Tuesday, February 10, 2015
“To improve the quality of someone else’s day is the highest of the arts.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau also once wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” While that's very sad, I don’t believe that’s true of most people, but we do tend to believe the worst about ourselves. This actually has some scientific basis from an academic study in 1948 which labeled the results “The Barnum Effect” after good old P.T. Barnum (There’s a sucker born every minute, Barnum) of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The study (also called the “Forer Effect) was done at a prestigious university (you can Google this if you want all the details) where a professor had a large class (almost a hundred students) fill out a multi-page questionnaire about themselves, the things they liked, didn’t like, would do, would never do, stuff like that. After spending a week reviewing all the results, he gave each student, face down, a paper describing each student based on the questionnaire. He told the class not to look at the analysis until they were told, then had them to read quietly and to mark them from one to five, with one meaning it was way off and five meaning it described them exactly. After they had marked the papers, he asked one student if they would read theirs out loud. One volunteered and as she read, the rest of the students gasped. Every single student had gotten the exact same evaluation, word for word. The professor then announced that over 85% of the students had given their personal evaluations a four or a five meaning they were almost all true. Basically, the evaluation said things like, “you are apprehensive about being in a new situation,” “you think people are basically good,” and generally positive things. To prove that we tend to believe whatever others say about us, five years later, the professor repeated the experience but this time the evaluations were very negative about each person and got the same results. Almost every student believed they had been accurately described. This is why astrology works, we tend to look for all the things that agree with what we want to believe and disregard all the ones that don’t. If your horoscope says you will come into money today and you find a dime on the sidewalk, the horoscope must be true, even if you lost your wallet, had the bank notify you of an overdraft, or lost money on a bet. If this “Barnum Effect” is accurate, and I believe it is, then think about what you say to your children, spouses, friends, coworkers, etc. The more negative things you say, the more they will believe that they are bad people. For parents, this can have horrible consequences when you call your children words like “stupid” or “bad” or “worthless.” I know this from personal experience. We like to hear good things about ourselves. The point of all this is that we should tell others about the good things we like and admire about them and not keep them to ourselves. When I was fired from one particular job, my boss had a going away luncheon for me (nice of him) and asked all the people there to tell me one good thing about me from their experience. It was wonderful as I heard things felt but never spoken aloud. There were so many good things that at one point the guy next to me leaned over and asked, “So why are you getting fired?” It was still a very good thing for me and I have never forgotten the things that were said. Please tell people the good things about them that you like, respect, love, admire, or even envy. Everyone needs to hear that they are worth something, have value, and are liked. You can help change the world with a few sincere compliments that cost you nothing. Give it a try, see if it doesn’t make your world a better place in which to live.