Voices from the field

It's (Still) Time To Think Slowly

By Jan Katzew

The following is a reposted and updated version of Jan Katzew's original post It's Time To Think Slowly.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011) is not a book about education, but it is a compelling instructive work about how we make decisions. The Israeli-American Nobel Prize-winning author posits two co-existent systems of thought within every person: one that is fast, intuitive and emotional, and a second that is slow, deliberative and rational. In the current highly charged atmosphere that seems to suffuse any conversation about Israel, it is all too easy to get sucked into thinking fast, in a word "tweeting," which not only limits the number of characters but also engages emotion at the expense of reason.

Everyone is partial, in both senses of the word. We are all biased and we only see part of the truth. In the intuitive frenzy of fast thinking, it is incumbent on those of us who purport to be teachers to slow down, to be the non-anxious presence in the room, and to engage in deliberative, rational analysis. As always, this is an imperfect process because we are limited human beings. Nevertheless, we should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

We owe it to ourselves and to our students to teach our story, to tell our truth and to create a safe space for others to do the same.

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus

Once again truth has been pushed aside in the service of quick sound bites. The people of Israel are under siege. No one knows the whole truth. No one is objective. Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to teach our story, to tell our truth, and to create a safe space for others to do the same, even, and perhaps especially when, the truths conflict. A war of words is better than a war of swords and their contemporary lethal counterparts. It is precisely when no one has definitive answers that teachers have a responsibility to raise questions. It is precisely when people have a tendency to tell others what to think and do that teachers have a responsibility to tell stories and listen to the stories of others.

In Jewish time, we are in the month of Cheshvan. The rabbis call Cheshvan “Mar Cheshvan,” the bitter month because there are no holidays to celebrate. This year, the feeling of bitterness goes beyond the dearth of holidays. We are in a valley as a people, and Psalm 23 instructs us how to behave when we are in a valley: We are to walk through it, not run around it or dwell in it, not deny it but rather defy it by moving resolutely through it. As teachers, when we face the challenging task of engaging our students, our campers, our children, and our colleagues, we should be guided by the following strategies:

  • Make it personal. Humanizing the casualties is critical. Real people have made the ultimate sacrifice. Tell a few of their life stories. One such story is that of Na’ama and Eitam Henkin, who were gunned down by terrorists as they drove in their car on October 1, 2015, while their four young children watched in horror from the back seat. Media reports have focused on many aspects of this tragic story, but none strikes a chord as much as those that examine the long, painful road that lies ahead for the Henkin children.  

  • Commit to action. There are heroic individuals and institutions that are committed to providing help during trying times.
  • Get news from multiple sources. Read from the Israeli media and not just the North American news. Read stories from varying political angles.
  • Timing is practically everything. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every purpose under Heaven. There is a time for debate. There is a time for dialogue. There is a time for war, and there is a time for peace.

What time is it now? I believe it is time to think slow, refrain from reacting instantaneously to every picture, every article, and every story and instead to examine the arc of our history. We are at an ugly moment, a nadir in Israeli and Jewish time. We have been here before. Despite the refrain “never again,” we revisit this time and place again and again. It remains to be seen how it is possible to be powerful and ethical at the same time. This balance has yet to be mastered by any people, and now the state and people of Israel are once again in its pursuit. Think slow and we may succeed, not only on the streets, but also at home.

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