Sunday, September 14, 2014

#BlogElul: The Jewish Cellist

As regular readers of this blog know, my sister runs her own company, The Art of Perception, providing training to law enforcement and medical personnel, as well as other professionals in various fields to enhance their observation, perception, and communications skills.  She uses various works of art as the "data set," encouraging participants to describe -- objectively, concisely, and clearly -- exactly what it is they see.  

The following anecdote from one of her training session illustrates just how important it is to listen carefully, how dangerous it can be to make assumptions and judgments, and how necessary it is to step back and ask if we are justified in relying on those assumptions -- or if they cause us to misjudge or prejudge. 
Upon showing Thomas Eakins' The Cello Player to a roomful of law enforcement agents, the following exchange ensued:
Amy:  "What do you see?"
Participant:  "The man in that picture is Jewish." 
Amy:  "Well, that is a conclusion. What observations did you make to get to that conclusion?" 
Participant:  "That's easy; all musicians are Jewish." 
Amy:  "Well, now you have drawn two conclusions--that the man is a musician and that all musicians are Jewish. Walk me through your thought process." 
The participant proceeded to narrate her thoughts: "During WWII, the Nazis put Jews in concentration camps. In some of the camps, they formed chamber music groups so that when the Red Cross came through, they could see that everything was ok." 
Amy cut her off and said that in the painting, there was a man sitting in a chair playing a cello. Where did she see the Nazis, chamber music groups, or the Red Cross? 
The participant looked at my sister, irritated, and snapped back, "Well, you asked me what I thought of when I looked at the painting." 
To which Amy replied, "With all due respect, I did not.  I asked, 'What do you see, not what do you think.'"
We all have Jewish cellists in our lives. 

How did they get there?

What can we do to get rid of them?

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.