Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Elul 5764 - August 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Creative Thinking
by R. Chadshai

Dramatic License

At first, everything went smoothly, as planned. The many rehearsals justified themselves and the players remembered their parts well. The audience sat spellbound and seemed very pleased with the performance. The producer, who stood in the wings, was also very satisfied with what she saw, until, suddenly, there was a mishap.

Shoshi, one of the actresses, passed by the bench which was part of the props, stumbled over it and fell. The producer sucked in her breath and bit her lips. How unpleasant! But before her friends had a chance to react from the initial shock and help her, Shoshi rose to her feet and displayed tremendous resourcefulness. She shook herself off and ad- libbed two or three lines with a healthy humor that incorporated the incident into the script, as if it had been planned, without the audience even being aware that something unusual had occurred.

If I Had a Hammer...

Had anyone been standing that day behind the door of the Levi family, they would have unanimously declared that Danny had declared war. And if they had had to award some mother with a prize for her patience and cool, it would have undoubtedly gone to Mrs. Levi, who had to call upon hidden reserves of emotional stamina not to lose her wits.

Danny screamed, kicked, wept and raised a ruckus for over two hours. He wanted to go to a friend whom his parents did not allow to visit. But Mrs. Levi did not lose her cool and explained to him, over and over, in a very calm manner and a firm tone, that she was determined not to let him play with that particular boy.

Danny retained his high decibel trantrum until finally, waving clenched fists, he threatened, "I'm going to break the house down!"

Mrs. Levi, nonplussed, went over to the tool cabinet, took out a hammer, and handed it to him, saying, "Help yourself. Here's a hammer."

Danny looked at it in amazement, looked up at his mother, and after the initial shock, suddenly burst into smiles...

What's the Wonder?

After Leah retired, she was replaced by Ruth, a young, energetic woman. "She's still bursting with youthful energy," thought Gila, the senior co-worker. "Wait till she sees how difficult and complex the work is. She'll see how indifferent the other workers are, how irresponsible and how they prefer to complain rather than do the work. That should take some of the wind out of her sails. She'll surely lose her enthusiasm and settle down to mediocre work. She'll see it's simply not worth the effort."

To Gila's surprise, it was not like that at all. Ruth proved herself capable and willing, undaunted by anything. In fact, her energy was contagious, and soon the others were working harder, with greater zest, and productivity rose considerably. The business was doing much better than ever before!

A year later, Leah popped in for a visit at her old place of work, curious to see how things were going. She was amazed at the change she saw and tried to put her finger on it. What was the magic formula? Had many of the lazy workers been replaced by new staff?

It was nothing of the sort. Nothing had changed as far as the work setup. But Ruth had effected the change all by herself, by her positive example. She had taken things in hand, reorganized the weak spots and taken initiative in certain areas without really changing anything basic. With the selfsame ingredients, she had `baked' an excellent cake.

So Simple, Yet So Brilliant

In order to effect a positive change, a solution to problems, an upgrading of performance and a higher degree of efficiency, one does not always have to invest in massive or grandiose changes. One need not call in professional experts or expensive consultants. Many innovations are simply an improvement on the existing situation, rather than an upheaval or total overhaul. A new application to something that is already in effect, a more creative way of doing the same thing while achieving better results. But when these original ideas are implemented successfully, they seem to be so obvious and elementary that one wonders why no one thought of them before.

Let us imagine a closed door before which is standing a group of people, at a loss. Each person in turn attempts to unlock it with the keys in his key ring but none of them seem to fit. Suddenly, along comes a little boy, walks up to the door and turns the knob. And lo! It swings open. It hadn't even been locked!

Ingenuity or resourcefulness is not necessarily brilliance, something that only one in a thousand can come up with. But it can be dazzling in its simplicity, in its innovativeness, in the way it bursts through conventional or square-headed thinking. It can even be a bright idea at a very juvenile level, but because it does not run the usual channel, it is uniquely fitting to the particular problem or occasion.

People are often locked in their own problems and affairs and refuse, or are unable, to see beyond their narrow confines. They do not expand their horizons and look for other directions. It seems more convenient for them to remain stuck in their present rut rather than invest a little creative thinking, broadening of their sights, small quantum leaps of innovativeness and creative problem solving by looking at things from a different angle. People are locked in their standard lives, pegs in their square holes, stuck with the conventions and norms of society, by the complacency and security of their given situations. People are afraid to make changes, afraid of "what will people say."

Many common riddles and jokes take advantage of this squareness of thinking: people tend to solve questions/problems through conventional ways without freeing their intellects. They get stuck, locked within the normal solutions when often enough, the answer to their problems can be so elementary and simple, just a bit different from the accepted way of thinking.

If people thought more originally, they would be able to save a great deal of money that is being shelled out to professional counselors and experts. In other words: the livelihood of many professionals actually takes advantage of that conventional, uninspired way of thinking of most people which does not allow them access to their imagination, which compresses them within narrow confines when they could broaden their mental horizons by just a little exertion, by leaving the normal parameters and looking at things from a different vantage point, objectively plus creatively, and having the courage to try new tacks.

Necessity and Pressure -- the Mother of Ingenuity

Someone once observed that pressure is the mother of invention, perhaps more than just necessity, because in times of stress and problems, one is challenged to find an immediate solution, to come up with creative ways of coping.

The Jewish people, beset throughout history by trouble and difficulties, downtrodden and persecuted by its enemies, has availed itself of innate resourcefulness and ingenuity as a means of survival. This attribute has enabled them to find solutions that are sometimes quite simple, though unconventional and somewhat daring, in order to get themselves out of their `pickles,' to surmount obstacles, circumvent troubles, overcome harsh decrees.

They tell of an apostate priest who became a sworn anti- Semite and sought to stage a public debate against any representive which the Jewish community would select, to pit Christianity against Judaism. The condition to be accepted upon both participants was that if one side capitulated and admitted that "he didn't know," it would automatically award the debate to the other side, with the penalty being death.

The Jews had no choice but to choose their representative, but they could find no volunteer willing to stand up against the knowledgeable convert-priest. Finally, one simple tailor agreed to represent the Jews in this debate. Having no recourse, the community accepted his offer.

The day of the debate arrived and the priest strode up to the platform erected in a public square, confident that he would show everyone who was superior. He stabbed his simple opponent with a supercilious look and allowed him the first turn in the debate. The tailor was not fazed. He bravely began the contest with the first question for the priest:

"What is the meaning of the words, `V'onochi lo yodati?' "

The priest smirked at this simple question and blurted out confidently, "I don't know."

The tailor motioned to the judges to seize the priest and behead him, as had been prearranged, and that was what happened.

The Jews were stunned at the brilliance of this question and asked him how he had come up with it. The tailor replied, "It's really very simple. When I was a child in cheder, I asked my rebbe what those words meant, and he said to me, `I don't know.' I figured that if he didn't know, and if the teitch-translation also didn't know, it must be so difficult that even the priest wouldn't know." The tailor's ingenuousness, rather than ingenuity, gave birth to the simplistic solution and saved the Jewish community from dire consequences. A true story.

They tell another story about a priest who concocted a blood libel against the Jewish community. The rabbi's protests of innocence fell upon the deaf ears of the local authorities but he generously offered to stage a `trial by lots.' The rabbi instinctively knew that the priest would write `guilty' on both ballots, and so, when he was told to pick one slip, he took it and swallowed it. "Open the other ballot and you will know what I have swallowed, by default," he said. Naturally, it bore the word `guilty,' and the community was saved. [I think there is a version of this story involving R' Yonosson Eibshitz, who, even as a child, was extremely innovative in dealing with evil priests.]

Creativity and ingenuity is also behind Jewish humor, which was also used as survival tactics of the first degree. It was used to soften the hearts of many a poritz, or butter up a king or nobleman by putting the situation in a different and humorous light.

Another example, of many: A rabbi and a Catholic priest were invited to a banquet hosted by the king. The rabbi made sure that he would be served kosher food prepared especially for him, and he ate his meal separately. The priest saw this as a golden opportunity to denigrate him and declared aloud, "When will we be fortunate to eat from the same platter?"

Replied the rabbi, "At your wedding, Father."

Between the Walls of the Home

How can we exercise creative, original thinking within the home setting? Life carries on with a very steady, monotonous routine. But precisely because of this, it is important to introduce a fresh approach from time to time, to take stock and make creative changes for the better. Even the skeptics among us will agree that many ideas are `worth a try.' Especially when there are pressing problems or difficult situations that have not responded to the conventional solutions. And often as not, it can be the children themselves, whose minds do not yet run in the rutted channels and who are sometimes exposed to the different ways in which other families do things -- who will suggest those simple solutions that will prove effective.

Let us offer some other examples from the home turf:

"I have a problem with my oldest child, four-year-old Yossi. His newest mishugass is to get ahead of me, to always be first. When we go anywhere together by bus, he insists on getting off first. When someone knocks at the door, he invariably rushes to open first and when the phone rings, he also has to answer. If he is so assertive and aggressive at this age, what will happen when he grows up?"

Chana's neighbor had a brilliant solution. "It might sound strange to you, but I think you should give it a try. You have nothing to lose. Why not take the initiative and tell him to get off the bus first, tell him to answer the door each time someone knocks and get the phone when it rings."

It worked. This simple idea took all the wind out of Yossi's sails and when he saw that this was expected of him each time, he lost interest completely.

Another mother, a chronic worrier by nature, was afraid to let her daughter go on class trips. She was torn between the desire to let her participate in the event and fear of what might happen. The solution struck her one day: To accompany the class on the trip. And this is what she did.

Another mother had to deal with a daughter who was an inveterate nosher, addicted to sweets. She tried various methods of weaning her but nothing worked. One day she decided to try the opposite tactic of allowing her as much as she wanted; she even encouraged her to stuff herself with more and more. At first, the girl was surprised but enthusiastic. But very soon, she tired of the nosh and for a long time afterwards, couldn't bear to look at junk food.

Then there was the mother-in-law who found her daughter-in- law's house a mess whenever she came to visit -- even after suitable advance notice! "I realize it's not easy to be a mother of five little ones, but in my opinion, the disorder went beyond the limits. I spoke to my son about it, but he didn't seem to think it was terrible. He could live with it, he said. His wife spent quality time with the children and they both felt that was much more important than a tidy home," she unburdened herself to a professional ear.

"I agree with this," she continued, "but nontheless, a home must function in a normal fashion. I don't ask that the house look like a museum, but meanwhile, to my regret, it is more like a sheep pen. I've tried to offer her house help, to pay for a cleaning lady, but she refuses even this. Every visit to their home causes me deep frustration. I am torn between my longings for the children and grandchildren and the distress I have by seeing the state of the house. What shall I do?"

The counselor to whom she poured out her heart had a brilliant if not simple solution. "How about meeting your daughter-in-law and her family at some public park? Let that be your venue." The woman was surprised at the idea, but very enthusiastic. How come she hadn't thought of it herself?

It's Not in Heaven...

Changes, upgrading and efficiency, do not always require drastic measures. One can take the very same factors, study them and give them a fresh twist. Many things don't hurt to try.

People are different from one another and there is great blessing in this variance. Every person has some originality which s/he can contribute to the givens; what is needed sometimes is merely the courage to suggest and implement them without worrying about "what will people say."

The more a person activates his mind, the more creative he can become. A simple experiment can prove this. Give a group of people an opening sentence which they must complete, or a doodle of meaningless lines to complete a picture. Every person will produce a different thing and each one will think that this was the most obvious completion.

So, the next time you're stuck with a problem, you needn't go far in search of a solution. Brainstorm for a variety of possible ways through creative thinking, original solutions. Break away from conventional answers and unstandardize your mind to study the factors from a different vantage point. You will be amazed at the simple but brillinat ideas that can fit the bill.


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