During my late teens growing -up in Zimbabwe – my French teacher, who was famous in our school for losing a finger to frost bite climbing Mont Blanc – said to my mother at a school “open house” – “ your son won’t even make it as a butcher” !
In the pecking-order of jobs in those days – being a butcher was about as low on the totem pole as you could go – and I wasn’t even going to qualify for that!
I never liked Wally, but in truth he had good reason for saying what he did . I had just failed all my subjects – including English! Yikes – how low can you go! So Wally was probably right, although I resented him saying what he did and was quite pleased he had lost his pinky climbing Mont Blanc !
In a way – I suppose I should be grateful to Wally – he told the truth. I was heading on a downhill road. Struggling to find an identity for myself I was trying to copy my very popular older brother Rory. I did this by trying to attract attention and popularity by playing the role of the amusing rebel looking to stir up as much trouble in class as possible. Problem was my “friends” – were not laughing with me – but at me !
Fast forward a few years and my life changed for the better. I went onto be reasonably successful both in business & hopefully as a family man
So what changed?
First of all I was “taken-out” out of the private school I was in [ “taken –out” being code for- the school suggesting it might be a good if I left ! ] and started again at a government run school – where I completed my schooling. It was a “new beginning” – no reputation to worry about – just put your head down and be a little serious.
Two teachers made a huge difference – I still remember their names. Pete Snyder – was my geography teacher and also coach for the first team rugby. After my first class he said to me “ Tim would you like to try-out for the team” . A vote of confidence and “invitation” – as opposed to being told to do something.
The other was an Irishman, Mr O’Brien – our English teacher , a man with a low temper threshold – but much respected by all of us in his class for his brilliance and passion. He invited me to play a key part in the annual school play and after class one day asked me “ so Tim , what University are you going to after you leave school?” This was was also huge for me – that he didn’t even question if I was smart enough to go to University !
So what’s the lesson learned?
It’s this. Very often as people struggle in life and they seem to be failing – all they might need is someone to believe in them and offer encouragement when the don’t believe in themselves.
So what happened to me was in effect the Pygmalion effect.
The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform. The effect is named after Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor in a narrative by Ovid in Greek mythology, who fell in love with a female statue he had carved out of ivory after it became human from his wishes.
The Pygmalion effect is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, and, in this respect, people will internalize their negative label, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class.