Posts Tagged 'Growth Mindset'

The Genesis of a Fixed Mindset

One of the first stories told in the Genesis narrative is the killing of Abel. Sadly this is a story we have had to retell and relive in every generation. What is this primordial drive to kill each other?

As the story goes Adam and Eve, who were recently kicked out of Eden, had two boys. Abel became a shepherd and Cain became a farmer. They both were moved to bring offerings to God. Cain brought the fruit of his labor and Abel brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. God accepts Abel’s offering, but rejects Cain’s. There we read:

Cain was much distressed and his face fell. And God said to Cain, “Why are you distressed, And why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right- Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master.”

Genesis 4: 5-7

As we know Cain does not heed God’s warning and lures his brother to the field where he kills him. I am curious to explore God’s warning to Cain and to all of us.

What is this “longing”? Rashi comments saying

The longing of sin; it refers to the evil inclination. This is continually longing and desiring to make you sin.

Rashi on Genesis 4:7

From this you might deduce that Cain and all of us have to follow our evil inclination, are prone to rage, and fated to commit fratricide. But that is not the whole story. Rashi goes on to explain the notion that God instructs Cain that if he wants to he can master it. Quoting the Gemara he says

If you desire to, you can gain the victory over it (Kiddushin 30b).

Rashi on Genesis 4:7

It is true that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s but that is not a critique on the person of Cain. I would like to share a reading aligned with Rashi’s reading. It was as if God was coaching Cain is saying, “In 10 tries you could win 9, but Abel won this one. Get our there and try again. Learn from your failure and your will do better next time.”

This reading of the story of Cain reminds me of  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset. It is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets. Dr. Dweck argues that having a Growth Mindset is the secret to being successful in everything including sports, parenting, business, school, teaching, coaching, and relationships.

A toddler falls many times while learning to walk. That falling is not failing, it is just part of learning how to walk. This is the Growth Mindset at work. But why and when we we learn this Fixed Mindset?

Above in Rashi’s reading of this story God is pleading with Cain to have a Growth Mindset. The evil inclination is having a Fixed Mindset. Sadly Cain was threatened by the success of of brother Abel. He was depressed because he saw his efforts as fruitless. Cain could not see that it was just his sacrifice was not accepted, he himself was rejected. He saw himself as a reject. God was urging him to shift to a Growth Mindset and be inspired by his brother’s success, accept criticism, and build on this the next time he made an offering. Beyond the story of Cain and Abel being the first story of one man killing his brother, it is the tragedy of the genesis of the Fixed Mindset.

-See other articles on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset:

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Benefit Mindset: Yehudah as a Role Model

We live in extraordinary times. Everyone is facing complex challenges they haven’t faced before. From Covid to climate change, mental health to systemic injustice, what’s clear is that no individual or institution can transform these issues on their own. Our ability to respond – and break through to a world that works for all life – requires something more than everyone’s best personal efforts. Bringing about meaningful change requires us to get past the cult of “me” and build a sense of a “we.” We need to align a diversity of contributions and become partners in the wellbeing of all. And our ability to actualize this possibility requires a profound shift in mindset. We need to cultivate a benefit mindset.

Developed by Ash Buchanan in collaboration with a global community of contributors, benefit mindset is grounded in the understanding that fulfilling our potential is about more than how smart, driven or growth oriented we are. More completely, it is about how well we are able to transform how we come to understand our place in the world, compassionately attend to our individual and collective shadows, and become partners in the wellbeing of all people and all living beings. While a growth mindset has many advantages over a fixed mindset ( see Carol Dweck here), what truly makes us thrive is our capacity to realize our potential in a way that nurtures our uniqueness and serves the wellbeing, not only of humans, but the entire community of life.

A benefit mindset builds on a growth mindset, when we understand that our abilities can be developed – and we also understand we can transform towards a more caring, inclusive and interdependent perspective.

While there is more to explore around a Benefit Mindset, I wanted to share it this week as we read Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about Yehudah selflessly stepping forward to save his brother Benjamin. There we read:

Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

Genesis 44:33

At this point he has no idea that he is standing in front of his brother Yosef who he and his brothers had sold into slavery.

A few week’s ago Yehudah stepped forward to save his brother from fratricide. While Yehudah did save his brother from death, his words are haunting. There we read:

Then Yehudah said to his brothers, “What is the benefit by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed.

Genesis 37: 26-27

Yehudah’s argument to save his brother is to make a buck. They stand to benefit by selling him. Yehudah and his brothers had lost their moral compass, integrity, and identity. This stands in sharp contrast to what we see here when he has the chance to save brother. It is clear that he has nothing to benefit himself stepping forward. Here he steps into leadership by exemplifying this Benefit Mindset. It is not hard to imagine Yehudah standing before Yosef with an open heart and a grounded sense of his identity. At this moment he knows exactly who he is, who they are, and why he must stand up for Benjamin. Yehudah steps forward as am authentically engaged global citizen. In many ways this Benefit Mindset is reciprocated by Yosef who also steps forward to relieve his hidden identity and save his family.

Yehudah is far from perfect, but that itself makes him an ideal role model for the Jewish people. We took his name as ours- Yehudim. We strive to be Benefit Mindset people.

-See other articles on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset:

When Falling Becomes Failing: On Mindset and Shemini

I am always in middle of about a half a dozen writing project. One of the persisting projects has been looking at  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset through a Torah lens. While her research has come under attack, I still think it is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets:

It is increasingly unclear whether attempts to change students’ mindsets about their abilities have any positive effect on their learning at all. In a recent blog, Dweck defended her work and noted that growth mindset theory ‘is on a firm foundation, but we’re still building the house’. In fact, Dweck argues that her work has been misunderstood and misapplied in a range of ways. She has also expressed concerns that her theories are being misappropriated in schools by being conflated with the self-esteem movement: ‘The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.’

In her defense, just because parents and educators might adopt her language of mindsets, it does not mean that they are doing the work needed to actually create environments the support Growth Mindsets. Dweck said in an interview in 2015, “We’re finding that many parents endorse a growth mindset, but they still respond to their children’s errors, setbacks or failures as though they’re damaging and harmful… If they show anxiety or over-concern, those kids are going toward a more fixed mindset.” Like many other things, a compelling description lost its efficacy when it was turned into a prescription. And even as a description, I do find her typologies helpful.

As anyone who has been around a child learning to walk knows, we all start off knowing that falling is not failing. We are all born with a Growth Mindset and then we learn to have a Fixed Mindset. I was thinking about this when reading Shemini, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire-pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord strange fire, which God had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. ( Leviticus 10:1-2)

Whether their offering of “strange fire” was idolatrous or just their being creative or playful, their immediate death made it clear that in this situation falling was failing. For all of us success and failure need to be clearly defined if we hope to achieve it.  The new research it saying that it is not clear that we can transform someone from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset. It is also not clear if that effort will itself lead to success. That said, I do think that such a harsh response to falling would not encourage anyone to seek challenge in order to grow.  While a critical reading would claim that God was acting as a horrible parent, a more charitable reading would claim that God is setting out the exception which is demonstrating the rule. Falling is not allowed in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it has to tolerated if not celebrated everywhere else in that we are still learning to walk.

Also read:

 

Shabbat Growth Mindset

Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of Comforting  takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah ( 40:1-26) that speaks of “comforting” the Jewish people for their suffering. There we read, “Comfort you, comfort you My people, said your God.” ( Isaiah 40:1) This haftarah is the first of seven haftarot of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. It occurs on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It is understood to be the start the national healing process. Like no time in recent history we really need this Nechemta- comfort.  But with such suffering now in the world how might we make that shift to comfort?

Recently I have been reading  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset. It is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets. Dr. Dweck argues that having a Growth Mindset is the secret to being successful in everything including sports, parenting, business, school, teaching, coaching, and relationships.

As a nation if we had a Fixed Mindset and we experienced the set back of Tisha B’Av or the current attacks by Hamas in Gaza we would have just given up and been done. We would not have lasted as we have throughout history. But instead, we choose a Growth Mindset. With Shabbat Nachamu we are invited to work and developing our relationships with each other, the world, and God.

I was thinking about this when listening to John Newman ‘s song, “Love Me Again”. In this song he is trying to resolve the nature of a relationship in his life. Will the object of his affection love him again? The song goes:

Now I’m rising from the ground
Rising up to you
Filled with all the strength I found
There’s nothing I can’t do!

I think it is worth listening too.

If we have a Growth Mindset and we are trying to answer John Newman’s question after Tisha B’Av the answer has to be that there’s nothing we can’t do. With Shabbat Nachamu is seems that God is willing to love us again. And if we work on it,  in seven weeks we will be back in God’s good graces. When it comes to how we relate to each other, our neighbors, our friends, and  even our enemies there is much to do.  I hope we will recover a Growth Mindset regarding this crisis in the Middle East. It is time to repair,  prepare, and grow. With the right Mindset there is nothing we can’t do.

 

Another blog post on Mindset

Hating Hate- Balak and the Cycle of a Fixed Mindset

I hate the word “hate”. How do I respond what I hear someone say, “I hate someone”? It is such a strong word to use so freely. But if we pause, as I think we need to, we might realize that we do not actually mean it. What would it mean genuinely to hate someone? What would someone need to do for us to hate them? While I know that camp is a bubble filled with love, it is hard to ignore all of the hate that is in the world right now.

I was thinking about this while reading Balak, this week’s Torah portion. While much of the portion deals with the prophet Balaam, his errand to curse the Jews, and his talking donkey, we often just gloss over the role of Balak who sent him on this errand. Why does Balak hate the Israelites? There we read:

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moav became very frightened of the people, because they were many; and Moav was disgusted because of the children of Israel. And Moav said to the elders of Midian: ‘Now will this multitude lick up all that is round about us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.’–And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moav at that time. ( Numbers 22:2-4)

It all started when Balak saw the Israelites’ success over the Amorites. From there it seems that he quickly moves from fright, to disgust, to teaming up against the Israelites, to dehumanizing the Israelites calling them oxen, to enacting a plan to bring them down.  I am sure we can all relate to this cycle. How often do we respond well to the success of our friends and friends let alone the success of strangers or even enemies? We are often stuck in a fixed mindset. For some reason it is hard for us to use these experiences to inspire  ourselves to work harder. Hating them seems easier than dealing with our own deficiencies. But in the end as we curse other people’s success we ourselves miss out on the blessing of growth.

Jewish ethics are founded on the ideal that everyone is created in the Divine image. There is a part of every person that is a mystery of what potential goodness and Godliness may be  hidden within them.  To hate someone is to deny the unique nature of their creation. In trying to curse them some part of ourselves is diminished in not maintaining the search for the hidden goodness within them. It is our job to explore this mystery in everyone, maybe even more so for the people we hate or claim to hate us.

– I encourage you to read Mindset by Carol Dweck


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