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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich



In my youth, an English teacher used a writing assignment to demonstrate how describing the content of one’s thought process wasn’t as easy as students may’ve believed. Regarding this task, one source states:


Giving clear, concise instructions to others is an important skill for children to learn. In this game, students will practice using descriptive vocabulary, communicating ideas to others, recognizing steps in a process and recognizing the importance of the use of clear language.


The educator who issued the assignment brought loaves of bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife and other items into the classroom. Each student was paired with another child. As one read from personally written instructions, the other student would make the prescribed sandwich.


Noteworthy, each of the children were instructed not to interpret meaning. We were to thoroughly follow instructions as articulated by the student who read aloud. It was that lesson during which I realized that shared thought wasn’t reality.


Despite what Émile Durkheim expressed about a collective consciousness, or what Carl Jung proposed regarding collective unconscious, it was apparent to me in childhood that shared meaning wasn’t entirely objective. Expressed crudely, “Your thoughts ain’t my thoughts!


Since beginning practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I’ve further understood that people often think that their irrational beliefs are shared by others. For instance, person X believes that all people enjoy peanut butter and jelly (PBJ) sandwiches, because she favors the entre.


Therefore, when encountering person Y who doesn’t like PBJ, though instead appreciates peanut butter and banana sandwiches, person X has difficulty comprehending this discrepancy of logic. For illustrative purposes, person X’s logic is represented by the following syllogism:


Major premise: All humans like PBJ sandwiches.


Minor premise: Person Y is a human.


Conclusion: Therefore, person Y likes PBJ sandwiches.


Because person X’s logical construct is predicated on a faulty premise, her logical conclusion isn’t sound. Given this basic understanding related to description of one’s thought process, let’s look at what leads some people to seek the services of an REBT practitioner.


Suppose person X believes that all Republican voters are awful people. She tells herself, “No morally upstanding person would vote Republican, because Republicans are an awful basket of deplorables!”


Here, person X has used irrational beliefs related to awfulizing (i.e., “awful”) and global evaluations (i.e., “basket of deplorables”). The syllogistic representation of her thought content is as follows:


Major premise: Anyone who votes Republican is an awful person.


Minor premise: Person Y votes Republican.


Conclusion: Consequently, person Y is an awful person.


To me, an “awful person” may represent someone who punches babies. Any action short of that, I may consider the individual as little more than unpleasant or annoying.


However, to person X, an “awful person” may relate to someone who punches babies, an individual who is unpleasant, and someone who is annoying. There is little, if any, distinction regarding person X’s characterization of an “awful person.”


Now, consider inferred outcomes. I may believe that an awful person should, must, or ought to be incarcerated for the crime of punching babies. Likewise, person X believes awful people should be locked up.


This is where the meaning of one’s description of thought content is important. Person X may genuinely believe that her political opponents ought to be incarcerated for merely voting opposite of person X’s interests.


This isn’t hyperbole, because political partisans throughout time and across the globe have advocated maltreatment of their political rivals. Without clarity relating to what and why people believe as they do, the 2024 presidential election process has already begun to rhyme with history in this regard.


Therefore, I find it useful to understand how to make a PBJ sandwich—or to know how the use of language and ideas may impact emotions and behavior. After all, not all of us favor PBJ sandwiches or wish to incarcerate our political opponents for merely existing.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW





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