Your Quality World - The Theory

Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom - William Glasser M.D. 1998

Your Quality World
The Theory

ALL OF US ARE AWARE that we live in a world we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. We call it the real world or reality and tend to assume it’s the same world for all of us. But as in the fable the Blind Men and the Elephant, no two of us perceive it the same. As difficult as this fact may be to accept, especially for those who pride themselves on their objectivity, we all perceive a great deal of reality the way we want to perceive it. Optimists and pessimists live in the same world, as do the sane and the crazy, but each sees it far differently. Much of what we see may be close to what others see or we couldn’t get along at all, but it is not the same.

Choice theory explains that the reason we perceive much of reality so differently from others has to do with another important world, unique to each of us, called the quality world. This small, personal world, which each person starts to create in his or her memory shortly after birth and continues to create and re-create throughout life, is made up of a small group of specific pictures that portray, more than anything else we know, the best ways to satisfy one or more of our basic needs.

What these pictures portray falls into three categories: (1) the people we most want to be with, (2) the things we most want to own or experience, and (3) the ideas or systems of belief that govern much of our behavior. Anytime we feel very good, we are choosing to behave so that someone, something, or some belief in the real world has come close to matching a picture of that person, thing, or belief in our quality worlds. Throughout our lives, we will be in closer contact with our quality worlds than with anything else we know.

Most of us know nothing about our basic needs. What we know is how we feel, and we always want to feel as good as we can. Therefore, the overwhelming reason we chose to put these particular pictures into our quality worlds is that when we were with these people; when we owned, used, or experienced these things; and when we put these beliefs into action, they felt much better than did other people, things, or beliefs.

Our quality worlds contain the knowledge that is most important to us. As much as we may try to deny the importance of this knowledge, we cannot. When we say, I don’t care, we are not telling the truth. If what we are talking about is in our quality worlds, we care deeply. All day long our minds drift back and forth to the images in our quality worlds; we can’t get them off our minds. Examples of these pictures are the new homes we are saving for; the new jobs we want so much; the good grades that are so important to our future; the men or women we plan to marry; and our sick children, who are recovering their health. For alcoholics, the image is the alcohol they crave so much; for gamblers, the run at the crap table that is always on their minds; for revolutionaries, a new political system to replace the one they hate so much; and for religious people, the picture of heaven or paradise in which they hope to spend eternity.

For each of us, this world is our personal Shangri-la, the place where we would feel very good right now if we could move to it. Anytime we are able to succeed in satisfying a picture in this world, it is enjoyable; anytime we fail, it is always painful. If we knew it existed and understood the vital role this world plays in each of our lives, we would be able to get along much better with each other than most of us do now.

For example, if Scarlett O’Hara knew that she was jeopardizing her place in Rhett Butler’s quality world, she might have been much more careful how she treated him. If she had, he might never have spoken his famous line, “Frankly, my dear, I have just removed you from my quality world.” (For skeptics, I admit that my copy of Gone with the Wind* may be the only one in which this quote appears.)

It is a paradox that all of us know what’s in our quality worlds to the minutest detail, but few of us know that these worlds exist. I may know nothing about my quality world, but I do know that my daughter, an actress, is very important to me. When I go to a play she’s starring in, I perceive her as a great actress. If she has flaws, I don’t see them. I tell anyone who’ll listen how great she was, and I’m peeved if anyone disagrees with me. For me, her great performance is my reality no matter what others say. If the whole city raved about her acting, I’d be ecstatic because my reality would have been accepted as reality by a lot of people. So one way all of us tend to define reality, or the real world, is to base it on what a lot of people say it is as long as they agree with us. I see the one critic who tore her acting apart as crazy or detached from reality; that critic will never gain entrance to my quality world.

If the one critic who panned her was the greatest critic in the city—greatest because he was in the quality worlds of the city’s theater lovers—what he said probably would be seen as reality by most people, especially in terms of her getting another part. It would hardly matter to the people reading his review that the lesser critics raved, since these critics are not in their quality worlds. Most people would base their opinions on what this popular critic said and not go to the play. It’s hard to go against the beliefs of powerful people. Therefore, for each of us, as difficult as it may be to accept, reality has a lot to do with what a lot of us or some important or powerful people say it is.

But ultimately, whether people agree with us or not, we define reality in the way it works best for us. That is, I may never be able to agree with you about what is going on in the real world if what we are arguing about is pictured differently in our quality worlds. I watch the president on television and say he was marvelous; you look at me as if I was crazy. The president was what he was, but we do not have the ability to see him in the same way. To avoid controversy, many people tend to stay out of political and religious arguments and instead talk about the weather. Whatever weather is in our quality worlds, no one will fault that picture.

Because my daughter is in my quality world, I cannot see her as she actually is on the stage. But I, along with almost everyone else attending the play that night, tend to see the set the same way. We may admire it, but unless we designed it, the set is not in any of our quality worlds, so there is no need to see it any differently from the way it is. Total objectivity is a myth. It could exist only if we all had exactly the same quality worlds.

We see this discrepancy most clearly in jury trials. If the defendant is in the quality worlds of the jurors for a wide variety of reasons, they may pay little attention to the evidence and acquit him. If he is not the kind of person any of the jurors would put into their quality worlds, he is likely to be found guilty even on flimsy evidence. That is why defendants try to dress well for their trials and to be respectful to the judges. As much as we think we can, we cannot view a situation objectively unless it has nothing to do with what is in our quality worlds.

But in operation, there has to be such a thing as a real world. If we were not able to see huge parts of it in much the same way, we would be living in the equivalent of the Tower of Babel and be unable to deal with each other effectively enough to get anything done. For example, most of us agree on what time it is or there could be no concept of being on time. But time is not usually in our quality worlds; under ordinary circumstances, we get no great pleasure from knowing what time it is. If I am a dispatcher in a railroad yard, however, time is very much in my quality world because my not knowing the correct time can cause a severe accident. There is hardly anything that is not important to someone, but most of the time there is enough that is unimportant to almost all of us so that we can agree that what’s out there is reality.

As we attempt to satisfy our needs, we are continually creating and re-creating our quality worlds. If I want a lot of power, I may put politics into my quality world. If survival is all I want, I may make Ebenezer Scrooge my role model. If freedom dominates the pictures in my quality world, I may buy a small sailboat and blissfully sail the sea alone. If I want a lot more sex, I may ignore my mate and look for a sexier partner who matches the one I picture in my quality world. If I spend a lot of money running for office and fail to get elected, I may eventually take politics out of my quality world. I tend to keep the pictures in as long as they have any chance of working for me.

But I still may keep these pictures too long because, frustrating as they may be, it is painful to take them out. It is giving up on something that was very satisfying to one or more of my needs in the past. So most of us keep pictures in our quality worlds long after we are no longer able to satisfy them to the extent we want. You may keep an ideal picture of your wife in your quality world for quite a while after you are no longer able to satisfy that picture in the real world. She has been there a long time, and you keep hoping she’ll change. Also, if you take her out, you will be tempted to leave her, which could result in financial problems and unhappy children. You may be unhappy with your wife, but you’d be even unhappier if you took her out. No matter how good a reason you have to keep someone in your quality world, if you can’t be with him or her the way you want to, you suffer. Romeo and Juliet might have been better off separating for a while until they got older, but their quality worlds did not give them that choice.

As I explained in the first two chapters, even feeling good is complicated because there are two different kinds of pleasure pictures. One pleasure I called happiness, which means that if you are unhappy, you keep trying to satisfy a picture of you and someone else being close. At a minimum, happy people have some people, usually loved ones, some family members, and at least one friend in their quality worlds.

But a lot of people have not found anyone they can trust and enjoy being with. They may have been rejected or abused, and they begin to give up on happiness, on feeling good in a relationship. In many instances, they discover that there are ways to find pleasure without relationships. To feel good, they begin to replace people pictures with nonpeople pleasure pictures—pictures of violence, drugs, and unloving sex—in their quality worlds. As they do so, they separate themselves further from people and happiness, compounding the urgency of their problem. The more lonely they get, the less they are able to accept that they have rejected people and the more they believe that people have rejected them. Many of them blame the government or people who are different from them.

If they are men, they often hate women and enjoy degrading them. They hate them because they need them sexually, and they like to see themselves as macho men who don’t need anyone. Hustler magazine depends on the quality world fantasies of these men. And there must be a lot of them because that magazine has made millions for its creator.

A few years ago, my wife, Carleen, and I worked for a year in an inner-city middle school where most of the students did not have teachers, each other, or schoolwork in their quality worlds. The students felt no happiness in that school, but they did feel some pleasure talking about, and sometimes satisfying, the usual pleasure pictures of unhappy young people: drugs, violent clowning around, and nonloving sex. They were resigned to the fact that they would never be happy in school. It was apparent to us that because they had experienced so little pleasure in school, and what they had had been years ago in the primary grades, they couldn’t even conceive that happiness in school was possible.

The more the teachers and the principal tried to force them, with threats and punishment, to do schoolwork, the more they resisted and the more they focused on what was in their quality worlds. I discuss all the things we did in that school to turn it around in chapter 10, on education. But from this much, you can see what we had to do if our goal was to convince the students to do schoolwork. We had to persuade them to put us, and through us, schoolwork, into their quality worlds. We had to treat them well no matter how they treated us. Using choice theory, we were able to build relationships with them, and through these relationships, they began to picture themselves satisfying their needs in school with people. Happiness slowly began to replace pleasure as they began to put the staff and each other into their quality worlds.

As long as the people we want to help have only antisocial pleasure pictures in their quality worlds, all we can do that has any chance of succeeding is to build relationships with them and get into their quality worlds. Punishment, which is used mainly with students, especially with those who come from poor homes and don’t like school, does just the opposite. The more we do what most people believe is right—punish—the further we get from what we want. It is a wonder that our schools are doing as well as they are, considering how much we punish and how many students do not have teachers and schoolwork in their quality worlds.

We all need happy, supportive people in our quality worlds; nothing less will do. It is the job of parents, teachers, and employers to be such people. Too many teachers and bosses do not realize how much they are needed just to be warm, friendly, and supportive to those they teach and manage. It doesn’t take much; a few minutes of attention a day works wonders. But many who teach and manage don’t understand that given care and support, the students and workers who are doing so little now would be willing and eager to work hard.

Without sufficiently supportive people in our quality worlds, we often follow an extreme version of the fourth variation of un-happiness described in chapter 1: We try to force ourselves to do what goes against a basic need or needs. Anorexics are such people. No matter how much they are cared for, they are not satisfied. They starve themselves, ostensibly to be thin but actually to control the people who care about them. Since we all see the world not as it is but the way we want to see it, they may interpret parental care as control. But however they rationalize what they are choosing to do, research has found that they put a picture of themselves in their quality worlds as being thinner than whatever they see in the mirror.

If these young women hold rigidly to this unsatisfiable, changing picture, they will starve themselves to death. In practice, only a very few do, but it’s hard to figure out who will and who won’t starve herself to death. Why they starve themselves is not an easy question to answer. My guess is that they discover that doing so gives them an unexpected feeling of power over the people they believe are not treating them the way they want to be treated.

When a powerless adolescent suddenly has control over her entire family, it feels so good that she can’t start eating. She literally becomes addicted to her internal endorphins and fails to feel the pain of hunger. If she ate, she would lose all this power and the pleasure that goes with it. Later, when I discuss child rearing, I explain how to raise a daughter so she gains reasonable power at an early age and has no need for the abnormal power that an anorexic suddenly gains and has no idea how to handle. The key in rearing all children is to surround them with loving, supportive people in their quality worlds who help them to experience both freedom and power responsibly. Anorexia is a graphic example of the strength of the quality world. The wrong pictures can ruin lives.

To get along better than we do now with another person, we need to try to learn what is in that person’s quality world and then try to support it. Doing so will bring us closer to that person than anything else we can do. But it is not easy to find out what is in another person’s quality world, and it is not always easy to support what we find out, as the example of anorexia shows so clearly. No parent can or should support that crazy picture. Tell the truth: “I care about you, but I can’t support all you want to do.” The treatment of anorexia is difficult even if you know what is going on and beyond what I can explain in this book.

Most of us are reluctant to share what is in our quality worlds even with people we are close to because we are afraid they may not support what we want—that they may criticize or ridicule what is so important to us. We know we would choose to feel hurt, angry, or both if they did. For example, a man wants to write a novel but he’s afraid to tell his wife. He fears being told, “That’s ridiculous. What do you know about writing a novel?” Fearing this put-down, he doesn’t tell her. This way he can’t get hurt. But since he can’t share it with her, he may grow resentful. The thing is, she hasn’t actually said anything; it’s all in his head. She might be quite supportive if he told her. It’s his fear that has led to his discomfort. Still, in too many marriages, fear and resentment are common and start with the early criticism of what may be in the other’s quality world. The best thing to do if you know choice theory is to explain the quality world and what you are afraid of to your partner. This is the way to get trust in a marriage when more is needed. If you don’t, your resentment may lead you to criticize and blame your partner, which further reduces the trust.

It is common for people, following the third belief of external control psychology—that it is your right to make people do what you want them to do—to put a picture in their quality worlds that goes beyond relating, to actually owning someone. If you own that person, it is right to make him or her do what you want. Any ownership picture is a relationship disaster in the making. It almost always sets us up for disappointment, anger, and conflict. Ownership pictures may lead to murder; prisons have thousands upon thousands of men and some women who killed their spouses who would not be owned. Robert Browning’s tragic poem, My Last Duchess, portrays so clearly how ownership can turn to disaster when the owner is jealous.

It is especially hard for powerful people to be tolerant of the quality worlds of people who are less powerful. If everyone could learn that what is right for me does not make it right for anyone else, the world would be a much happier place. Choice theory teaches that my quality world is the core of my life; it is not the core of anyone else’s life. This is a difficult lesson for external control people to learn.

Most of us have two pictures of ourselves in our quality worlds. One is a slightly idealized picture, the other an extremely idealized picture. Because of these two pictures, when you look in the mirror, you first compare what you see with the extremely idealized picture and are not satisfied. You may think about it for a moment; then you quickly realize that matching that picture is impossible, since you may never have looked as good as that generous picture. After a moment of displeasure, you realize it’s not worth the effort and stop thinking that way. For most of us, the extremely idealized picture is a fantasy picture. It’s there and we enjoy it, but we don’t take it seriously. We settle for the slightly idealized picture that we have a reasonable chance of achieving. I picture myself being a better tennis player but nowhere close to a professional.

But just as we can choose to put people into our quality worlds and picture them anyway we want them to be, we can also choose to take them out. Parents and children are generally an exception, which I explain in chapter 9. Even though it is unusual, we can actually remove every single person from our quality worlds except ourselves. No matter how we picture ourselves, we can’t take ourselves out. That picture may be totally unrealistic, but as long as it is what we want, we have to keep trying to be like it. We can’t escape from this self-imposed task by taking ourselves out of our own quality worlds. To take ourselves out would mean we don’t exist. There is, however, one thing we can do if we refuse to change the picture of ourselves being OK all alone. We can kill ourselves, and this may be one motivation for suicide: I’d rather be dead than continue to struggle trying to feel good with the way I choose to be—all alone. This is different from the usual motivation for suicide: I’d rather be dead than struggle for a relationship I can’t have.

Because it feels so good to be with them or we believe it will feel so good to be with them, we may get involved destructively with some of the people we choose to put into our quality worlds. It is sometimes dangerous to our health or happiness to put certain people into our quality worlds, and we often know it when we put them in. And to be fair, it may be destructive to them to put us in. We may take drugs, commit crimes, abuse others, cheat, lie, or commit suicide with the someone who is in our quality worlds.

Therefore, whether we like it or not, or anyone else likes it or not, the people we put into our quality worlds are neither good nor bad in the sense that the real world defines good and bad. What the real world thinks may have a lot to do with putting them in or taking them out, but it is what we think that counts. They are there because we believe, or at least hope, that it will feel very good to be with them and bad to be without them.

It’s the same with things. Almost all the things we choose to put into our quality worlds are attached in some way to people because this attachment provides much of the good feeling we all want. There is less satisfaction in owning a fine house, a powerful car, or a great painting if no one enjoys it with us. The things we picture in our quality worlds may not be anything we want to own. They may be pictures of a beautiful sunset, a gorgeous public garden, a full moon, or the sighting of a huge blue whale, but all these pictures are most enjoyable when we share them with people we care about.

What we most believe in is our religion, our political convictions, and our way of life. Music, art, sports, almost anything can be part of our way of life. But systems of belief that are strong enough for us to put into our quality worlds mean little to us if we cannot convince another person that what we believe is also good for him or her. We don’t have to convince everyone, but it hurts if we can’t convince someone who we believe is worth convincing. In fact, if we are able to convince people, this becomes a good reason to put them into our quality worlds. Most of us start trying to convince the people close to us and then, if we are successful, we go on to our acquaintances, but less often to total strangers. If those we know refuse to believe, few of us are ready to go to extremes to convince them.

Of course some are willing to go to extremes. There are terrorists who have systems of belief in their quality worlds that are in violent opposition to the workings of governments and are willing to act on those beliefs. Huge amounts of blood have been spilled in wars in an effort to get others to believe as a few powerful leaders do. Our unwillingness to extricate ourselves from the war in Vietnam is an example of how difficult it is for politicians to change a quality world belief that, right or wrong, the United States should never lose a war. Few of our citizens shared that rigid belief, and the army is now well aware of the risk of going to war when that going-to-war picture is not in the quality worlds of the majority of the people.

With serious threats, you can force most people to choose to say or do anything to stay alive. But this behavior will continue only as long as the force is in effect. What you can’t do, no matter how much you threaten or punish, is make anyone change any picture that he or she has put into his or her quality world. The one thing no one can take away from you is the freedom to control your own quality world. This freedom was well illustrated by two recent, closely related newspaper reports.

The first report was that computers in schools are not leading to increased learning, as measured by proficiency tests. The second, a good-news-bad-news story, stated that American fourth graders are now showing significant gains in mathematics and science compared to those in other countries, but American eighth graders are lagging even further behind other eighth graders. What the first story illustrates is that teacher-student interaction is being replaced by computer-student interaction. Computers are good tools, but they are not teachers. Used by a good teacher who understands their limitations and who interacts enough with students so that they put this teacher into their quality worlds, computers can help. Used without teacher interaction, computers mean little, and that, according to my experience, seems to be how many are being used.

The same reasoning applies to the drop-off in learning between the fourth and eighth grades. What is actually being measured in both instances is the number of students who have their teachers in their quality worlds. Go into any first-, second-, third-, or fourth-grade class anywhere in the country and observe what is going on. Then take a look at any sixth-, seventh-, or eighth-grade class in the same school district. You will see a marked difference.

Many more younger students are involved in learning than older students. This is another way of saying that many more younger students than older students have their teachers in their quality worlds. Exactly why this drop-off in learning occurs is explained in detail in chapter 10, but the overall reason is simple. External control psychology is many times more prevalent in the upper grades than in the elementary grades. It is the use of this psychology, not the students or teachers, that is the cause of this discrepancy.

The best way to explain how we learn what pictures to put into our quality worlds is to begin with a newborn baby. All she knows for the first few weeks of life is how she feels. As long as she feels good, she sleeps or, when awake, looks around. It’s when she feels bad, for example, when she’s hungry, that the survival genes take over. Then she gets purposeful and begins to do what she can to feel better. But besides the few behaviors she is born with, crying and fussing, there’s not much she can do.

In no more than a week or two, she learns to put pain, crying, and getting fed together, and from this combination she then directs her crying toward getting fed because getting fed feels very good. She soon learns about sucking and milk and becomes aware that something is feeding her and it feels good. This vital survival knowledge, which feels so good, is the beginning of her quality world. It will grow much larger as she learns more, but even when she becomes an adult, it will never become very large because she will put into it only those people, things, and beliefs that feel much better than anything else she knows at that time in her life.

In a few more weeks, the something feeding her and helping her to feel good becomes someone and then a particular someone, in most cases her mother, the first person most of us admit into this special world. The baby also begins to learn that crying is an all-purpose behavior that leads not only to less pain but often to happiness as her mother and even others go out of their way to care for her when she cries. She doesn’t know what happiness is, but she learns that this feeling is associated with close contact with people, which will prepare her for learning what happiness is later. As this happens, she begins to realize the difference between feeling good and bad, a difference that will motivate her for the rest of her life.

By the time the baby is six months old, she is well aware that feeling good is highly related to her quality world picture of her mother, but she also begins to learn that her mother’s efforts to comply with her continued demands are not perfect. If the baby has a little intestinal gas, her mother can’t do much but pat her back to help her burp. Sometimes her mother succeeds and the baby feels better, but whether she succeeds or not, the baby may begin to appreciate in a dim way that her mother always tries to help her to feel better. But she also learns that there are times when she has to do as well as she can by herself.

Her appreciation that her mother is always trying to help her even though at times she can’t is another reason the baby continues to keep her mother strongly in her quality world. But she also learns that helping herself, no matter how good a mother she has, is a good idea. As she learns to help herself, she begins to put a strong picture of herself into her own quality world. She is now planting the first seeds of personal freedom. The more others in our quality worlds let us do things for ourselves, the more we learn to take care of ourselves.

When the baby is around two years old, that strong picture of herself that is starting to form is now given an unexpected jolt. Unknown to the baby, but well known to her genes, she is now being driven by a new discomfort: She wants some power. Who better can she turn to than her parents, to see if they can do something to help her get rid of this new frustration? At some trifle, some small difference between what she wants and what is in her quality world—perhaps she has misplaced a toy—she chooses to scream and keep screaming, no matter what her mother or father does. Some parents call this checking-out-my-power time “the terrible twos” because it becomes obvious when most children are about two years old.

Although she is unaware of what she is doing, the child, driven by power, is now exploring her controlling behaviors that have worked so well to find out if they work well enough to get rid of every discomfort that comes along. That’s the ultimate goal of power. No one achieves it, but some babies come pretty close for a while. The baby says to herself, Why not find out how much I can get others to do for me. Much of what she is checking out has to do with power, but as time goes on, it may also have to do with freedom and fun. In search of freedom, she may run all over a market and cry her head off when her mother catches her and puts her in the shopping cart. She may find a book in a store and start to look at it—fun and learning—and have a tantrum if her father won’t buy it. At times, it’s not so much that she wants anything in particular, she just wants to see if her parents will respond quickly and enthusiastically to her demands.

Sometime between two and four years, she discovers there is a limit and restarts the maturing process of modifying the picture of her parents doing everything for her that she had begun to form before the need for power kicked in. She finds that her parents won’t do as much as she wants them to, but they are still well worth keeping in her quality world. The preschooler begins to learn that wanting things that depend on others who won’t or can’t get them for her is just too painful, it isn’t worth it. She learns the process of not wanting too much. That adjustment of her quality world based on what is possible is well worth learning. She also begins to take some people, who used to fuss over her but have now stopped, out of her quality world and begins to get more realistic about putting people into her quality world.

Good parents who make clear what they and others will do and what children have to do for themselves can help the children create sensible quality worlds. Divorced parents who compete for a position in the children’s quality worlds are not in a good position to teach this lesson, and the children are often more than willing to exploit this situation. How well children learn to deal with reality, and huge numbers learn to do it poorly, has a lot to do with whether they are happy or miserable for the rest of their lives.

But as children grow older and begin school, they get another shock: External control is a two-way street, and most of the traffic is coming the other way. More and more, teachers and parents join together and try to make them do a great many things they don’t want to do—like homework, which is seldom in any child’s quality world. But homework is strongly in teachers’ and parents’ quality worlds. If children don’t do it, the teachers and parents threaten and punish. Thus, children now get hurt by the same people who used to spend a lot of time and effort making sure they felt good. They have no idea that their parents, now invoking the third belief of external control, know what’s right for their children and are acting vigorously on that knowledge.

Still, the home part of these early years between about age four and preadolescence is usually satisfying because few parents are so strongly punitive that their young children even consider taking them out of their quality worlds. If the parents are sensible enough to couple their increasing demands that the children do what they tell them to do with a lot of love and with explanations of why these demands are being made and are strong enough to cope with the children’s resistant behaviors by not responding in kind, things usually work out well. The children keep their parents strongly enough in their quality worlds to realize that cooperation is better than trying to force the parents and not succeeding.

By their teenage years, when the sex-power hormones start to flow more freely, the power struggle between parents and children escalates even with children who had been obedient in the past. During these years, many parent-child relationships are damaged severely at a time when teenagers, who are exposed daily to many opportunities to get into trouble, need their parents in their quality worlds more than ever.

Each is trying to make the other do what the other does not want to do, or each is withdrawing from the other because he or she decides that this person is never going to be the person I want him or her to be. And following the external control they are practicing to the hilt, each is convinced that he or she is right. Parents who understand choice theory bend over backward to try to maintain themselves in their teenagers’ quality worlds. The advice I can give them that worked well in our house is this: Pay close attention to what they do but little attention to what they say. It isn’t always easy to do so. But if you know about the quality world and that you are risking your position in your child’s quality world by threatening and punishing, you have an incentive to learn to do it.

What makes things so difficult in our society is not our inability to get along well with the people in our quality worlds. If we can’t get along with them, we simply stay uninvolved, sometimes going so far as to avoid them. But although staying uninvolved may work for people we know, it will not work for a community. To do as many of us are increasingly doing, hiding behind the external control of security systems, guards, and gated walls, is not the American dream. The biggest problem of our society is our inability even to conceive of getting to know, much less get along with, many people who are repugnant to us. We see them as dangerous or potentially dangerous, and many of them are. They are the last people we would consider putting into our quality worlds.

But neither we nor the people we fear and try to avoid have any idea that we need each other. We and they have the same genes; our need for belonging, if not love, has no conditions. Whatever conditions we impose have to do with the psychology we use; there is no psychology in our genes. As long as external control psychology continues to be the psychology of our society, we have no way of dealing with these people except to punish them and hide from them.

If we would change to choice theory, we would begin to think differently. We might begin to realize that neither hiding from them nor punishing them has any chance of getting us the comfort and security we want. Then we might consider a totally safe and low-cost alternative: reaching out at least as far as teaching choice theory widely in a community. Choice theory could do no harm and would have as good a chance of helping those we fear and shun as it has of helping us. Just one concept, wider knowledge of the part our quality worlds play in our lives, could make a difference. I expand on this concept of community in part 3 of this book.

* Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1936).