Archive for February, 2016

Imagine you want to be a school teacher. You build a school and invite students from the surrounding towns. They arrive; you teach; they learn. One day a student shows up who doesn’t learn. You ask them to stay after class one day and say to them “Your lack of learning in my class is unacceptable to me. I’m not going to tell you how it is, nor am I going to tell you what I want you to learn. I am going to ask you to leave my class and not return until you have hired your own teacher to teach you the things I want you to learn. Please leave now.”

This metaphor occurred to me this morning as symbolic of many features of human cultural habit. Countless examples of inquisition and apostate exile can be identified throughout the history of human gathering and, it seems to me, continue to this day (e.g. our so called criminal justice system). In our effort to guard public hope against private irony, I suspect we have very nearly killed our own capacity for awareness, courage, and creativity Has the attempt been successful?


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Today I learned that for me the statement “you have a problem” is a severely punishing discriminative stimulus, and the statement “we have a problem” is a very powerfully rewarding discriminative stimulus. In other words, tell me it’s my problem and watch me walk away, tell me it’s our problem and watch me get more interested in working together.

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