Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Guilt, Shame, Elul and Research

Today's NY Times Science section carried an article about the development and usefulness of guilt in children.

The title of the article is 'Guilt and Atonement on the Path to Adulthood'. When I saw the term "atonement" I thought- and how could I as a Jewish educator at this time of the year NOT think - about the upcoming Tishrei holiday season, and about the month of Elul, and I'm really beginning to think that the writers and editors of the NY Times may be studying Torah with us!!

What prompted me to write this note is the following quotation in the article:
'“The key element is the difference between shame and guilt,” Dr. Tangney says. ...
She recommends focusing not just on the bad deed, but more important, on how to make amends. “Both children and adults can be surprisingly clueless about whether and how to make things right,” Dr. Tangney said. '

Enter the Rambam, who gives us clear directions for teshuvah, for getting from wrong to right, from guilt to atonement:
  1. Recognize the wrong
  2. Apologize for the wrong
  3. Make amends to the one you wronged
  4. Promise not to repeat the wrong
  5. When in a similar situation in the future, behave correctly, don't repeat the wrong.
In addition to the actual steps, the fact that the process is called in Hebrew teshuvah, or 'return', is a concrete way of separating the action from the individual. I may have done wrong, but I am capable of turning toward doing right next time.

This concept aligns so well with the instruction in the article for parents - not only to verbally separate the child from the misbehavior, but to do so with a concrete action that empowers the child to act to right the wrong.

Isn't it wonderful when research reaches conclusions that Jewish wisdom has come to so many years ago!!

Big Idea: Teshuvah is a process

Essential Questions:
  1. What does the word teshuvah actually mean?
  2. What part of the process is internal?
  3. What part of the process involves actions?
  4. What makes the process complete?
  5. Why are there 5 steps listed above, when Maimonides lists only 4?
Activities to Promote Learning:
  • Read about Maimonides' steps of teshuvah here.
  • David Blumenthal writes about teshuvah here
  • Write your own story of teshuvah, either fiction or non-fiction
  • Create a visual display that symbolizes teshuvah. Be prepared to explain the elements of the display
  • Write and perform a song or poem about teshuvah for the rest of the class.
  • Collect true stories of teshuvah from the world around you.
  • Private: choose an area in which you would like to do teshuvah and do it. You don't need to share this with anyone else if you don't want to.
  • Compare and contrast 'teshuvah' with 'reflection'

Hoping Elul is a time for all of us to participate actively in the process of teshuvah.
And to encourage our students to do so in a meaningful and personal way.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad to discover your blog. In particular, I really like this post. And I love your focus on essential questions.

    Looking forward to more.