Learning About Leanings; or The Fundamental of Bias
By Rabbi Ephraim D. Becker
Issue No. 1
November 27, 1997
A well-known story is told wherein Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, (of blessed
memory, known affectionately by the Torah world as the "Alter [Lit. elder]"
of Slabodka) was diagnosed as having a condition requiring medical
treatment at one of the larger medical centers in the area. After listening
carefully to the pros and cons of each medical facility, the Alter elected
to go to St. Petersburg for treatment. A student escorted the Alter
throughout the extended period of his recovery. Upon his return to Slabodka
the Alter was approached by a community member who inquired regarding the
Alter's absence. The Alter indicated that he had been in St. Petersburg.
When asked what occasioned his visit there, the Alter responded that he had
gone there to see the push-button umbrella. The astonished student, who had
accompanied the Alter throughout the difficult medical ordeal, asked the
Alter for an explanation.
The Alter explained that he had, indeed, chosen St. Petersburg after
carefully weighing the pros and cons of each facility. However, a short
while earlier, the Alter had been traveling on behalf of his yeshiva and
had passed through the train depot at St. Petersburg and was intrigued by
the sight of the new invention, the push-button umbrella, being opened by a
resident of that cosmopolitan city. The Alter, ever vigilant for traces of
bias within himself, wondered whether, on some level, his decision to have
the procedure done in St. Petersburg was not adulterated by a trace of
interest in seeing the novel inventions which premiered there. At the
moment that the gentleman asked him why he had traveled to St. Petersburg,
the Alter took the opportunity to reflect on his motives rather than to
glibly respond with an answer which was too obvious to be useful.
It should be our aim, in our quest for psychological - emotional
development, to maintain a healthy openness, perhaps even a trace of
skepticism, and to allow ourselves to recognize the underlying biases in
our decision-making process. The path towards self-awareness is open-ended,
the objective is not arrive at its absolute terminus, but to press on, step
by step, towards clarity. (Hmm, I wonder if my hesitation to embark on this
road is a product of my fear of failure... my laziness... is my fear of
failure really just a mask for my indolence...?)
Stay tuned for "So How Do I Decide Anything?!" in some future posting.