Changing Another Person LO19866

John W. Gunkler (
Mon, 16 Nov 1998 11:33:12 -0600

Replying to LO19854 --


A VERY interesting topic thread for anyone engaged in learning/teaching to
think about! By every definition of learning I've ever seen, learning
involves change -- so, teaching must involve (helping) someone else's
change -- i.e., "changing another person."

You write:
>It's unethical and presumptuous to change another human being. Also
>can be disrespectful.

But then (more correctly, I believe) later write the conditions under which
it is NOT unethical, viz.:
>Where the relationship is established to permit it, and where the
>other person accepts my intervention, I do try to change other people...

In other words, when one has the other's permission I certainly hope it is
neither unethical nor presumptuous nor disrespectful -- otherwise teaching
as a profession is moribund!

Also, with all due respect to your argument from authority (Maturana),
anyone who believes that it is not possible to
>reliably determine what change will occur in
>another human being as a result of their interaction
has, in my opinion, no business being a teacher (nor a friend.) We can, of
course, quibble about the word "reliably" -- but I would say that's not the

The point is that there are (a few) reliable principles of learning and
psychology. Most of them derive from behavioral psychology (Skinnerian
radical behaviorism) which was, whatever else people choose to say about
it, the most scientifically vigorous and experimentally validated form of
psychology we have yet to see. There are principles of reinforcement and
extinction that can be relied upon to determine specific changes in
another's behavior. They work! They are not disrespectful if they have
the other's permission, and with that permission they enhance human
freedom and dignity.

I'll finish for the day by returning to an earlier thought. How can
anyone ethically interact with another person, intending to (foster, help
them) change, and NOT have a reliable sense of what will happen as a
result? I, for one, couldn't sleep at night with this on my conscience.


"John W. Gunkler" <>

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