“You in the back. Yes, you. Blue shirt, chewing gum. Why are you here?” I used my gravelly voice.
She looked about, casting for help, and responded timidly. “Because I want to study behavior?”
“I already know that. This class is Behavior 101. More to the point, why do YOU want to study behavior?”
She stared at her device, blankly, then looked up again with fear in her eyes. I’ve seen that fear at the beginning of every single new class.
“I’m not sure?” in the form of a question.
“You’re not sure? Are you in the right body?”
The class tittered, giving me time to find her name. I wandered across the stage for drama.
“Perhaps, Miriam, you have a boyfriend and you want to understand him?”
Her eyes widened, and she shook her head no.
“No? Perhaps then you wish to learn why your mother always acts crazy with you?”
“Leave my mother out of this!”
“Miriam, do you want to save the planet? Do you care about your unborn child?”
“Of course!” Almost petulant. Good, perhaps she had a backbone. But a backbone can also be a weakness. Best to test her now, rather than later. I let the silence linger.
“Miriam, do you have a hidden agenda?
“What? No! I don’t think so.”
How do you feel about drug testing on cute little animals?
“Very much against it!”
“Mizz Miriam!” I put as much fury into my face as I could without laughing. Acting was the hardest part of my job, and I can’t write about it without smiling.
“Who made you God?”
“Professor!” she gasped.
“You, all by yourself, encouraged by your animal-loving friends, have already decided. How can I trust you to learn the truth, if you already have the answer?”
“But they’re so cute. How can hurting them possibly…?”
“Miriam, you might be right. Perhaps it is cruel to hurt cute little animals. But our job is to study behavior, not to judge it. You have to learn to put your judgements away, and to study behavior with a completely open mind. Do you understand?
“Miriam, are you the kind of person who distorts reality to fit your agenda? Will you sacrifice logic and respect for others in order to achieve what YOU think is right?”
“I don’t know.”
“YOU … DON’T … KNOW?” I bellowed this to the whole class because it was so important.
“Listen, all of you. By the end of this semester, you will know why you’re here. If it’s not to start understanding behavior, you will at least begin to see what it takes to understand behavior. This road to knowledge is not for the greedy, or the weak. You will be dissecting live specimens in this class, and that specimen is yourself. If you have an agenda, you will fail. If you have a problem with truth, you will fail. If you have a bias or preconception of any kind, you will fail.”
I turned back to face Miriam again. The poor thing was already trying to sneak out the back door.
“Miriam!” I bellowed. She stopped and turned.
This time I smiled and asked her the ultimate question.