Learning Kindess


Learning to learn and learning to learn about love

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

I say each word—Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky—as I put that part of my right hand at the edge of the table.

Students start doing it along with me.

I continue, same rhythm but omitting one word, then two words, and eventually all the words.

They keep it going without my lead.


As they gain mastery, they start to ramp up their speed.

That’s a funny human thing we do.

We speed up as we gain mastery.

Until we fail and then we start up again adding speed again until we fail.

The failure is necessary to learning.

I’m going to repeat that: failure is necessary to learning.

We need to be willing to not do something well if we want to improve.

Although, this reminds me of the kid who decided to see how close he could get his face to a passing train. He realized he had to keep getting closer, past the zone of safety, to find out.

They found him unconscious  on the side of the tracks.


“Stop,” I say, “Now try it with your non-dominant hand.”

The added complexity slows their speed down a bit.

Again we all say aloud, 

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

“Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

This is mastery teaching. 

Getting them involved, learning, upping the difficulty, starting again.


Eventually, I’ll want them to do both hands at the same time, but one step off from each other.

I don’t ask them to try that at first.

As a teacher, I have to keep learners from thinking, “That looks so hard that I’m not even going to try it.”

(I do the same with teaching people about loving themselves.)

So, we teachers break it down, scaffold—we help learners build one incremental step at a time.

Although, on the other hand, as a teacher you can’t go too slowly or you run the risk of them being bored and wandering down to the train tracks thinking about how close they can get to the train.


“Stop,” I say, “Now let’s learn how to do it syncopated. Each hand doing it, but at different steps.”

Slowly, I demonstrate.

Left: “Fist, Thumb, Fingers, Pinky.”

Right: “Thumb, Fingers, Pinky, Fist.”


They try with me as I do the two hands at different phases of the cycle.

“Stop,” I shout, “This very moment, notice what you are thinking. Are you saying to yourself, “I’ll never get this,” or “brain hurts,” or “I’ll get this,” or “I don’t like rabbi anymore.” 

“If you can, for a moment, just tune in and listen to that voice. That’s called meta-cognition. The ability to think about what you are thinking about. Little kids can’t really do that. And, when you get good at it, you can learn to not always believe what it says. ”


I give them a few minutes to practice the syncopated rhythm as I walk around the classroom.

“OK, eyes back up here,” I say. “I want you to learn this, the five stages of learning—which has nothing to do with math, but everything to do with learning, which is what we are here to do.”

I write.

1—Can’t do it

2—Need lots of helper hand holding

3—Need to be given hints/reminders

4—The independent student who can talk themself through the task

5—Mastery, can do it fluidly, without thought.

I ask them to evaluate where they would consider themselves, from one to five, with regard to being able to stand at the front of the classroom and do three fluid syncopated cycles of the hand jive.



Dear reader, let me ask you, where are you on a scale of one to five in accepting other people’s love?

1—I can’t accept love.

2—I need lots of help and hand holding to accept love.

3—I require someone to give me hints and reminders to accept love.

4—I can remind myself that I can accept love.

5—Without thinking about it, I can accept love.


I tell the students that Friday will be their first test in my class and it will be this: the ability to stand in the front of the classroom and do three fluid cycles of the hand jive.

I give them time to practice (or dink around on their phones).

“And, yes,” I inform them, making me a favorite teacher, “I believe in full-credit retakes.”


Quick quiz for you, dear reader.

What are the five stages?






Do you need a hint from me? 

(No shame. That’s just where you find yourself. And, means you are at level three.)


My proclivity to nest thoughts—like having you do the stages of learning about your current recall about the stages of learning—has caused Jane to refer to me as “meta-man.”


“Wait,” I say to the class, “There is one other thing you should know about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development — the stages of learning — and no, you needn’t memorize his name, I just like to give credit to the idea’s author — stress.”

I explain.

“In times of stress, we fall down a stage. This is why, when you know how to do something without needing outside help (level four) and go into the classroom for the test, you all of a sudden need a hint—you’ve slipped to level three—’But, Mister Rabbi, I just need a hint.’”

I describe this to adults with the example of driving along, not thinking about driving—level five mastery—and you get run off onto the shoulder of the road and you are sitting there, scared, talking to yourself. “Just put the car in park. Breathe. Take your foot off the brake.” 

When you are talking to yourself it is because you are coaching yourself through life—because you are at level four.


Interesting thought:

If you are only self compassionate at level four (giving yourself hints), then when you get stressed and need compassion, you’ll have faltered to three (needing hints from the outside) and you can’t self soothe.

It’s pernicious. 


It takes X amount of practice over t amount of time to master the hand-jive / self-compassion.

Homework: practice until you’ve solved for X and t.

LIVE! Saturdays at 8am PT

Stream   LIVE :  ROTB site (here). Or on Facebook / YouTube

With love,
Rabbi Brian

——–LIVE! Saturdays at 8am PT
Stream   LIVE :  ROTB site (here). Or on Facebook / YouTube

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