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How Do You Look At You?

October 12, 2012


The Pygmalion Effect

Pal, welcome to this brief time away from the huzz-buzz of your busy life. I don't know where you are right now. You may be sitting in your living room... in your office chair... trying to cool yourself on a beach... relieving your tension off in a steam bath... in a bus with your blackberry... in a web café... in a library. Wherever you are let me tell you I am delighted to relate with you through these words.

May I ask you your name?

Well, there you answered, thank you. You have a wonderful name! Would you be surprised if I asked you if you had other names? Well, I did have many. Before delving into it further, let us take a break and go for a small exercise. Come with me to an imaginary situation.

Have you ever directed a movie or a short film? Now you are. You are the director of a short film (Lights! Camera!! Action!!!):

First Scene:

A park with lush green grass, sturdy pines scattered, dahlias and tulips brightening the sight. A Lawn mower is revving up at the throttle of a worker, spewing out a gentle spray of cut grass. Two above-80 ladies are sitting on a bench that lines the walkway as a group of youngsters walk with their iPods and earphones...A Middle aged couple is sharing a novel and chatting. Children playing over the expanse...

(ZOOM Camera) There he is: Little Johnny, a 4 year old boy in his denims with his playing kit – Train, Truck and all.

His father is battling a newspaper and looking askance. Johnny's mommy is relishing a cup of steaming coffee as she monitors her son. Just then a small Bergamasco puppy runs by Johnny almost knocking him down. (Bergamasco? Never mind, till recent past I too did not know what a Bergamasco puppy was. One cannot recognize it even if a Bergamasco stood right in front of our eyes now as it would be full hair - head to toe... Ha Ha!!!). Now, Johnny is stunned out of his own little world of innocent play and runs towards his father scared.

"Hey boy, you are a chicken," laughs the father. "Little Johnny Timid", hugs the mother. Both the parents laugh their son out of the situation. Johnny squeezes out a grin!

Next scene: (25 years later!)

Johnny is Mr. John now. He is in a job he likes; one that is considered by many to be a dream job. Johnny loves his work. For someone with Johnny's intelligence, capability and education, it would take just 10-15 years to become the numero-uno of his firm.

But Johnny's case was different.

He desires earnestly but fails magnificently. He is not able to take up responsibility, fails to meet deadlines, and is afraid of a direct confrontation by his boss. He is very enthusiastic but falls short of turning his enthusiasm into visible and measurable phenomenon. Not so infrequently does he carry his office to his house in the form of files and folders. He still believes things will be OK. But as time would have it, Johnny walks into his company's president cabin one day.

"As much as I would dislike saying, your final papers are here and you are relieved of your duty with immediate effect", declares his boss.

The blow is hard. He thinks he will never again be satisfied with his life and that there will never be another job like the one lost.

He walks back to his car, gets in, starts it and glances at the mirror. He adjusts it and finds himself in bigger trouble. He does not recognize himself. Not that he looked aged or wearied but because of what he saw in the mirror. He saw a 'Timid Chicken' (Illustrative). Johnny purses his lips and closes his eyes tightly.

(Black out the screen)


You have done a great job. Now shall we review your movie?

Johnny has carried the names his parents gave him, when he was a kid, all through his growing years and that has taken a toll on his personality and eventually seeped into other areas of his life and work. Johnny has to learn his lesson. So do his parents. Now we are not going to blame Johnny parents for they really would not have called him such names had they been acquainted with the fact that every single negative comment people speak has a potential to get deeply ingrained in others. Neither are we going to blame Johnny for bluntly taking the inadvertent remark to heart.

Johnny had these names - 'Chicken' 'Timid'... maybe more from his friends, peers etc. He believed them and become those, mentally he did. Doesn't the Bible speak something of a man becoming what he thinks within himself (Proverbs 23:7)?

Ask any parent. Naming a child can be awe-inspiring. Parents go to websites, refer books, and even consult their priests to get the best name for their child. But unfortunately many do not stop with that. They keep calling them names even though the child has his/her name certified already.

Somebody would have called their little one (of course not with bad intention) "skinny" because he was bony and thin. Someone else might have funnily called "Blacky" just because she was coloured or dark. We do not get our names only from our parents. Our acquaintances can also call us many other ways – unjust, selfish and many more names. People can paint an erroneous picture of us. Not everyone paints the right picture of us.

Not all people are as ignorant of calling names as Johnny's parents. Many people paint a wrong picture of us and call us by hard names and many times because of the following reasons: jealousy, envy, fear of our success, caliber, intolerance of our uniqueness. There can be myriad of reasons. When we are different, we are bound to get some hard comments and names but we have to wipe them off our name board.

It would also be just and ethical for us not to name others with such names. We would be doing indescribable damage if we serve people with bad names. We might create a life long scar. It is possible to make a handicap out of the very people we profess to love.

Parents, if you want them to become great then call them 'great'. Pal, if you want to have awesome friends then call your friends 'awesome'. Couples, you want to have amazing spouses then call them 'amazing'.

Most of what you have read above has already been said by psychologists, priests and teachers down through the centuries. So it is nothing new as far as the knowledge goes. But this knowledge might be new to some and a sweet reminder to others. So let us not delve into the aetiology or origin of this knowledge. Instead let us practice naming others positively. We must also steadfastly reject harmful names that can sometimes be thrown on us.

Psychology research has now begun to throw light on the importance of christening and the kinds of personalities those children become. Scientific publications attest these. There was a study done that shows how naming can affect the kinds of subjects the children will like [1]. Names according to that study can also affect the attractiveness of the person. This might seem crazy to some but people all over the world are slowly waking up to this truth.

If I ask you what is it that makes you what you are, that would make an interesting topic for a discussion and can well serve as a debate topic that can generate quite some arguments. Today what you are is because of lots of reasons apart from factors that are 'in' you.

Ever heard of the 'Pygmalion effect', derived from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw?

Pygmalion effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed on people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform [2]. In other words we can bring out the best in others, be it office, home, library, playground or anywhere, if only we would call them positively and expect them to be positively great. If we keep calling our spouse 'irresponsible'; our uncle 'old'; our sister 'irritable'; our boss 'a dragon'... that is what we will get out of them. If we call our child 'careless' that is what he/she will become. If we call our friend 'nosy' that is what he is going to be to us.

Hence, shall we fill this world with Mr. Joyful, Mr. Faithful, Mr. Positive, Ms. Beautiful, Ms. Bold, Ms. Tenacious and the likes? Shall we resolve today that we will only call positive, encouraging, uplifting and nice names on others? If so, we would be doing a great service to this world and the world will give the same back to us many more folds.

And equally important it is for us to disown those unjust names, if any, and take on real positive names. We should never give powers to negative names. Shall we start today? Call yourself Mr.... or Ms.... the name that you would like to be known as - May be Mr. Smiles, Mr. Confident, Ms. Quick or Ms. Happy! Have a great day!

Ah wait! You have not yet filmed your movie completely. Lights, Camera, Action!

Last scene: Beach

Johnny parks his car near the beach, removes his watch and tosses it on to the back seat. Tie and coat off. Shirt sleeves pulled up till elbow. Sunglasses on.

Johnny gets out of the car and walks toward the foaming shore. He finds a place to sit. He sees a small girl in her pajamas is taking a stroll with her father. They come. The girl stops near Johnny, of course not for anything but a small sea shell. She picks it up and tells her father, "Pa, this is so wonderfully shaped, no?" "Yes, sweetheart, you have an eye for beauty," comes back his father with appreciation.

The small girl drops the sea shell back. "Someday I'm going to go into the sea and bring bigger better beauties," she replies. "Those kinds of people are called deep sea divers," the father laughs approvingly and the two resume their stroll.

Johnny picks up the sea shell and finds it broken, stained with algae and muck; certainly not anything close to beauty. Johnny lies down on the sand. It starts to drizzle for some time as if washing the streaks on Johnny's personality. Johnny walks back to his car.

After his engine comes up with life, he looks at the mirror again. He sees a face that is drenched, all the hair shuffled up. And yet beyond that, for the first time in many years, Johnny sees a man with eyes full of hope and self-worth. Johnny was washed off his self-condemning names.

You did a great film! Congratulations!


--- Copyright © 2012 Sam Vijay Kumar

About the Author: I am a biotechnologist from India, working in the field of bio-medical research, with interest in theology, positive thinking, philosophy, creative writing and in living a purposeful life, thereby contributing to fellow humans. My personal desire and struggle is to be keen to (and) learn anything that will uplift human life and place us in a better position at handling the challenges that life throws at us. To discuss and write about issues of life, thoughts and mind are some of my passions.

I have received a lot from this world through many thinkers and their writings. and hence I want to contribute something to this world by presenting my thoughts to the world as well in these areas. 'Positive people' are the ones that I am most comfortable interacting with. I am sure you who are reading this are a positive person and am glad to have connected with you.

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Read additional offerings from Sam:

Do You Value Your Time?

Courage - Are You Game Enough?

Decision Making

New Lesson For The New Year

The Power Of Intense Belief

Brave Jinesh

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