Story Magic V – Mastering The Art of Insights
One of my favorite information emails – yes, I, too, am inundated, but one I find worthwhile for serious readers, is thinkr.org
I decided to spend a few hours preparing for Chanukah with Gary Klein, author of, “Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.” I am copying and pasting from the thinkr.org review in my attempt to apply to Chanukah and Jacob:
All agree that the Chanukah candles represent insights, With whom better to prepare to master insights than Dr. Klein, at least his book. I sat down all excited until I realized he begins with what could be taken as a criticism of Jacob at the beginning of one portion, when he begins his preparations from a long delayed confrontation with Eisav, perhaps the following portion in which he takes a pause, and certainly during his extended period of mourning for Josef.
For that matter, Klein may also be commenting on the Chanukah battles leading to the momentous but temporary victory:
- People and organizations tend to play not to lose instead of playing to win.
The simplest formula for improving performance is minimizing error and maximizing insights. Yet, many are too focused on minimizing error to seek ways to maximize insights.
“The father of the positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman, described how to beat
depression, but realized that there’s so much more to life than being “not depressed.”
Ironically, positive psychology was still on the defensive, and had failed to give people anything to aim for other than emotional damage control.
Seligman’s most recent book, Flourish, was an attempt to balance the equation.”
“The majority of people and organizations live defensively, playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
But what do we lose when we try not to lose?
If performance is about reducing errors and increasing insight, then we are missing half the equation.
Fewer mistakes can only bring us to zero, but who lays their head down on the pillow and thinks, “What a great day! I didn’t mess up that much”?
‘The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.”
Jacob was greatly frightened; in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps,
thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape (32:7-9 – sefaria.org).”
It seems as if Jacob’s entire approach to the situation is defensive.
Is there any indication he was seeking a way to maximize insights on which to build future success?
Rashi (37:2) points out a similar issue at the beginning of Vayeishev:
“Jacob wished to live at ease, but this trouble in connection with Joseph suddenly came upon him. When the righteous wish to live at ease, the Holy one, blessed be He), says to them: “Are not the righteous satisfied with what is stored up for them in the world to come that they wish to live at ease in this world too! (Genesis Rabbah 84:3)
Yet, Jacob becomes Israel, the Mightiest of Insight Gatherers: The Visionary.
Were the Chashmonaim actively seeking insights for the future of the Jewish people? Was their battle purely defensive; to protect the integrity of Judaism.
Yet, Chanukah continues to nurture our faith and our future.
It is a celebration of the insights of the Oral Law as symbolized by the Menorah.
How and where did the Chashmonaim focus on Insight Gathering?
2. Insights can take different forms, but we all know it when we’ve landed on one.
What’s the anatomy of an insight?
It usually begins with a moment of being pulled up short, a surge of ecstasy as a unique combination of ideas that rapidly coalesce, and a growing feeling of confidence.
Other people might be privy to the same information, but, as far as you know, only you have put the pieces together in this particular combination. When all these things come together, you’ve probably stumbled upon an insight.
There are a number of potential pathways to insights. The main categories are creative desperation, connection, contradiction, coincidences, and curiosities.
After preparing all his defenses for the morrow, Jacob seems to stumble upon an opportunity for the future:
‘Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.
Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.”
Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”
Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there.
So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (35:25-31)’
After stepping back from a confrontation with his sons over the way they dealt with Shechem, certain things began to coalesce:
‘God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and remain there; and build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” (35:1)’
‘God appeared again to Jacob on his arrival from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.
God said to him, “You whose name is Jacob, You shall be called Jacob no more, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He named him Israel.
And God said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Be fertile and increase; A nation, yea an assembly of nations, Shall descend from you. Kings shall issue from your loins.
The land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac I assign to you; And to your offspring to come Will I assign the land.” (Verses 9-12)’
We may study the story as one of defense, yet, the Sages who established the Festival composed the following prayer to describe the story:
‘You, in Your abundant mercy, stood by them in their time of distress, You defended their cause, You judged their grievances, You avenged them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, many into the hands of the few, defiled people into the hands of the undefiled, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and insolent [sinners] into the hands of diligent students of Your Torah.
And You made Yourself a great and sanctified name in Your world.
And for Your people, Israel, You performed a great deliverance and redemption unto this very day.
The prayer concludes with the idea that Matityahu and his sons gained insight into empowering the future:
Afterwards, Your sons entered the Holy of Holies of Your Abode, cleaned Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary, and designated these eight days of Chanukah to thank and praise Your great Name.
It seems that God stepped in to generate insights for the future on multiple occasions for Jacob and certainly for the Chanukah fighters.
At this meeting point of Divine Intervention and human effort in our study of Jacob’s life and the of the Chanukah story, Gary Klein addresses perhaps the most insidious Yetzer Harah:
3. We all benefit from insights, but the complacent find them upsetting.
What interferes with insights, or even keeps us from seeing the obvious?
Among the chief insight blockers are flawed beliefs, inadequate experience, passivity, and concrete reasoning. (Italics mine)
At one level, flawed beliefs are inevitable, but they are especially persistent when they form the foundation for theories or best practices. Thomas Kuhn wrote about how scientists who are used to doing “normal science” in a particular paradigm are the most resistant to anomalies or new information that could challenge the status quo.
Passivity also obstructs insights. The author gained insight into how disposition makes people receptive or unreceptive to insights by reviewing scores of case studies of light bulb moments.
People who approached situations with a sense of openness and curiosity were more likely to develop insights.
Those more concerned with “getting the job done” almost always failed to see what was sometimes right in front of them.
An active attitude creates the persistence needed to see insights through.
A concrete reasoning style is another detriment to insight creation. Unfortunately, it’s also Western culture’s bread and butter. It gets grafted into our personality from a very young age. It makes people very good at tasks, but bad at seeing anything other than the task. Insights, by nature, point to ideas beyond the pale.
Strategies To Overcome Passivity
Cohanim as fighters!
Cohanim as kings!
This was certainly not “normal science.”
They were certainly not passive.
Thinking out of the box.
Instituting “Light Bulb Moments” with the Mitzvah of the Menorah.
No wonder Chanukah is an Oral Law Festival; not only instituted by Oral Law but literally a celebration of active and open human human involvement in applying the Written Law to new situations.
I believe this is why the Sages also instituted the Chanukah Hallel;
as the Ultimate Insight Celebration