Posts Tagged 'Seligman'

Positive Narrative: The Shift in Tablets and Positive Psychology

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 an 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 Eikev, this week’s Torah portion. There Moshe reviews all of the bad things that the Israelites did in the wilderness. Moshe rebukes them for their failings recalling their worship of the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korach, the sin of the spies, and their angering of God. He admonishes them for being rebellious against God.  But than Moshe shifts the conversation and speaks of God’s forgiveness of their sins, and the Second Tablets following their repentance. There we read:

1 At that time the Lord said unto me: ‘Hew for yourself two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the mount; and make for yourself an ark of wood. 2 And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which you did break, and you shall put them in the ark.’ 3 So I made an ark of acacia-wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in my hand. 4 And God wrote on the tables according to the first writing, the ten words, which the Lord spoke to you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them unto me. (Deuteronomy 10:1–4)

There is a lot to say about the how we could shift from the first Tablets to the second, but now I am intrigued about the implications of this shift in narrative. Moshe starts by telling the story of the Israelites as rebellious sinners who need God’s forgiveness. Here Moshe transitions to rewriting the narrative with these second set of Tablets. As a people we have a lot of pathologies that we are trying to correct by keeping these set of rules. It is clear that system was not that successful. In writing the second set of Tablets Moshe is literally and figuratively rewriting his personal and our national narrative. Moshe has tremendous strength to partner with God to write the rules that will help us flourish. This story of Moshe writing divine rules in partnership with God is a profound story for all of us about the human condition. We all have strength upon which we can build in order to flourish.

As we learn from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi:

Every day a heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horev and makes proclamation . . . And it says, “And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:16). Read not harut (graven) but herut (freedom). For there is no free man but one that occupies himself with the study of the Torah. (Avot 6:2)

When we are operating from a place of pathology our future is engraved and fixed in stone. Everything changes when we can partner in writing the rules. Not only can we own the process, but we can change our understanding of what it means to be a person. When Moshe engraves the second set of Tablets he is modeling what takes to operate from a place of strength. We can all build on our strengths and in so doing become truly free. The learning of Torah is not the act of just following rules and fixing what is wrong with us. The very act of learning Torah is curating a positive narrative of the human condition .

– There is do doubt I will be writing a lot more on Positive Psychology in the weeks to come. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Be in touch.

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