In Praise of Dabbling

bagels.bmpI’d like to put in a good word for the DIY folks. DIY (do-it-yourself) might simply conjure images of people who turn sweaters into skirts, make t-shirts, pave their patio with mosaics from old china, or make their own candy bars. But in fact, these people approach the world with the attitude that if the thing in question can be cooked, grown, built, or otherwise pulled off by themselves or a few of their friends, then it’s something they out to be involved in. I’m not sure whether Judaism is inherently DIY—but I do think there’s room for it.

The prevailing philosophy seems to be one of narrowing. Specialize in your field. Corner the market. Find the best possible place to grow blueberries then plant eight thousand acres of them. But actually that attitude is disempowering, because it implies there are so many thing that others can do better than me, I shouldn’t even bother (and, by extension, if there isn’t something I can do better than anyone else, what am I?)

So instead I’d like to suggest a philosophy of dabbling.

Try a little of this, a little of that. Learn to knit. Sprout seeds on your kitchen counter, and when you get sick of sprouts, try sourdough – or beer! Throw a dinner party – without assuming that there’s a right way to do it, or that others are better at it than you are. Once you’ve reconnected to your entrepreneurial “let’s do it!” self – there’s no end in sight.

The tradition of “consulting an authority” in Judaism is challenging. I don’t suggest not honoring rabbis and teachers. But I do think that we hold our rabbis more responsible for our spirituality than they need to be – that in fact, we are more powerful than we might think. Synagogues are very nice. But why not hold your own prayer service at your house? Don’t know all the prayers – that’s ok. Pick a few that you do know, make sure you’ve got siddurs (prayerbooks) for everyone, fake it. You know what you like when you pray – whether it’s the singing or the English readings or the group discussion – and you can make that happen. Not every week. Not perhaps the best prayer service in the whole world. But something you like, something you can try, something you can bring into the world that is unique and enjoyable.

Dabbling in this and that, DIY, experimenting and exploring — I think the world needs more of this. More people who don’t need to wait for experts to show the way, who instead trust that they have skills and abilities that are not only fun to get to use, they actually make the world more interesting for everyone else.

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5 Responses to “In Praise of Dabbling”

  1. phyllis Says:

    amen. i think that the need to have an authority figure or to “do it right” can be too overwhelming for so many people. as a rabbi i feel like i spend a lot of time trying to convince people that they *don’t* need me! which, i suppose, is not very good for job security:-)

  2. Edith Stevenson Says:

    actually, Reb Phyllis, by empowering us (the lowly congregant) that we CAN do it – whatever “it” is – is very good for job security. I would respect a rabbi who encouraged me to “try it,” to see how it feels. And we all know that the best part about trying something new – whether it is leading a part of a worship service, sewing a dress, or baking bread for the first time – is that the amount of time we spend researching the task, practicing, checking in with others, etc., is directly proportional to the personal growth, satisfaction, and benefits derived from having tried. And then, once one is an “expert,” there is a whole new world of a new conversation topic to share with others – just ask any mom of one child, when you are expecting your first baby: we immediately become experts, only too happy to bend your ear about everything we now know! Fortunately, the same holds true for bread bakers and leaders of prayer services. I’ve tried all three, so I guess that makes me a dabbler, eh Anna?

  3. Anna Stevenson Says:

    absolutely — one of the best ;0)

    phyllis — i’m glad to hear you say so. of course, they do still ‘need’ you — but perhaps more as a partner than as an authority figure.

  4. Anna Says:

    I just have to add — I was just rereading Leahs’ interview with Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation. He says that one of his mantras is: Sustainability is Participation.

    And explains: “I think that we are so accustomed to the homogenized products of mass production that when our homemade experiments don’t look or smell or taste just like them we often feel like we have failed. We must let go of expectations and embrace the quirky results of our experimentation as we build skills. And skills are what we need if we are to reduce our dependency on corporate chemical poison and reclaim our food.”


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