Sharing Information Versus Changing Perspectives

 

Any savvy consumer of news media should be keenly aware that, in general, the overarching purpose of the speaker is not merely to impart information. The goal of media is usually much broader than this: whether NPR or the BBC or Pravda, news media organizations seek to frame and spin information to sculpt and customize the way in which the listener sees the world.

This can, of course, be a feature and not merely a bug. It is quite a good thing to be able to see things from the perspective of others — though of course, it is no virtue to have your world view shaped for you, without even noticing what is going on. The goal should be to consciously grow our understanding of how other people think.

This is, of course, not an easy thing to learn. Arguably, most men who have never been married are terrible at appreciating that other perspectives might also be valid. I often think that people who see themselves as “rational” use that word as a handy proxy for “right.” Which necessarily makes all other opinions irrational, which are then, obviously, “wrong.”  QED.

I tend to place quite a lot of value in the perspectives of others. Whether a person is “wrong” or “right” is often not the point: the key is to be able to communicate with them, to help them, in turn, appreciate the views of others. And we cannot do that unless we can understand how they see the world.

On the macro scale, understanding how others think is necessary for a productive and thriving society in all of its aspects:  religion, commerce, politics, culture, etc. Societies in which people cannot communicate with others in productive ways are societies that are riven with distrust and insecurity, blinded by looking only through a xenophobic lens.

I think that achieving holiness requires us to gain the perspective of other people. Indeed, I believe the Torah tells us this as well, with its requirement that the High Priest had to be married. Because a wife in the Torah, the function of Eve, is described as an ezer knegdo (Gen. 2:18), which translates as a “helper for his perspective.”

I know that sounds like a mouthful (I tried to think of a better way to phrase it, but I could not do so). But the text itself supports this understanding. This is because the Torah uses different language to explain different ways of sharing information. There are words for “merely” communicating (daber and emor), a word for calling out or declaring (karah). But there is also a word that means sharing information that is meant to help the other person see things entirely differently than they do before. And that word is neged.

The very first use of this word comes from a pivotal episode in the Garden. Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit, and they realized that they were naked. G-d comes to them and asks, “Who told (neged) you that you were naked?”

This use of the word is about a meaning that shifts understanding. Understanding nakedness is much more than knowing the boiling point of water, or any other “fact.” Recognizing nakedness requires a significant mental shift, one that animals and babies cannot achieve.

By using neged, G-d is asking a profound question: “who gave you a different perspective?” Adam and Eve now see the world differently than they did before — even though the physical world itself had not changed at all! All that happened was that they became able to view themselves and their world in a completely changed way than they had before! The world neged is about gaining a new vantage point from which to understand things, understanding something that we did not know before. In the text, this happens more often than not through speech, imparting of information through communication.

Eve’s purpose in this world in Gen. 2:18 is described as “ezer k’negdo”, using this root word of neged, with the prefix that means “similar” or “like” or “approximate.” The function of a wife is thus given in the Torah to help a man see things from a different perspective. And, in a linguistic twist, she usually does it using reality-warping speech, neged.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper k’negdo.

 And

And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper k’negdo.

This explains why Adam needed a wife: a single man is too set in his view of the world, too inflexible in thought (with an assuredness of his own correctness), to be able to properly grow, change and develop. Women, as any married man can testify, undermines that perspective, forcing a man to change, to listen, to adapt. Women force men to grow.

The consequences of this understanding change a great deal of our comprehension of the world: if the purpose of marriage is (as the Torah repeatedly alludes) to prepare us for a more complete relationship with G-d, then it makes sense that learning to see the world through someone else’s eyes would be a necessary precondition for trying to understand G-d Himself!

A quick search of how this word is used in the Torah yields these results. To take but two examples: Avimelech and Pharaoh both protest that they would not have taken Sarai had they only been told, neged, that she was Avraham’s wife.  

In every case, the information imparted through neged is not merely a fact: it compels an alteration of perspective, changing how the listener sees the world. It is through this process that we are able to grow to span the gaps between ourselves and others, to build holy relationships with other people and with G-d.

P.S. In an ironic plot-twist, Eve fulfills her job description when she changes Adam’s view of the world, by convincing him to eat the fruit! Which also helps explain why Adam blames G-d: “The woman whom Thou didst give to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Being able to grasp the perspective of others does not free us from the obligation of maintaining our own moral compass.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 7 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    iWe: Indeed, I believe the Torah tells us this as well, with its requirement that the High Priest had to be married. Because a wife in the Torah, the function of Eve, is described as an ezer knegdo (Gen. 2:18), which translates as a “helper for his perspective.”

    Amen.

    And awomen.

    And David and Abigail too.

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    iWe: Being able to grasp the perspective of others does not free us from the obligation of maintaining our own moral compass.

    And David and Michal.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    iWe: Because a wife in the Torah, the function of Eve, is described as an ezer knegdo (Gen. 2:18), which translates as a “helper for his perspective.”

    That’s a fascinating Hebrew lesson. Thanks! 

    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There is a lot of benefit to formal debate, in which a person or team must be prepared to debate *both* sides of an issue.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    David Foster (View Comment):
    There is a lot of benefit to formal debate, in which a person or team must be prepared to debate *both* sides of an issue.

    But sometimes, there are more than two sides.

    • #5
  6. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Arahant (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):
    There is a lot of benefit to formal debate, in which a person or team must be prepared to debate *both* sides of an issue.

    But sometimes, there are more than two sides.

    I cannot think of any issues in which there are only two sides. Unless the question is reduced to childish levels.

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There are almost always more than two sides, but learning how to present two opposite perspectives is good training for being able to think in N perspectives.

    • #7
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.