Jottings: First lesson in psychology
In 1943 I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, where my father was a pastor. He was helping a church retire a debt. We went there when I was four years old and left when I was six. In my fifth year, I had my first lesson in psychology.
A playmate used to come to my house to play with me. He must have lived close because he could walk to our house. Children age five did not cross the street by themselves, and there were railroad tracks behind our house, so he lived only a few houses away. I knew it was a difficult time. A military base was close by, so I knew we were at war, although I did not know what that meant.
My sister, Anne, was eight years my senior. My brother, Bob, was ten years my senior. My siblings, who were 13 and 15 years old, knew more about the war than I did. They would show me designs of burned matches on the sidewalk in front of our house and tell me they were signals between spies. I was supposed to be scared, but I was not old enough to understand what a spy was. However, it did make a big impression on me since I still have vague recollections of these events.
It was my playmate that was most important to me. We played together a lot, but he always wanted to play his games, not mine. If I said I did not want to play his games, he would say, "If you don't play what I want to play, I will go home."
Ouch! I did not want that, so I would cave into his desires and play what he wanted to play
even though I was not too fond of it. I don't know if he was older than me, but I wanted to be his friend and play with him.
One day, my dad was observing this manipulation by my play friend. He took me aside and suggested that the next time my playmate said he would have to go home if we did not play what he wanted to play that I should say, "Okay, guess you will just have to go."
I remember how illogical that sounded to me. What if he did go home. I would have no one to play with, leaving me to play alone. I thought my dad was giving me bad advice. I did not even want to try it.
My dad did not give up on me. The next time my friend was over, he repeated his advice. Somehow, he managed to convince me to try it. So, the next time my friend said he would have to go home if I did not play what he wanted to play, I said, "Okay, bye." I was scared to death he would go.
But then a strange thing happened. He repeated his threat to leave, and I somehow dared to reply again, "Okay, bye." Maybe my dad winked at me to encourage me. It worked. My friend looked at me, puzzled. Finally, he said, he might not have to go right then, and we began to play what I wanted to play. I was amazed! My dad was so smart.
What I learned has stuck with me all my life, the art of challenging bluffs, testing other people's resolve when it seems to contradict what is in their own self-interest. I can't say I ever enjoy calling people's bluff, but at least I have learned how — a lesson in psychology at a very early age.
Cecil Denney is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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