Counselor’s Corner: Gettin’ it right



Ever notice how we often assume that newer is better?


Most of us do that at one time or another. Sometimes, we’re right.


Like yesterday, when I texted a family member visiting the west coast, and realized how much closer California seems than it did when I was a kid.


Or last month, when antibiotics kept my bronchitis from becoming pneumonia, and I reflected on how deadly a common cold could become when my grandparents were young.


But sometimes we assume the ones who went before us just didn’t have it together as much as we do.


Just the other day in class, for example, we were talking about how to describe “psychology.”


“Back in the day,” psychology was defined as the study of the mind.


Later, because we can’t directly see a mind, psychology got more scientific and was redefined as the study of observable behavior.


Now, with advanced medical technology that allows us to observe living brains in action, most of us acknowledge that there really is a process that we could call the “mind.”


So we now describe psychology as the study of both observable behavior and mental processes.


But somewhere in mid-sentence, I realized that I was sounding like we finally had it all figured out.


That’s what the old guys thought, too. The ones who first talked about the mind. As well as the ones who talked only about what they could observe.


There I was, getting ready to tell my class that we, out of all the generations, had finally got it right.


So I added what the author of our textbook has added, too: In the future, we may find even better ways to describe what psychology is about. As we learn even more, we might make discoveries we cannot even imagine now.


Maybe something new. Or even something old, something we threw out because we thought the old guys had it wrong.


If I teach long enough, word is going to get around and the students are going to know all my corny jokes before they even get to my class.


My favorite corny joke comes from the days when I was where my students are now.


I began my studies back when we defined psychology only as the study of observable behavior. No talk about mind, or instinct, or anything we couldn’t see or measure.


We were radical about it. Especially us newbies who were eager to get it right.


So during one family dinner, I was carrying on about what I was learning in college. All that stuff about no such thing as mind, or instinct, or anything we couldn’t see or measure.
That’s when my Uncle Tom decided to tell a joke.


There was an old farmer, he said, who was determined to protect his son from the evil influence of females.


The old guy must have had a bad experience with the boy’s mother.


So the farmer took every precaution.


For instance, if they were driving the mule cart to town and the farmer saw a woman walking down the left side of the road, he’d yell, “Look at that hound dog over to your right, son!”


But one day, as the farmer redirected his son’s gaze away from a young lady on one side of the road, he didn’t see what was on the other side.


As his son shifted his gaze in search of the elusive hound dog, or rabbit, or whatever the old farmer had come up with, he got an eyeful of several young bikini-clad ladies in the fishpond on the other side of the road.


The boy pointed.


“Daddy, what’s them things?”


“Them’s… er, them’s ducks, son,” the farmer replied.


“Daddy,” said the boy, “I want me some ducks.”


Everybody around the table laughed at Uncle Tom’s joke. Except maybe me.


Most psychologists now are perfectly willing to admit that even humans have some instincts. Just like minds. Even if we can’t see them.


Who knows what else we might admit down the road?


We might even dust off outdated ideas from the old guys.


You know, the ones who had it all wrong.


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