Eric Berne: Games People Play

Games People PlayA seminal, very useful book is turning 50 this coming year. Published in 1964, and the best selling non-fiction book of the 1960s, Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne introduced Transactional Analysis, which looked closely at human relationships. He opted to study interaction as transaction, since he said we communicate to get something out of it.
For example, if one person says hello, and the other person doesn’t respond, the first person feels cheated or irritated, since he or she expected to get something out of saying hello.

Berne said we communicate in three ego states, as the parent, the child and the adult. Everybody has these three people inside their head, which explains the mental cacophony we sometimes experience. When we are emotional, we are the child. Supportive or exerting power over others, we are the parent. Acting rationally, and focusing on the objective problems at hand, we are the adult. And the obvious way to go is to be the adult. This still comes across as fresh to me. It’s good, solid, everyday advice, the very basis of Emotional Intelligence, i.e. applying reason to how we engage in social situations with others.

Berne identified six different ways in which people communicate:

  • withdrawal (disengagement)
  • rituals (highly standardized exchanges)
  • pastimes (predictable conversations, polite exchanges of opinions)
  • activities (eg doing math or building something together)
  • games (underhanded, exploiting others)
  • intimacy (a game-free relationship)

The games we play, he says, like “If it weren’t for you”, are all rackets. Anger is one of those rackets, he says. It makes you feel righteous for a while, but doesn’t solve anything. Instead  he says we have to decide to look at what is making us angry and think about why the other person is doing it. That means not letting the other person win the game by allowing ourselves to get angry. It’s an interesting and engaging challenge, and one that can actually improve the situation.

Every game has three parts:

  • the con – the way of cheating used
  • the gimmick – the weakness that makes the other person play the game
  • the payoff – the feeling that people get from playing the game

Among the aspects Berne identified as worthy of therapy are scripts that he said we develop and follow early in life, and can for instance recognize in fairy tales.

Below is a wonderful 1966 NET Science broadcast special on the book. The reporter interviews Dr. Berne at his home in Carmel where the author explains the theory behind Transactional Analysis. The camera then follows the two of them along the gorgeous Carmel coast – where incidentally Helmut and I spent almost a week last summer. And finally we see Dr. Berne in with other California psychologists, Swinging Sixties style. Watch these four short videos for an exquisite introduction to the theory, and take an evocative journey into the epoch when Transactional Analysis was still new.

Eric Berne passed away in 1970. A website dedicated to him contains selected games he identified. See if any of them ring a bell with you. They did with me. ‘Uproar’, with slamming doors, is a game I used to play a lot with my dad when I was a trouble-making teen. And I find it quite sobering to recognize that I still like to indulge the Child in me.

On this note: I want a sun umbrella just like Dr. Bearne’s.

http://www.ericberne.com/games-people-play/

GoldieBlox: Engineering toys for girls


GoldieBlox is an engineering toy developed for girls by Debbie Sterling. Kept in “girlish” colors and materials, it comes with a storybook telling of heroine Goldie and her friends, and how Goldie gets them through their adventures by engineering solutions. The story is accompanied by a platform where the children can reconstruct her building designs.  Debbie Sterling explains her motives in developing this toy on www.goldieblox.com:

“Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective. GoldieBlox is here to bring the female voice into engineering.”

She has raised the necessary capital to take this toy into production through a funding platform called Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/, which since its launch in 2009 has funded over 30,000 creative projects. Her highly successful pitch? “Our girls need Goldie“. And the great marketing videos starring her “development team” (average age about 5) show that she is just the type of role model a modern girl needs, and really understands her target market. The first of a series of GoldieBlox sets is currently in the pipeline, with several others now lined up to follow.

Here, for reference, is Debbie Sterling’s blurb on Kickstarter:

Debbie is the creative force behind GoldieBlox. She studied engineering at Stanford (Product Design, ’05) and has made it her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math.
Debbie writes and illustrates Goldie’s stories, taking inspiration from her grandmother, one of the first female cartoonists and creator of “Mr. Magoo”.
Prior to founding GoldieBlox, Debbie served as the Marketing Director of Lori Bonn, a national jewelry company. There, she learned the ins and outs of bringing a product to market: from overseas manufacturing to sales/marketing to product fulfillment.
For the past 7 years, Debbie has also served as a brand strategy consultant for a wide variety of organizations including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Organic Valley and the New York Knicks. She gets the power of branding, every step of the way.
Debbie got her first taste of social impact work in 2008, when she spent 6 months volunteering at a grassroots nonprofit in rural India. This experience helped pave the way to finding her true passion: inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
goldieblox.com

Toy dealers here in Germany should sit up and notice. Germany prides itself as the land of engineers and toy design, but not since Playmobil in the 70s has anyone come up with anything with this kind of potential. And even Playmobil doesn’t require much in the way of building skills or imagination. Lego is still the king of building tools, but most of their toys relating to engineering seem to be made for boys. There is nothing really creative in their current product line to excite a girl.

GoldieBlox should be great for children, boys or girls, who want to learn English. The combination of listening to a story being read out and then being able to work hands-on is ideal. I’ve ordered a few sets, but of course ordering individual sets is not economical.

Debbie Sterling’s pitch at SOCAP12 is an excellent model for elevator pitches, by the way! (Link to video)

Teacher colleague Gabrielle Jones has just started up a blog and shared a lesson on Social Commerce.

I’m considering using the GoldieBlox story in the Business English book I’m working on for Cornelsen, but don’t know whether the creative start-up angle is relevant for the Deutsche Mittelstand we’re producing the book for.

GoldieBlox is a play on words, Goldie Locks being the main character in the English fairytale, The Story of the Three Bears, which is relatively unknown in Germany.

Question: What’s your earliest memory?

Think back to the earliest thing you can remember: Where were you? What were your surroundings like? What do you remember most about the situation? Were you doing anything? Did you see, smell, taste, hear, feel anything? How did you feel about yourself and the world around you? Can you estimate approximately how old you were at the time? Come share your earliest memory with the other readers and me.

Note the difference between state and action verbs:

  • it looked/ seemed; I saw/ heard/ smelled/ felt: state verbs and verbs describing your perceptions are used in the past simple
  • I was looking at/ was listening to/ was trying out/ was holding/ was sitting; the sun was shining: action verbs can be used in the past progressive when you describe what you were doing/ what was going on in a given situation

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Be have!

Children make funny mistakes as they learn to speak, and English native speakers are no exception. From David Crystal’s blog:

A correspondent writes with a nice child language story. While in a supermarket she heard an exasperated mother say to her child:
“Will – you – be – have!”
To which the child replied:
“But I am being have.”
With have pronounced /heiv/, of course.

This twisting of “behave” is what DC calls an “analytical error”, and he thinks it’s relatively rare. Well, I think it’s actually far more frequent in bilingual families, where children are trying to make sense of competing codes.

In our family (growing up in the US speaking German at home) we had lots of funny mistakes that came from growing up bilingual, between two languages, and transferring rules from one to the other. A typical mistake was my eldest brother saying that he wanted a sandwich “mit ohne Butter” – which sounds a lot like “without butter” – and is very logical. After all, the default mode, so to speak, was bread with butter. My own stubborn mistakes have been confusing singular and plural nouns. I still sometimes hunt for my “Brillen” – which means I’m looking for at least two pairs of glasses at once.

Vivienne Arnold has done academic research on “codeswitching”, or changing language and using correct pronunciation to the switched word, in her bilingual children’s use of English, and found that they said things like “After Mittagspause we did treff ourselves”. That’s really nice, isn’t it? Not the word “lunch break”, which they will not be hearing at their all-German school. And not “meet us“, which is a common error my German students would make. And then using an auxiliary verb for the past tense, which makes it sound more like “wir haben uns getroffen”. This use of language is really quite creative. Her research reminds me of the kind of language we used to use at the German School in Washington, DC, where we would ask each other before tests: “Will you let me abschreib from you?” I think I learned the word “to crib” for “abschreiben” from an Englishteacher here in Germany. And did we abschreib? Of course not! We were always have.

Do you have any similar examples?