Goats can appear stubborn when they don’t align with what the farmer is requesting. Dragging by the horns is one method of control. But if you really want a goat to come into the barn or stick her head into a stanchion for milking, offer a pan of rolled oats. I don’t know anything that produces faster cooperation from the goat.
Goats are smart animals, talented escape artists when it comes to fencing. Their exploration and coping skills make them hardy. Caring for them becomes much easier as a farmer learns about their behaviors. When goats are enticed with rewards, what seemed to be stubbornness melts into cooperation. The biggest draw for that is rolled oats.
Decades ago, I noted that Swiss mothers were feeding their children rolled oats as an uncooked treat. I have adopted that dish as my frequent breakfast: after the oats soak briefly in milk, I add a few raisins for sweetening. It is a chewy delight, and my taste is in harmony with the children and the goats.
The motivated, agreeable goat behavior described above, like the penchant for oats, also applies to humans. Being creative and independent, I can easily be called stubborn. That symptom melts into cooperation when a valued goal is placed within my reach. My daydreams and utterances might appear to be complaints against conditions I don’t like. However, when there is a path to something I want, my persona switches into positive mode and I’m all generosity and enthusiasm. Just as the farmer and the goat are better off with cooperation, my collaborators and I rejoice when our goals coincide.
A farmer who cannot see existence from a goat’s viewpoint provides the wrong kind of husbandry and soon loses the herd. A goat that cannot respond to the farmer’s viewpoint becomes the farmer’s supper. Alignment of purpose is fundamental to success.
In the human arena there is no end to possible successes. Every one of us can and wants to move forward toward a desirable goal. We have frequently discussed the strength that comes from collaboration. The goat story tells us that abundance depends on getting on a common track.
My childhood training is that God will send my blessings to the place where He instructs me to go. Of course, prudence is to go there to collect the prepared and expected blessing. Typically, the saloon represents a debilitating distraction from life, and the family represents lasting happiness. Religion posits a logical connection between the action and the blessing it uncovers.
The humanist version of this model says that there are paths to outcomes. Whatever benefit I desire, prudence is the course that produces it. Causes have effects.
The goat must be able to identify the rolled oats in a setting that appears reachable. If the reward is not visible or is behind an impenetrable fire, the goat will not lunge forward. For people, neither the theist nor the nontheist model changes behavior if the object is undesirable or unreachable.
Humans have much more developed goals than goats because people imagine more abstract benefits. Influencing human behavior has unlimited possibilities. We have infinite opportunities for getting on a common track. For any end we want to reach, we enlist collaboration by presenting that outcome like a pan of rolled oats that is reachable. Where there is effective marketing, the people-goats come running (article 78).
A behavior study once asked students to retrieve a ping-pong ball from a standpipe—a long vertical hollow tube. In the first test room where few students solved the problem, there was ice water sitting on a somewhat removed refreshment table. In the second test room where most of the students solved the problem, there was a bucket of water sitting on the floor underneath the table of plumbing tools. Those students poured the water into the pipe to float the ball. Where the elements of the solution were more closely associated with the objective, the connection was more easily grasped. Therefore, it is wise to place our inquiries into settings that are conducive for learning because the answers we get back are so intimately connected with how and where we ask the questions.
There is a cartoon of a football coach striking a player while saying “I’ll teach you (not) to get an unnecessary roughness penalty if I have to break every bone in your body.” The action teaches “we use unnecessary roughness around here.” It asks the wrong behavioral question.
In a speech class I was asked to explain why a certain activity was so difficult. After I fumbled a few attempts to answer, the teacher explained that it was a trick question meant to show that the activity was not difficult at all. Instead of learning how easy the answer was, I learned that the teacher was unkind, willing to cause consternation. The method obstructed the learning.
Having presented my case, I am ready to reveal today’s topic: civility. The stories say that enduring learning is a positive experience, one that we eat up eagerly. We readily incorporate, often unconsciously, that which enters us pleasantly. Agreement flows naturally, and we remember the lessons—especially the ones that arouse no resistance because they pass into our minds unopposed. We pursue and repeat the things we like just as goats follow rolled oats.
Obviously, we have the greatest influence on people when we speak to their motivations, when we attract their interest. Being a persuasive writer means learning to be sensitive to readers. Aspiring writers are not effective when they are venting to relieve their own anxieties. To be read, a writer appeals to an existing motivation in the reader. This does not require unanimity (articles 53 64, and 46). A dignified exchange enriches the parties with understanding and ultimately good behavior. The magic ingredient of this cooperation is the effort to be appealing. It wins people over. We echo article 112 by noting that political leaders are loved and successful when they are nice.
I am describing, hopefully also creating, the world in which I choose to live. Will you join my happiness? Am I winning you over?
Photo by Christine Booth from Pexels
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