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Those Juniors, Part 16: The Law of Substitution

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: By adding percept to concept, you can compel a child to do something. You can influence for good by simple repetition—so much so that afterwards, the boy or girl will be compelled to do that which you so often repeated that it will become an almost insatiable urge.

Let us take one more step in this study of developing ideas. There are just three ways in which apperception is built up; that is, in which ideas are combined and developed.

1. Similar ideas merge and make a bigger, more comprehensive idea. For instance, I can speak of a wooden pulpit, and in your mind you can picture a wooden pulpit. I can speak of a brown pulpit, and in your mind you can picture a brown pulpit. These ideas are similar; they both express quality. Now, when I say a “brown wooden pulpit,” do you picture two pulpits? Certainly not. The two similar ideas have fused into one bigger idea, and in your mind you picture one brown wooden pulpit.

2. Disparate ideas combine through the process of complication, to make a bigger, more complex idea. Disparate ideas are not similar. They are entirely different; but let me illustrate. I will call the name of a mountain. When I name it, make a picture of it in your mind. Are you ready? Nebo. Now, who did you think of? Moses. But what made you think of him? I said nothing about Moses, and there is nothing similar between Moses and the mountain. Moses is a man made of flesh and blood; the mountain is made of rocks and earth and trees. But because Moses died on Nebo, his name is inseparably complicated with it, and you rarely think of Nebo without thinking of Moses.

3. Contrary ideas are similar in that they belong to the same class, but because they are opposites they will not fuse or complicate; each has the power to arrest or repel the other. For an example, let us close our eyes and think “light,” not “a light.” Turn the switch on in your mind and picture light. Now change the picture; turn off the switch and in your mind picture darkness. The light has gone; there is only a great field of darkness. Now change from one to the other slowly— “light” — “darkness” — “light” — “darkness.” Now quickly “light”-“darkness,” “light”-“darkness.” And now try to think of light and darkness together. Picture them at the same moment on the throne—“lightdarkness.” Turn the switch off and on at the same time. Try to fuse these ideas. Try to complicate them. No, it cannot be done. You may picture a light on a dark background, but when you picture light, darkness goes from the throne of conscious thought, and when you think of darkness light leaves the throne.

These ideas are opposites. They are contrary. They arrest and repel each other.

Good and evil are contrary ideas. So also are truth and falsehood, Christ and Satan, and comic papers and the Bible.

We tell the young people, when they are tempted to evil, to breathe the name of Jesus, to say, “Lord, help me,” and He does. Of course He does, for when Christ comes to the throne of the mind at our invitation, He will not share that throne with anything evil, and so out goes the evil, and victory is ours.

How accurately Paul stated it when he said, “Overcome evil with good.”1

Psychologists call this the law of substitution. Call it anything you wish, you cannot overcome evil with evil, you cannot correct dishonesty with dishonesty; you must find their opposite ideas, good and honesty, in order to correct them.

Let us take an example, to see just how it works. We will say that Tommy has stolen a quarter from his mother’s purse. If his mother is untrained, she will most likely try to correct him like this: “Oh, Tommy, think of it! Stealing a quarter from your mother’s purse! Fancy becoming a thief for a quarter! A thief! A thief! A thief! Oh, dear me, to think we have a thief in the house. First it is a quarter, then a dollar, then five, then ten, then—oh, terrible!—then the officers come along and drag you off to jail! Oh, Tommy, think of it! A criminal! A thief!”

Can you see Tommy’s reaction, his red cheeks, his hung-down head? He feels ten times more like a thief at the end of this discourse than he did at the beginning. Let us try again. This time the mother has been studying the Sabbath School Teachers’ Training Course and has been learning about contrary ideas, so she talks perhaps something like this. “Oh, Tommy, did you need a quarter as badly as that? Well, now let us put that one back in mother’s purse, and we will talk over a plan whereby you can earn a quarter for your very own, because, Tommy, you know our family is one of the most truthful and honest families in the country. Grandpa was so honest when he first moved up here that his word was as good as a signed note. Oh, Tommy, it is the most wonderful feeling to be able to lift up your chin and swell out your chest and be able to look the whole world in the face, knowing that you don’t owe anyone even a cent.”

Can you picture Tommy this time? See his chin up and his chest out? What a wonderful, understanding mother he has, who knows just what a boy needs, and he is ten times further from being a thief after a talk like that than he was when he took the quarter.
Take time to think through in the light of these thoughts the net results of negative correction, nagging, careless personal appearance, hypocrisy, criticism, and the use of “the horrible example” for an illustration. Just what happens when I say, “Don’t smoke! Don’t smoke! Don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t”? Have I driven an idea out? Have I strengthened any idea? Have you ever heard an adolescent say, “I know I shouldn’t do it. My mother is always telling me not to do it, but somehow the more she tells me not to, the more I want to do it!” Can you understand now why children talk like that?

Would it leave a better impression if I were to say, “Son, men who leave tobacco alone never regret it. Their fathers love them more, their families love them more, they smell sweet, their minds are clearer, their brains work better, they live longer, and they have more money for other luxuries such as color photography and other hobbies”?

Which will accomplish more good, “Don’t get dirty” or “Try to keep clean”? “Don’t make a noise” or “Please be quiet”? Really, if we take time to think, we can find the better way. I believe the time is coming when every earnest parent will pray to be delivered from the fault of criticism, and when our preachers will describe sin less and less, and enlarge more and more on the joys and thrills of being pure, kind, and true Christians.

Let us remember that “the great motive powers of the soul are faith, hope, and love; and it is to these that Bible study, rightly pursued, appeals. ... As the student of the Bible beholds the Redeemer, there is awakened in the soul the mysterious power of faith, adoration, and love. Upon the vision of Christ the gaze is fixed, and the beholder grows into the likeness of that which he adores.”2

(Next week: “Pursuing the Practical, Part 1.”)

1. Romans 12:21.
2. Education, p. 192.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission.

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