Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a type of learning where behavior is controlled by consequences.

I am equally wanting to kick and kiss my dear old friends for lighting the last spark I think I needed to actually write this piece. Their seemingly lighthearted comment whilst we recorded last night resulted in something visceral in me that bears discussion. Handy that it also ties in with something I’ve been wanting to discuss for about a week now.

As we were talking, I (admittedly) steered something back to myself that didn’t make much sense other than trying to force myself into the conversation. The joke of ‘why you gotta make everything about you’ jolted something in me that I’ve been, for lack of a better way to put it, conditioned to do. I shut up, I felt small, unwanted, and selfish. That big dark word that has been branded into me as the ultimate sin.

Full disclaimer. Nothing I note here is meant as anything but a share of information with an artistic twist for comparison sake. My truths are not always pretty, but even less pretty are some of them in regards to other important humans in my life. I am not willing to edit out the ugly parts for anyone’s benefit. Least of all my own.

My parents are human. As such, they made choices in my upbringing that may have held the best of intentions behind them, but as the human living constantly on the other side of those decisions I have to say they were effective, but probably didn’t have the effect desired. The constant berating in my eardrums that any decision made without my parents desires met = selfish is something I struggle with to this day. I have less of a problem now living as I want to live, but there is always that little voice in the back of my head that assumes anything done in my best interest is wrong. Wanting a child to think of others is a great thing to do, but I disagree that wanting that child to always do what YOU want as the best option is the right one.

One of the things my parents wanted and followed through on was raising my brother and I as Catholic. At least until the two of us were in High School, Church and education provided by the church were what we knew. A project I decided to embark on while I was on my sick-cation was to digitize the plethora of VHS tapes from my parents house. Those tapes included every year of Christmas plays that myself and my brother participated in throughout our grade school years.

I did not listen to each in their entirety, but in the few moments I did stop to listen some items became crystal clear to me in a way that they certainly did not when I was initially participating in those plays, lo those many years ago.

I can’t recall now exactly what year it was, but in between set changes our principal made a quick speech that just slapped me across the face. She spoke of how saddened the parish was that schools in the public sector had started to refer to Christmas vacation as the Winter holiday instead. She reiterated that here at Queens we will always speak the truth of what the season is really about. Jesus.

Here’s where my adult critical thinking bell started ringing and stinging. I’ve read enough history of my own accord in addition to in educational settings to know full well that Christmas has a significance to many faiths. I also know full well that many of the traditions and rituals associated with Christmas that have been adapted by those faiths have origins in other religions and appropriation of those in addition to snuffing them out.

Her words got me thinking about how many rituals we were exposed to in school and how little our small minds actually knew about the meaning or purpose of them. We were quite simply conditioned to say ‘and also with you’, to shake hands, to hold our hands certain ways, to say certain words. Beyond that, I have realized now just how much of the belief structure in religious organizations of all kinds can be likened to operant conditioning. If you find comfort and solace in faith, I don’t take issue with that at all, I think faith does good for many people, but does just as much total crap to others for being ‘non-believers’.

What strikes me most is the realization that the golden rule we were so often presented with seems to have had a little fine print all along. I see it now, especially as a kid with parents who go to different churches.

Treat others as you wish to be treated. *

*As long as they believe the same thing as you.

This is something I have more depth to, but I’m still working through it. Let’s touch on this one again sometime?

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