Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 40 – Effective Communication

Effective communication is the primary skill of an educator. It is the critical ingredient which determines whether a particular encounter will have a positive or negative impact on the student. He who aspires to become a more effective teacher must learn to observe himself as he speaks, monitoring his communication both for style and content in order to aim for the hearts of his students. Since different individuals respond differently to the same idea or tone of voice, an educator must customize his approach to the needs of each person. Effective communication is a science, requiring both meticulous attention to the nonverbal signals of the listener as well as the versatility to adjust one's delivery accordingly.

In a teacher-student relationship, poor communication always signals a lack of concern on the part of the educator. To the extent that the teacher is preoccupied with his role of putting out information, of dazzling his students with his superior knowledge, of hearing himself talk, to that extent his teaching becomes an egotistical indulgence rather than an act of giving

Only if his purpose in teaching is to awaken the heart of his students to truth, does his communication become an expression of love and concern. When the educator's intention is to give, he will find exactly where his students are holding, what they need, and speak directly to that place. This is the quality which distinguishes a true and successful teacher

On a much more subtle level, this was the error which initiated the sequence of events that culminated in Adam and Eve's eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God gave the commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge to Adam in his initial state of androgynous unification of male and female, that is, before Eve was brought into being. Therefore, when she emerged as an independent entity, Adam had to explicitly relay the message to her, in order that it should become part of her conscious awareness. We learn, from Eve's conversation with the serpent, that Adam added to the original commandment, informing her that God had forbidden them from eating and touching the tree, both under penalty of certain death. He made no distinction between God's commandment (the prohibition of eating) and his own modification (the prohibition of touching). He was so enamored by his own innovation that he became careless in his communication. This minute trace of egotism carried profound consequences. The serpent seized upon this subtle misrepresentation of the truth, pushed Eve into the tree, and convinced her that just as she did not die from touching it, so she would not die from eating its fruit. The rest is history.

The story of Adam and Eve teaches a basic principle of communication. A teacher must be motivated solely by concern for his students, desiring to give them exactly what they need in order that they may grow both personally and spiritually. Any ulterior motive on the part of the educator will certainly reduce the effectiveness of his teaching, and may even cause damage.

Whereas Adam's mistake was very subtle, ours, unfortunately, are more blatant. For example, if we talk "at" another person, meaning that we are primarily concerned with hearing ourselves speak, and if we weave Torah in and out of our egotistical monologues, then when the listener turns off to us, he or she turns off to Torah as well. Similarly, if the educator relays only his own words, then the student may reject only him. However, if he speaks words of Torah and wields them like a club, then the student may reject Torah as well.

(This mirrors the flaw in Adam's communication to Eve. Because of a slight trace of ego, Adam failed to differentiate between what were God's words and what were his. This miscommunication became the breach through which the evil inclination, embodied in the serpent, entered.)

The sages tell us that when an educator speaks honestly and sincerely, for the sake of giving, his words penetrate into the heart of his listener. Hassidic teachings develop this idea further, noting that although words of simple truth will enter and create a heartfelt response in the listeners, still such words will not become engraved in the listeners' memory or have enduring impact, unless they are also deliberate and articulate. That is, unless they are perfectly sculpted to the need of that moment, to the listeners' level, their questions, their sense of aesthetic, and their preference for either the rational, mystical or emotional side of Torah. If the educator fulfills these criteria of sincerity and deliberation, then his words will stay with his student, even after they have parted ways. Otherwise his words will soon be forgotten.

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