Posts Tagged 'Noah'

The Nature of Human Nature : Noah and Positive Psychology

As I have written about in the past at the start of the summer I had the pleasure of going to the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) conference in Fort Worth Texas. IPEN aims to bring together teachers, students, parents, higher education, charities, companies and governments to promote Positive Education. The objective of Positive Education is not only to improve students’ well-being but also their academic performance. Positive Education is the programmatic/educational cousin of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that complements the traditional focus on pathology with the study of human strengths and virtues and the factors that contribute to a full and meaningful life. There at the conference I got to hear Dr. Martin Seligman , the father of Positive Psychology, explain the history of how the shift from focusing on pathology to building on strengths and how that opened up a whole scientific study of human flourishing.

At the conference I learned about a ton of compelling research proving the success of this work and many interesting strategies that people are employing to support their students’ flourishing. Hearing Seligman, I was moved thinking about how much of the shift from a pathology to strength based approach is actually determined by your fundamental understanding of the human condition. Our primary myth of who we are as people might itself set limits to our imagination and capacity to flourish and be successful. Since that time I have been giving a lot of thought to the stories we decide to tell that might help us flourish.

I was thinking about this shift this week when reading Noach, this week’s Torah portion. There after God flood Noah makes a sacrefice to God and in response God describes humanity. There we read:

The Lord smelled the pleasing odor, and the Lord said to God’s self: “Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21).

While the result of not destroying the world is a good thing, what do we make of God’s assessment of human nature? The idea that we are evil from our youth implies a certain pathology of the human condition. When we are operating from this place of pathology our future is engraved and fixed in stone. How else might we understand our Torah portion?

On a related note in regard to the creation of human beings God remarks that we have become divine in nature. There we read, “Behold, man has become one of Us” (Gen. 3:22). When exploring this idea the Midrash says:

Scripture states elsewhere in allusion to this verse: Behold, this only have I found, that God made humanity upright (Eccles. 7:29); that is, the Holy One, blessed be God, who is called righteous and upright, created humanity in God’s own image so that humans might be upright and righteous like God. However, if you should ask: Why did God create the evil inclination, concerning which it is written: The inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21)?, you say thereby: Since humanity is evil, who can make humanity good? The Holy One, blessed be God, contends: You make him evil! Why is it that a child of five, six, seven, eight, or nine years of age does not sin, but only after he reaches the age of ten and upward does the evil inclination begin to develop in him? (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 7:1)

This Midrash boldly seems to invert the idea from Noach as to the nature of humanities evil nature. According to this Midrash Human beings are actually born good and it is only later in life that they succumb to the evil inclination and sin. At the same time as a person grows in their practice they can build on our strengths and in so doing become truly free from sin. While fear of sin might be a good deterrent from destruction, we need a foundation of goodness upon which to build thriving lives.  Despite what others say about us or even what we say about ourselves we need to curate a positive understanding of the nature of human nature to help humanity thrive and manifest our divinity.

– Another blog post on Positive Psychology.

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Looking for Noah: Prophesy for Our Times

When I stop to reflect on this last week and Noah, this weeks Torah portion, there are actually almost too many connection points. When we read :

And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with hamas- violence. And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)

It is hard reading this without thinking of the situation in Israel right now with all of the stabbings and violence. As with the generation of Noah you have to ask what would make people act this way? There is no doubt that the status quo in Israel needs to change, but this will not make it change for the better. I am afraid it will take generations to heal from this pain and corruption.

And then you get to the flood itself and it is impossible not think about issue we have with climate change. It seems hard to argue with the fact that our treatment of the world has led to a situation in which we are putting our children at risk if not ourselves.

And then we get to the dispersion of the descendants of Noah after the destruction of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

And the Lord said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. ( Genesis 11:6-9)

It is impossible for me to read this without thinking about the current global refugee crisis. Europe is terrified that it will become confounded by the sudden influx of displaced Muslim and Arabs fleeing regimes that look to build up their control and their name.

With so many parallels between the Torah portion of Noah and the headlines it is easy to read it as some sort of cautionary prophesy. I am just looking for our generation’s Noah. He or she need not be perfect, but we desperately need leadership that will save our world for the next generation.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Mickey, Noah, and Gun Control

This past week I had the pleasure to take a group of camp professionals and educators to a backstage tour of Disney. We got to see how they “over-manage” the people, place, and policies of Disney to ensure spectacular costumer service and remarkable mission alignment. It was great, but a little scary that Mickey Mouse is everywhere. At night our group met under Mickey’s hat from Fantasia to go see the “town”. In the context of trying to learn about the magic of Disney it is not surprising to this iconic image of Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice all over the place.   images

So what is the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The scene starts with Sorcerer Yen Sid working on his magic and his apprentice Mickey doing the chores. After soindexme magic, Yen Sid puts his hat down and retires to his room. When he is out of sight, Mickey puts the hat on and tries the magic on a broom. He commands the broom to carry buckets of water to fill a vat. Mickey is satisfied, he sits on the chair and falls asleep. He dreams he is a powerful sorcerer high on top of the world commanding the stars, planets, and water. Mickey wakes up to find the room is filled with water, the vat is overflowing, and the broom is not stopping. Mickey tries to stop the broom but with no success. He grabs an ax and chops the broom into many pieces. Just when it seems that it is all over, the pieces grow into more brooms with buckets of water. The brooms keep going to the vat and fill it up. Mickey tries to get the water out but they were too many brooms. Mickey goes to a book and looks for a spell to stop the brooms. Mickey finds himself in a whirlpool. Just then, Yen Sid comes in and sees this and with a wave of his hands, the water descends and the army of brooms decreases to one broom. Yen Sid glares at Mickey who gives him back his hat back and the broom. He picks up the buckets and starts back slowly to finish his chores. At the end, Yen Sid whacks Mickey from behind with the broom and Mickey runs out.

As I was traveling around Disneyland I could not help thinking about Noah, this week’s Torah Portion. There we read about God cleansing the world from evil. There we read:

And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. ( Genesis 6:11-13)

On one level there is the interesting role that Noah plays as God’s loyal apprentice. But in this case, as compared to Mickey, Noah does his job well and actually saves humanity from God’s heavy duty water cleaning service. A more interesting connection is to the presence of Hamas– violence in the world. Why would otherwise good people act so poorly?

This is connect to a scene in Sorcerer’s Apprentice that you might have missed. As a mentioned above, Micbreakkey lost control of the broom and could not stop it. At a critical moment he takes out an ax thinking it will stop the broom. Instead of stopping the broom it increased his problem exponentially creating many more brooms flooding the room. This seems to connect to our cycle of violence and incarceration and the lack of gun control in this country. When someone does an offense we send them to prison which has not proven to rehabilitate them. Violence is met with violence increasing violence exponentially. All in the name of maintaining control. Why didn’t Mickey just remove the bucket from the broom?  Wayne Lapierre head of the NRA is oft quoted saying, The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” The answer to destruction cannot be violence which will make even more destruction in the world. Why is it normal for us to expect that Mickey would just take an ax to the broom? This points at the banality of evil both ancient and contemporary.

 

For Nothing

Our lives gains purpose when we find a cause bigger ourselves and we commit our lives to that cause. What a tragedy to discover that your life work was for nothing? Just think about the people who toiled in building the Tower of Babel  about which we read in Noah, this week’s Torah portion. They might have been just a swarm of people, but this project gave them purpose. There they were in valley of Babylonia spending night and day making bricks to construct into a Tower. And then their plan was confounded.

Similarly we will read in the story of Exodus that Pharaoh increased the burden upon the Israelite slaves by maintaining their quota of brick production while cutting their supply of straw. Frustrated by their increased work load they came to complain to Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “HaShem look upon you, and judge; because you have made our very scent to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants” (Exodus 5:21). Prior to this decree they were slaves, but they could at least take pride in the fruit of their labor. After the decree their perception of themselves became a reality.  It seems that the last straw was not the limited supply of straw, but the degradation of working all the time and not being productive.  They felt worthless and smelly.

Hevel Hevalim– Vanity of vanities  it just feels that our lives have no meaning when we have nothing to show for our work.  This is something that I am not sure I would not be abel to bear. According to Victor Frankl our primal drive as human beings is meaning. Can you imagine the devastation of spending your life working on a tower only to have it be destroyed? How do we know when we are living lishma for our values and when we are just making castles in the sand?

 


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