When I Say Jump

Do you remember the first time you wandered into an attic?

WW&SBB 1954My great grandfather, Will Hains, built the family home in 1903 on Jefferson Street in Marshall, Missouri.  It was one of those huge three story brick and wood houses that ambitious men built at the turn of the 19th century.  The Jefferson House holds most of the family memories.  My grandmother, Nell, played there as a child.  My mother, Eleanor, was born there.  As a child I sorted buttons for my great grandmother, Mattie, in that house.  And, I watched Melanie walk down the mahogany staircase to take my hand in marriage despite the worst snowstorm of decade.  Later, I watched Michelle Pfeiffer star in a TV movie about my uncle and “The Children Nobody Wanted,” and saw Michelle run up the stairs Melanie had walked down.  The TV production crew enjoyed the house so much, they left a gift.  On that front porch still today is the swing from “The Waltons” TV show.  Good night, John-Boy.

Can you imagine the attic in that house?  Will Haines filled it with boxes that held the clothes and papers and memories of his life stretching back to 1876.  His daughter, my grandmother Nell, then added more clothes and papers and memories of her life from 1903.  Then my mother.  Then, as a child, one morning I opened the door on the third floor and looked up a bright, narrow, and rickety staircase.  I can still remember the musty and hot smell, the creak and wobble of the old, very old stairs, the tight, almost claustrophobic feel of the stair case.  Then finally up in the attic, finished in that unfinished way of old spaces in old houses.  All the boxes.  The coat racks.  Stacks of books and magazines and records – think about records that were ancient when I first saw them in 1957, more like shellac than hot wax and nothing like a shiny CD or DVD.  Everything I saw and touched and smelled was so alien and yet familiar.  I’d seen photographs or heard stories so I knew something about many things in the attic even though this was the first time I’d experienced that coat or this knife or that dish.  My great grandfather and my grandmother and my mother had left a piece of their past in this attic.   I was looking in a crystal ball while riding a time machine in that attic.

Now that we’ve established the proper tone, let’s think about attics as a metaphor for old theories.  Attics can be freaky places.  They pose more questions than answers, although if you know how to look, you can learn an enormous amount.  Most folks avoid the attic, especially if you are smart, ambitious, goal directed, and on the move.  Who’s got time for attics?

The concepts in this section definitely belong in the attic.  Old.  Worn.  Used.  From another day, another time, another world where women were ladies who wore corsets and men were gentlemen who said, “Zounds.”  What’s the point?

The point is knowledge, truth, and science.  The concepts in the Doing section are fabulous illustrations of smart people doing smart science leaving us with lessons we should still learn and apply today.  Only a hipster doofus would walk past this door.

When you walk in you’ll find Classical Conditioning, Reinforcement, and Modeling.  Everyone knows about Ding-Dong, For Me?, and Monkey, See; Monkey, Do.  You’re a human being and these theories have been happening in front of your eyes for your entire life.  Bells ring and you move.  Carrots and sticks dangle before you at work.  Confounded with a new credit card reader at a gas pump you look around to watch how somebody else does it.  These are the fundamental building blocks of human change, built into our DNA through eternity and evolution.

Each theory emphasizes change in behavior, concrete observable actions that people perform.  Buy, run, smoke, sit, lift, vote, marry, sell, take, give, or steal.  Hearts and minds may attend, but the point here is direct:  Grab the body and the rest will follow.

Take your time in this attic and check every box.

Classical Conditioning:  Ding Dong!

Reinforcement Theory:  For Me?

Modeling Theory:  Monkey See, Monkey Do.