Bill on RTP

[From Bill Powers (2007.06.29.0610 MDT)]

I was looking for a test message to send to myself using SendThisFile (Google it) and came across this. It expresses some things we've been talking about. Makes me wish Tom Bourbon were still on CSGnet. He was still working with Ed Ford at the time. His email address has changed.


Bill P.



Date: Sat, 01 Mar 1997 20:16:51 -0700
From: Bill Powers <>
Subject: Re: From Ed's Net

[From Bill Powers (970301.1917 MST)]

Hi, Tom --

I'd like to throw in a few comments on levels and rules. Maybe you'd like to
relay them to whomever might be interested.

As you've been saying, the exact names of levels are unimportant. What
matters is the relationship between them. You control things at one level of
perception as a means of controlling things at a higher level. For example,
if a teacher wants a class to be orderly, that is a reference condition
toward which the teacher wants a perception of the class to move, or to stay
in. But is that all? When the class is orderly, does the teacher sit back
and read a book? Obviously not: there was a reason for wanting the class to
be orderly. So just ask yourself why the teacher wants an orderly class --
for what purpose. Perhaps it's to teach something. Perhaps it's to impress a
visitor. Perhaps it's to feel in control of people. All those possibilities
are _higher level_ reference conditions, which require an orderly class in
order to achieve them -- or so that particular teacher thinks.

When you understand this relationship between levels, does it matter what
names you give to the levels?

The other point concerns rules. Why should children learn the rules and obey

Here is a rule that children really should learn: if you run across a busy
street, you are likely to get injured or killed. Here's another: if you eat
up all your candy, you will have no candy left. And another: If you drop
something, it will fall.

Oh, you say, that's just cause and effect. Those rules are like natural
laws; that's just the way the world is. But we're talking about rules of
social conduct, which are sometimes pretty arbitrary and silly, like the one
that says you have to say the Pledge of Alliegance at the start of the
school day (I don't know if that's true any more; it was when I was a kid).
Or the one that says you shouldn't swear in class. That's a different kind
of rule.

But the truth is that these rules are just like cause-effect rules; they're
the way the world is. If you understand the rules that the people around you
prefer to live under, then you can predict a lot of the consequences of your
actions. This is just basic PCT. If you know that a person is controlling
for something, and you act in a way that disturbs what the person is
controlling, you can predict that the person is going to take some kind of
action to keep from being disturbed, maybe action against you. So knowing
that, do you have any reason to complain if you DO disturb the other person,
and the other person DOES push back? Of course not: you knew beforehand what
would happen, and when you acted you were in complete control of the other
person's reaction. You could bring about that reaction, or not bring it
about. You're in control.

[It occurs to me now -- 2007 -- that this is the answer to the "I see you have chosen" argument. Nobody thought of it. A better way of putting it that doesn't try to hide the teacher's responsibility is "Did you know what I would do if you did that again?"]

The first thing you have to do to keep control of your life in a social
situation is to understand the rules. The rules tell you what will happen
when you act various ways. If you disrupt a class, the rule is that the teacher sends you to the Social Skills Room (or whatever name you prefer). So if you want to go to the Social Skills Room, you can do so any time you wish:
just disrupt the class. Or beat somebody up, or carry a knife, or do any of
the things you know are against the rules. Or if you want to stay in class,
you can decide not to do those things.

What people object to is that this all seems like a pretense, because the
kids don't have any choice about what the rules are. But that's completely
irrelevant; the point is to learn how to control your own life _in the world
as it is_. And the rules that exist, along with the consequences of breaking
them, are part of the world the way it is. If you keep going against the
rules, things are going to happen to you that you can't control, and nobody
likes that. It's always better to learn how to get what you want without
losing control of your life.

This has a lot to do with levels of perception and control. Young children
don't comprehend higher levels of perception very well; they tend to assume
that the rules came into being at the same time as the Universe. They may
rebel against the rules because they strongly desire to do something that
involves breaking them, but they don't really think of doing something to
_change_ the rules.

That comes later -- just how much later, I don't know. But when it comes, it
involves a whole different level of talking about social relations. Part of
every school curriculum, even in the Bad Old Schools, involves teaching how
rules are made in our society as a whole. The basic method involves just
what children are taught in the RTP approach. You try to figure out what you
really want; you try to think of a plan for getting it; you negotiate with
other people to see if an arrangement can't be made that satisfies everyone,
as much as reasonably possible. At some level of school -- and again, I'm
not the one to say just where -- this can involve even changing the rules.
That, of course, leads to a far greater degree of control over what happens
to you, a higher level of control. Of course it also requires recognizing
that everyone's will is equally deserving of respect; if you want to get
your way, you have to be willing to let others get their way, too. The
teacher might decide to allow children to pass notes to each other in class,
if the children will agree to do it quietly and at a time that won't
interfere with what's going on. This way, everyone gets to control what
matters to them.

But none of this will work unless everyone learns first to deal with the
social system AS IT IS. This doesn't require that you like it; it requires
only that you take responsibility for whatever effects you have, given that
you know what those effects will be. First you learn to control your own
life in the world as it is. Then you learn how to negotiate with others to
change the world.


Bill P.