Monday, August 31, 2015

The Five Pound Note Theory

When I was about nine years old, we took a family vacation to visit my Scottish grandparents in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The wonderful "foreignness" of how Scotland was, compared to the "ordinariness" of my life in Boise, Idaho made such an imprint on my bourgeoning young soul.  The bakeries filled with sausage rolls, cherry-red double decker busses, televisions that were still powered by vacuum tubes, baths that had to be filled with kettles of hot water from the stove, have remained with me through these many years.  And yet, it was a lesson that my grandfather taught me that is the topic of my blog post this morning.

Each morning our family would have breakfast in the sunroom just off the kitchen.  The chairs that flanked the breakfast table were all rickety, creaky, fragile things from the turn of the century.  My brother, who was just four at the time, sat on the most squeaky of them.  Every tiny move that my brother made, caused the chair to squeak.  The relative austerity of the personality of my Scottish grandparents, mixed with the regular interruption of a squeak on his chair, was more temptation than my brother could bear.  And so my brother squeaked.  Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.  "Please stop that Jamie," said my mother.  Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak went Jamie.  "Jamie, that is not polite," said Dad.  Squeak, squeak, squeak.  It went on for some time, annoying the entire family to no end.  Then, my Scottish grandpa made a developmental breakthrough, that is the subject of this week's blogpost.

In a broad Scottish accent, my grandfather said, "Whoever squeaks their chair next will receive a Five Pound Note (equivalent to a 10 dollar bill)."  There was all of a sudden an uneasy silence in the room.  What was grandpa saying?  Was this some kind of trick?  Was this reverse psychology?  About thirty seconds passed, before Jamie, made another squeak, then, grandpa handed over a Five Pound Note and said, "Congratulations, young man!"  And here's the incredible thing.  The squeaking stopped for the rest of the morning.  Without the tempting fun of doing something that he shouldn't do, Jamie must have decided that squeaking his chair wasn't so much fun anymore.

All of these many years later, I have utilized this same technique to varying effects and levels of success in many different settings.  I have used it so much that I have come up with a name for this psychological technique.  I call it;

The Five Pound Note Theory

The theory goes something like this.  Most aberrant human behavior occurs because of the relative pleasure that is derived from doing something that is socially unacceptable.  When the social un-acceptability of that behavior changes, the pleasure disappears, and the aberrant behavior loses it's ultimate power and temptation.

Often in my years of ministry, I have seen kids who grew up in relatively sheltered homes, begin to go through times in rebellion in their teenage years.  This often takes the form of nose piercings, and hair color change (red mohawks, purple mullets).  Whenever I see a kid go through one of these changes, and knowing the parents were appalled at the rebellious behavior, I have sometimes said to a kid, "Wow, I like that orange hair, you might want to go with more magenta next time though, I think it would work better for you."  With a deep level of shock, I have sometimes found that that kid decided that, now that the social acceptability of that rebellion no longer existed, that it wasn't so much fun to color their hair, and so they went back to normal hair color.

Not long ago, I had a man in my office who was contemplating getting a divorce, and having an extramarital affair.  This man was convinced that when he told a pastor about his plan, that I would be utterly appalled and repulsed by this plan and that I would scold this individual scathingly.  Of course, I would never condone or encourage or think positively about such a course of action in a person's life.  Extramarital affairs are very destructive experiences for couples, families and communities.  However, I was convinced that this man was actually searching for someone to be upset with his planned action, which in turn would propel him to the very action that he was thinking of doing.  So, after he told me about his plan to leave his wife, I said, "Well, sounds like you have thought through this plan quite clearly, and have thought through all of the implications.  Yes, I think you are correct, getting a divorce sounds like the right thing to do."  Startled, the man said, "What? what do you mean, how could you say such a thing."  The man began a course, not long after that, of recommitting to his marriage, and deserting his very destructive plan for his life.

Through the centuries, the Christian church has fallen into many, many traps regarding the decrying of a certain behavior or "sin" and finding that that approach has only created more of a desire to engage in that behavior.  In a sense, Christians have created a level of social unacceptability that creates a pleasure center for aberrant behavior.  If Christians would, on the other hand, be less focussed on creating these social boundaries, and more focussed on loving the individual at hand, they might find it easier to guide people into healthy decisions about their lives.

Now, don't get me wrong.  There is such thing as right and wrong.  Sin exists, and is not something that should be lifted up.  The Bible is clear about what areas of life are healthy and what are not.  The church should stand, in the midst of a world that is lost and in chaos, for Biblical values, and Christ centered living.  However, in the approach to the world, we might find that we get further down the road of healthy living, and righteous behavior, if we employed with a little more frequency and a little more thoughtfulness;

The Five Pound Note Theory

All For Now,


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