The confusion of words

At our animal training workshop on Saturday I was amazed.  In the workshop I begin by establishing that all are familiar with the terms positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment.  I find that if we don't establish this, confusion reigns. So this is where we begin.  On Saturday my students really battled. I considered what was wrong and for a while was pretty perplexed.  I usually whizz through this section without a hitch.  And the students were pretty clever people.  

Then I got it. This is one of the first workshops I have presented to the informàl training sector and more to the point, they were English-speaking.  Most other audiences have been foreign or had substantial numbers of Afrikaans and African language participants. So why is this significant? I was presenting in English.

Significant because we English speakers have a uniquely evolving language that is filled with associations. The essence of language is so often lost.  The words positive and negative to most English speakers have a strong association of good and bad. This is not new to me.  I tell students all the time to let go of the association. The audience on Saturday just needed more time to put down their beliefs about the word.  They had to see the words in their mathematical essence.  Positive means add. Negative means subtract -take away.  

This special audience taught me one more thing about the confusion.  The term reinforcement has the definition -increase the chance of a behaviour occurring again. This is opposite to punishment which in behaviour terms means - decrease the chance of a behaviour occurring again.  This on its own we can accept.  Notice in the definitions we have the words increase and decrease.  Also mathematical in essence.  And this was the first time I saw this.  The first time I note that there was confusion because the mathematical terms together are confusing.  Negative reinforcement is a subtraction to effect an addition. Lighbulb moment for me.  It will be easier for me to teach now. Just have to create this awareness and then they can see clearly.  

So big gratitude for the lesson.  Just love that I am always learning.  When we look with renewed perspective we can see from all angles.  This enables us to put all the angles and perspective down.  Then we see clearly.  

Animals see literal truth. They see in the moment much more clearly than we do.  The evolution of language has taken us out of the moment.  Out of our hearts and into our stories.  When we work closely with animals we will succeed when we are in our hearts.  So they teach us to put down our stories and journey back to truth. 

Thank God for animals


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