The Pygmalion Effect

One aspect about church life is that when a congregation believes it can accomplish great things, they are more apt to do the work necessary to get there.  This is not the Law of Attraction, or The Secret.   But such confidence allows goals to be broken down into manageable tasks.    It is not a quick fix, nor is success guaranteed.  New challenges arise even in the midst of success.  We’ve done a great job at St. Barts at balancing the budget, but there’s always another pipe that needs to be fixed.

This idea is called The Pygmalion effect.  Expectations orient results.  Leaders who trust and enable their congregation will have greater success than those who withhold authority.   Students do better with teachers who believe in them. Children respond differently after getting hurt with a parent who expects tears, and a parent who expects tenacity.    It affects creativity as well – feeling like a sucky writer will not make one a better writer.  Writing with encouragement will get the work done.

Not to say that there aren’t times people truly get hurt.  Sometimes we need… improvement.  But a perspective that allows for opportunity and openness is frames our choices we see before us.  It’s not a matter of promoting optimism:  but if I trust my volunteers, we’re likely to do more than if I don’t trust them.  People can rise up to each other’s expectations.  There can be a great transformation.

False Memories and Resilience

The NY Times reports there is a bill to extend the statute of limitations for cases of sex abuse.

Although I believe that the church should take a zero-tolerance rule regarding sexual abuse, I have two nagging anxieties.  One is that human beings are often prone to suggestion and false memories.    It is possible that people, in the hunt to figure out the root cause of their personal challenges, invent stories.

Secondly, I also wonder what it means to say that being sexually abused ruins someone for life.   This intimates that one’s life is worth less because of the abuse.   Is there merit if someone says, “this horrible event happened to me, but I’m not ruined”?   Must we assume that healing is always beyond our reach?  Resilience is a worthy, admirable virtue, even if it may not be mandated or expected.   Throw the offending priests in jail.  Let’s also, however, expect the truth and hope that the victims lives are still considered worthy rather than damaged.  Let us resist saying a victim is “damaged goods.”