In one of his experiments, B. F. Skinner, the famous Behavioural Psychologist, took a hungry rat and put him near the edge of a platform. On the floor below, he kept two boxes, identical looking boxes, both had food in them. The box on the Rat’s right, however, had also a trap door which would have prevented the rat from getting to the food as well as an electrical circuit which would provide a shock to the rat were he to jump in to it. The rat took some random jumps both in to the right and into the left boxes. Learning from his experience after he took a few jumps, the rat knew that he had to jump in the left box.
Skinner now interchanged the places of the boxes. The rat jumped in to the left box, got a shock! Became confused, tried a couple of times the left box and then the right one. It knew now that it is the right box it should jump in to, it started jumping every time it was placed on the platform in to right box. Skinner changed the position of the boxes again. And this process continued. Finally the rat was totally confused. Used to sit trembling at the edge of the platform, not knowing which box to jump in. And then it started jumping in the middle of the two boxes!
So what does this experiment tell us? Ultimately the rat became so confused that he jumped between the two boxes. Do we not make our own children do that? We give them a lot of confusing signals. We tell them honesty is the best policy but business is business. We tell them to share their good fortune but don’t share ours even with our parents. We ask them not only to ride two horses but also to ride two horses going in the opposite direction.
What happens then? The child loses his moorings. The other day a bright, young man of 26 asked me, does the honest man really have a chance? I think using some anecdotes, I could convince him that he did. However I was pained to know that such an intelligent fellow had this question in the first place. Where is the question coming from? It is coming from the fact that he has lost his anchor point in life. Secondly, he is watching perhaps the rise of unscrupulous people and seeing this climb he is perhaps coming to the conclusion that this is the only way that he can rise. The impatience to make a mark is preventing him to go in to a deeper study of such cases. He is looking at the glorious chapter in their lives and taking it to be the whole book. If he were to read the entire book, he will know that for most such people the crests were temporary and the fall was permanent, often fatal. Also the rise of the unscrupulous is often spectacular. Not that the scrupulous don’t rise. They do too. But their ascent is not so stunning. The dramatic grabs his attention. Now this impressionistic mind is devoid of which route to take – the one verbalized (but not followed) by his parents or the one that he sees successful. Does the problem lie with this young man or does it lie with those who trained him? Perhaps the latter.
Parents were also burdened by their conditioning. Little did they realize the discrepancy in their teachings. Honesty is indeed the best policy. But business is not business. Honest business is business. In honest business also, you try to maximize your gains, but not at the cost of your principles. You win through your talent and effort, not by bending the rules. I am not against conditioning. Conditioning allows the society to survive and function. I am against half baked/ ignorant conditioning. Parents need to educate their wards wisely.