By Nell Mohney
Recently, I read again the Greek legend of Pygmalion, the sculptor who chiseled his ideal woman in stone and called her Galatea. She became all he expected her to be, and he fell madly in love with his creation. According to the legend, Venus felt compassion for Pygmalion and brought Galatea to life.
Then I remembered another Pygmalion -- Henry Higgins in the movie "My Fair Lady." He believed he could take a cockney flower girl and with proper grooming could pass her off as a princess at an elegant ball. On the screen, we saw Eliza Doolittle transformed before our eyes. All of this because Henry Higgins believed and expected it to happen.
For years, behavioral psychologists have noted the effects of leaders' expectations on those who follow: teacher/student; parent/children; employer/employees. All of us are likely familiar with Dr. Rosenthal's educational experiments. The one I like best is the one conducted in the San Francisco Bay area.
The superintendent of schools called four elementary teachers into his office, told them they were the top teachers in the system and said he wanted to give them the children with the highest IQs for a year and see what would happen. The results were amazing. At the end of the year, he confessed the students were not the brightest. Actually, they were chosen at random.
Still, the results were phenomenal. Surely, the teachers must have thought, "This shows what exceptional teachers we are." Then came the superintendent's second confession. Teachers' names also had been drawn from a hat. The only variable had been the high expectations in the minds of the teachers.
This seems to be saying something emphatically to all of us in our relationships to ourselves and others. We can expect and affirm the best, especially in those with whom we work and live. I'm convinced we do this through honest compliments, appreciation, active listening and encouragement. Thus, we liberate their strengths and build their confidence. Of course, we can do just the opposite through criticism, sarcasm, rejection, manipulation or withdrawal.
Even our body language, including facial expressions, tells people whether they are accepted and valued or resented and devalued. In that sense, we are Pygmalions to them either positively or negatively. To an even greater degree, we can do this to ourselves. We can if we understand we are people of worth not because of what we have accomplished but because of who we are. The psalmist tells us we are made "a little lower than the angels" and crowned with "glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5).
Of course, we need to work to overcome our weaknesses and improve our skills, but in the meantime we need to accentuate our strengths. If I am feeling down on myself, I like to use the following affirmations: "If you think you can, or if you think you can't, you are right" (Henry Ford); "They conquer who think they can" (Emerson); and "If God is for us, who can be against us" (Romans 8:31).
Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.