There isn’t such thing as a problem without a solution. How to deal with problems in life.
In this post, I will do a summary of the book “Yiddishe Kop: Creative Problem-Solving in Jewish Learning, Lore and Humor” from Rabbi Nilton Bonder, writing about the most important chapters of the book.
In his book, Bonder shows the mindset of a people that in history has gone through several tribulations, but in all of them managed to win, come out stronger, and thrives. He shows a lot of examples throughout the book to exemplify the Jewish concepts, making it easier for the reader to assimilate his ideas.
This Jewish mindset is called Yiddishe Kop, which has the aim of creating on us the voluntary process of questioning the impossible. Just as curiosity the Jews won 22% of all Nobel prizes even though only 0.2% of the world population are Jewish.
Never giving up
To every single potential impossible problem that you have in your life, you must not give up. Because the impossibility is only a momentary condition, and no other gesture is more instigator of creativity and intuition as “not giving up”. The simple fact of remaining playing the game opens your eyes to multiples paths that would not exist if you threw in the towel.
To exemplify Bonder writes an interesting history about a guy that was wrongfully accused and became desperate because he knew that the king would kill him. So, he asked to talk to a rabbi that tells him “Never believe that there is no solution. Do not give up and an unbelievable path will be shown to you”.
So, on the trial day, the King to pretend that the accused had a chance told him that would write in one paper the word innocent and in the another, the word guilty. Theoretically, the accused now had a 50–50 chance to be free, but he broke out in a cold sweat because he knew that the king was playing with him and that he wrote guilt on both pieces of paper.
But in that time, he remembered the rabbi’s words, started to meditate, after some time his eyes glowed, and to the surprise of everyone in the trial, he ate one of the papers.
So, amazed with the situation the king asked him: “What have you done? How we will know what your charge is” and he told: “It’s easy, look at the remaining piece of paper the opposite of it was what I choose”.
The process used by the accused is also known as recontextualization. When we are facing a problem that seems to have no way out, we must try to see this problem from other perspectives.
The apparent realm of what is apparent
The reality is like an onion, full of layers and to have a full understanding of all the real-world aspects we must undo those layers one by one. By doing that we will have a broader perception of reality.
The apparent realm of what is apparent is what it’s in plain sight. It’s like the most external layer of the onion. It’s the layer easier to perceive with our 5 senses. But we need to be careful, because our 5 senses are at the same time a resource and a limitation, and we must recognize this to not make mistakes. Life demands of us an improvement of our perception of things, always increasing our readings and going beyond the literal world capturing what is beneath the surface.
Social networks are an example of the most external layer of an onion. In social networks, people only share the best moments of their lives and because a lot of people don’t understand the concept of the onion, they can’t see that what it’s in social networks it’s not the complete reality but just a layer. Because they don’t realize it, many compare their whole life with people’s lives on social networks and end up getting depressed because of it.
What is an answer?
One of the characteristics of the Jews stereotype is to answer a question with another question. They do that because a simple answer can lead the questioner to a path of darkness and make him see only the apparent realm of what is apparent. When you make more and more questions, each question deepens your knowledge and makes you improve your understanding.
This topic of the book reminders me of the Five whys technique. In this technique, we want to find the real root cause of a problem by repeating the question “Why” to each answer given. This improves your chance to eliminate once and for all the problem and not stay beating your head against the wall.
Example of 5 whys taken by the business analyst website:
Example 1: Let’s take an example from the manufacturing domain.
Problem statement: The conveyor belt on the main production line has stopped
1. Why has the conveyor belt stopped?
The main pulley responsible for rotating the belt is not functioning
2. Why is the main pulley not rotating?
Because it’s not getting enough power from the motor
3. Why is it not getting enough power from the motor?
Because the motor has stopped working
4. Why has the motor stopped working?
The windings of the motor had burned out
5. Why have the windings burned out?
The motor was loaded beyond its power capacity
6. Why was the motor overloaded?
Although there were specifications about the permitted load frequency every hour, there were no instructions about the maximum load weight.
Root Cause: So, you see, we needed 6 Whys to finally decipher that the weight of the load on the motor was more than its capacity and now we either need to replace the motor with a more powerful one or restrict the maximum load weight permitted on the conveyor belt at a time.
The proud wise
A lot of the wise people fails in two aspects
1- They try to find the most complex answers to questions made to them.
2- Think that they already know everything.
According to Ockham’s razor principle which says that all things being equal the simplest solution tends to be the best one the proud wise always will give the wrong answer because he will give the most complicated one.
When someone thinks that he is already wise and does not need to learn anything, that is the moment that he will start to fail. We need to learn how to be ignorant, always thirsty for knowledge.
The hidden realm of what is apparent
This is an interesting method. In this method every time a situation occurs, we want to ask ourselves “To what this looks like?” so we can divide the text from the context, seeing the situation with others’ eyes. Example:
In cases of loss, it’s usual in Jewish tradition to use the reframing method. When small problems happen like when a glass or a plate broke, the Jews immediately say “mazal tov” — “good luck has occurred”. This reframing is to express the joy that it was just something insignificant that broke. Now you know you’ve been distracted and can make sure that a major accident doesn’t happen.
This technique helps us to avoid a big problem before it happens, changing our mindset whenever a minor problem happens.
Think in the long term
A trapezist when is walking on the tightrope keeps his eyes on the final line, he does not look to the rope or to the ground to maintain his balance. Because if he does that, he lost his balance.
In life it is the same thing, we must look to the long-term objectives to maintain us focused, avoiding giving great importance to those short-term goals that have not been accomplished. It’s like the Bill Gates quote “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.
Keeping the focus on the long-term, help us ignore the small failures along the way improving our chances of accomplishing what really matters.
“When you have a lot to do, go to sleep”
This is a famous Yiddish saying. Sometimes when we have a lot to do, or the tasks are too tough the best movement is to stop what we are doing and sleep. Cleaning our mind, alleviating our anxieties, and making us see the problems with different eyes.
There are some famous examples of inventions that occurred when the inventors were doing nothing like Archimedes that was in the bath when he theorizes the law of hydrostatics and Newton that was sitting under an apple tree when he theorizes about the law of gravity. Some research confirms that idle moments are beneficial.
“It’s really important. There is research showing that mind wandering, away from the current task and then returning to the task, those people have more creative ideas when they come back.” Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD
The fear of making a mistake
Mistakes are a fundamental part of the knowledge process. Those who suffer from a lack of mistakes cannot benefit from the knowledge and insight that come from them.
We learned from the book Yiddishe Kop: Creative Problem-Solving in Jewish Learning, Lore and Humor that to all problems there is a solution, we just need to undo the layers and meditate. That we must always be humble to learn and never accept the first answer is given to a question and that we must focus on the long-term not being afraid of making mistakes.
This book opened my eyes and showed to me some ways to solve a problem that will help me a lot in all aspects of my life. I recommend this book to everyone, there are some parts of the book that reminds me of hermeticism and are not so good. But you can take a lot of lessons from Yiddishe Kop: Creative Problem-Solving in Jewish Learning, so you should read it.