Why is the Synagogue so Complicated and Contradictory?

If we posit that an institution can be personified and hence can have a personality, how would we describe the synagogue?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and author published an evocative essay on Huff Post, "After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer" that we think is relevant to the question. He says that creative personalities can be compicated, confusing and contradictory personalities, starting with Michael Jackson as an example.

All previous studies of the synagogue service claim that it represents a magnificent individual personality of liturgy. We've written a new profile of the synagogue that discerns through its prayers six major personalities within the multitude that resides there.

We find the essay by Dr. Kaufman helpful in explaining how and why the creativity in the synagogue can be so complex and contain contradictions which inhere cogently in the same performative entity. We think these insights are correct and can be powerful concepts for parsing and analyzing not just persons, but also cultural entities that are the projections of individuals.

If a cultural institution is the product of creative performers, which indeed the synagogue is, then it ought to be detectable that the resulting construct reflects the many faces of the complex thinkers who were its authors and architects.

Here is the first part of Kaufman's article that spells out the complexity theories.

"Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" - Walt Whitman
Recounting his recording sessions with the young Michael Jackson, famed record producer Quincy Jones remembers that "Michael was so shy, he'd sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes -- and the lights off." What a contrast from his onstage extroverted, charismatic and bold performance!

In the CNN.com article "The confusing legacy of Michael Jackson," Todd Leopold discusses the perplexing combination of seemingly contradictory traits displayed by Michael Jackson. In explaining his many sides, Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborelli essentially throws his hands up in the air in exasperation as he tries to make sense of the apparent contradictions:
I think that when you're talking about Michael Jackson and you try to analyze him, it's like analyzing electricity, you know? It exists, but you don't have a clue as to how it works.
Creativity researchers aren't so confused. They have long-ago accepted the fact that creative people are complex. Almost by definition, creativity is complex. Creative thinking is influenced by many traits, behaviors, and sociocultural factors that come together in one person. It would be surprising if all of these factors didn't sometimes, or even most of the time, appear to contradict one another.

As creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes in his 1996 article for Psychology Today entitled "The Creative Personality," creative people "show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."

To me, some of the most fascinating contrasts are those found in creative performers -- those who are constantly on stage and in the public eye. Out of Csikszentmihaly's list of 10 complex personality traits of creative people, which were based on interviews with a wide variety of creative people, I think these three are the most relevant to creative performers:

Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm...This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always "on." In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it's not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.

Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliability measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment... Being alone at the forefront of a discipline also leaves you exposed and vulnerable.
These three seeming contradictions -- energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity -- are not separate phenomena but are intimately related to one another and along with other traits form the core of the creative performer's personality...
In our new book (forthcoming) we call the distinctive personalities of the synagogue the mystic, the meditator, the scribe, the priest, the celebrity monotheist and the performer...

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