One of the best examples of behavioral compliance models I have ever seen was watching the 1980’s sitcom, “Cheers“. The premise is a bar in Boston full of characters sharing life together over a glass of something foamy. Everyone had their same look, same lines, same place to sit in the bar, and same life dilemmas that they attempted to solve every week in thirty minutes. The writers of the show knew this and every once in a while played with that behavioral compliance by getting a character to do something different, sitting back and watching the hilarity ensue.
This valley city where I lived and had moved away from only to return was much like the set of “Cheers”. Each of us fell into some specific role and assigned a certain set of behavioral compliance attributes, which we were not to deviate from under any circumstances. It was stifling. My wife and I had already been rocking the boat over the years. We married young, we adopted children, we home-schooled, we were a bi-racial family, we opted for the simple life, and the list went on. However, like the introduction of a new quirky character in Cheers, we were accepted, just as long as we weren’t there to change the status quo.
Consequently, it became easy to have our own seats in church on a Sunday morning, the same routine of visits, the same routine of life. To a certain degree each of us do this whether we are aware of it or not, and there isn’t anything particularly wrong about it either, as it contributes to a particular social system that runs smooth with the result being a positive and safe place in which people can feel acceptance and intimacy without fear. However, the moment one of you wants to make a major decision this disrupts the social system the entire system reacts to that proposed change – with the orchestrated focus to bring about behavioral compliance – or in other words to get you back in your place so this system can run smoothly again.
So, the mention of me taking schooling with the possibility of moving away from this valley city was akin to dumping a tool box full of wrenches into a machine of well-oiled cogs.
My wife and I were working through all of the logistics around this upcoming change. Really, the timeline was ours to work out. I could go about this as slowly as I wanted or as quickly as I wanted. What we landed on was to just start with one course and see how it was before we caused even more panic with our loved ones over our flip-floppy life.
Ah, but as life would have it some other sets of circumstances were unfolding that would ultimately help make the decision for us. Just around this same time I had been asked to serve as the Chairman of the Board at our church, which I accepted and got about getting even more involved in the silliness of the church leadership relational dynamics. This became even more acute when on a Saturday in late summer the Pastor phoned me up and told me that he was resigning. It was going to be a sudden departure and it was left to me to inform the elders, the rest of the board and to figure out a plan from there.
The other set of circumstances that was unfolding was the house that we had been renting for the past year or so was suddenly sold, leaving us with next to nothing for rental options in the city – at least no options for homes that could accommodate the eight of us. In fact out of all of the places we could find, the only place was a home, which was only available for a nine month timeline. We would need to be out by May of the upcoming year.
When we were hit with the reality that we would have to move again and to top it off we could only move into a home for nine months before we would need to move yet again that tipped the scales for us. In those circumstances we had no idea how it would work out but we set our hearts and our heads on making the move to the middle of the prairies at the end of the nine months in order for me to focus on finishing my degree.
Once we had made this decision and were committed to it I informed the church of our decision, this was just weeks before the pastor suddenly resigned. I also told the owners of the historic hotel, providing them with close to ten months notice of my departure. It felt good to have an end date. We had a lot of details to work out but the escape plan was now in place.