they have worked out all their issues. That's not remotely helpful, Brooks says. 
It’s foolish to imperiously withdraw and say, come back to me when you have a plan. It’s better to pick one area of life at a time (most people don’t have the willpower to change their whole lives all at once) and help a person lay down a pre-emptive set of concrete rules and rewards. Pick out a small goal and lay out measurable steps toward it. 
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman once said the age of fire and brimstone ended with Yirmiyahu HaNavi. That's right, Churban Bayis Rishon. That was approximately 2,500 years ago.
Children learn from observation, Captain Crews. If a father is never there, what will they learn? Self-survival. Which can manifest as selfishness. 
Human behavior flows from hidden springs and calls for constant and crafty prodding more than blunt hectoring. The way to get someone out of a negative cascade is not with a ferocious e-mail trying to attack their bad behavior. It’s to go on offense and try to maximize some alternative good behavior. There’s a trove of research suggesting that it’s best to tackle negative behaviors obliquely, by redirecting attention toward different, positive ones. 
As an example, if one has an issue with overeating, I would not recommend starvation as a method; rather, replace bad foods with good ones, and eat as much as one likes. Eat apple after orange after banana, instead of chips then cookies chased down with soda. Now that behavior has been replaced by something healthier. Eventually the next step will be to cut back on portion size.

When it comes to bad habits, real change can be achieved only with support. That's the point of A.A.; even when strangers have got your back can one succeed. Crews didn't raise his children, then he is furious at their behavior and decides to cut off contact, leaving them more lost than ever.  

To quote Rabbi Reisman again, he asks why "friend," rayah, has the same root as rah, meaning "bad." Because a friend, a real friend, knows your shortcomings and still accepts you as is. That is why a new couple is called rayim ahuvim—they accept each other as they are, warts and all (initially, that is . . .)

Back to his observation on the end of fire and brimstone, change is from positive encouragement, which is especially needed in today's insecure society. We doubt ourselves constantly, as well as our ability to triumph over our lesser natures.  

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks explains why Yehudah is the ancestor of our melucha, as opposed to Yosef, the tzadik.
Tamar is the heroine of the story, but it has one significant consequence. Judah admits he was wrong. “She was more righteous than I,” he says. This is the first time in the Torah someone acknowledges their own guilt. It is also the turning point in Judah’s life. Here is born that ability to recognize one’s own wrongdoing, to feel remorse, and to change – the complex phenomenon known as teshuvah – that later leads to the great scene in Vayigash, where Judah is capable of turning his earlier behaviour on its head and doing the opposite of what he had once done before. Judah is ish teshuvah, penitential man. 
In the same shiur about rayim, Rabbi Reisman says that Yehuda sent a goat to the woman with whom he had an "encounter" via a friend, rayayhu. Despite the fact that that incident was not Yehuda's best moment, he was honest with his friend as to the goat's purpose. He could have made up a story, claimed it was a belayed payment for rent, or something like that. But the only way this friend was truly rayayhu means that the friend knew all. 

It was then that Yehuda took the first step toward teshuva, when he has his friend by his side, not his brothers. 

Captain Crews thought he was being his children's pal, when he should have been a parent. He was no friend, in any sense of the word, then, nor is he one now. 


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

As the old saying goes, the old children the British can't raise properly are their own.

Princess Lea said...

That's a saying? Cute!