Can’t teach an old dog . . .?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a common ‘saying’ – well I used to hear it quite a lot during my childhood.

First, dogs don’t do ‘tricks’, they decide what they want to do, or not. They may decide to go along with some types of training, but they don’t do ‘tricks’.

This metaphor is really about people and is insidiously subversive.

It implies that people, as time passes, do not – or should not – learn new things.

It reinforces – or enforces- the status quo.

Once you’ve been through school and maybe learnt a trade or profession, that’s it.

‘Learning new tricks’ is not on the agenda.

And wouldn’t it be great for governments and authorities if that was the case.

Everyone under control and ‘in their place’, no dangerous ‘new ideas’ coming up and disrupting a ‘well ordered society’, whatever its orientation.

There has been a long history of repression of ‘intellectuals’ in both left and right wing regimes – not that there’s a lot of difference – in fact I’d really like someone to explain to me what the difference is between ‘left’ and ‘right’ as they both seem to seek power and control over ‘the people’.

Fortunately (sadly for those who desire power or control over others) this concept of stasis in knowledge and behaviour is entirely unfounded.

You and I know very well that we do ‘change’, we do learn new stuff, and we do alter our behaviour, and opinions accordingly.

We do learn ‘new tricks’.

But there is still this underlying idea that people don’t change and that organisations don’t change.

That because an individual or group has behaved in some way in the past, they will always demonstrate the same behaviour in the present or future.

This idea seems to be amplified when people consider groups like companies, political parties, interest groups and so on – they are thought to be more likely to be and do ‘the same’ regardless of the fact that the whole individual membership of the group may have changed causing it to be made up of an entirely different set of people.

To me this defies logic.

If the constitution of a group, in terms of its membership, the people who are in the group, changes that it would seem to make sense that the group as a whole should behave differently.

But that’s not common ideology and here’s the thing.

Because a person or a group has made mistakes in the past it is assumed, more than assumed, that they will continue on that path in the future.

But aren’t we supposed to learn from mistakes? Or maybe that’s just you and I – everyone else repeats the same mistakes over and over again . . .

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

You see, here’s the ‘problem’.

We are brought up and trained to ‘make up our minds’.

To take a position and stick to it.

To make decisions, stand by them and carry them out.

To change our minds is seen as a ‘fail’ – an ‘embarrassing U-turn’ – something to be ashamed of.

“You should have got it right in the first place”

It is seen as better, or more honourable, to carry on down a path that we know will lead to disaster rather than change our minds.

To be part of the ‘glorious’ charge of the Light Brigade into the valley of death rather than stopping to say, ‘hold on, are we doing the right thing here?’

That would be questioning a decision.

Which we should, frequently, if this was not seen as a sign of weakness, prevarication and not ‘sticking to our guns’ – wrong or right.

You see there’s a difference between decisions and choices – once a decision has been made, we have the option to choose whether or not to implement it, or when to implement it.

Because people don’t understand this they put themselves under massive stress and anxiety when they ‘make a decision’ that they subsequently know is ‘wrong’ but then feel they must carry it out because failure to do so would lead to them being thought of as indecisive or failing in some way.

The consequences of not carrying out a decision seem to be feared far more than the consequences of carrying out a totally bad decision!

Sometimes people will even say ‘well at least they made a decision’ almost disregarding whatever happened because of the decision.

So you and I have two options.

We can choose to defer carrying out a decision or not implement it at all – or – we can ‘change our mind’.

We can revoke the decision and make a new one.

We can choose to behave in a different way to that in which we have behaved in the past – different decisions lead to different behaviours.

Now this has a tendency to confuse the hell out of people. They can’t cope with the idea that you or I are behaving ‘differently’, ‘oddly’ or in my case probably ‘weirdly’!

So we do have to be ‘careful’ when we start to ‘act out of character’ because we’ve made different decisions and ‘changed our minds’.

‘Mind your change’ is a good way of putting it, or perhaps manage your change.

Manage how you do those ‘new tricks’ that you’ve decided on. Make sure people understand that this is really you.

That you’re not ‘out of your mind’ you’ve just upgraded it.