CLERGY CORNER: The experiment

Posted on 02 August 2017 by LeslieM

Psychology Today published some time ago an experiment conducted by a Harvard psychologist named Dr. Robert Rosenthal on a group of students and teachers living in Jerusalem. The experiment went as follows: a group of physical education teachers and students were randomly chosen and randomly divided into three groups. 

In the first group, the teachers were told that previous testing indicated that all the students had an average ability in athletics and an average potential. The teachers were told, “Go and train them!” 

The second group of teachers was told that students in their group, based on previous testing, exhibited an unusually high potential for excellence in athletic…“Go and train them!” 

And the third group of teachers was told that their group of students had exhibited, based on previous testing, an extremely low potential for athletic training…“Now, go and train them!” 

The teachers were given several weeks to work with and interact with their student athletes. At the end of the training period the results were the same for male and female students, and for male and female teachers. All of those students who had been randomly identified as being rather average in ability performed about average on the tests. All of those students who were randomly identified as being above average, performed above average. All those students who were randomly identified as below the average, performed below the average by a considerable margin. The results of the test indicated that what the teachers thought their students’ ability was, and what the students themselves thought their ability was, went a long way toward deciding just how well they performed as athletes. 

Psychology Today took special note of this experiment because it confirmed in the physical arena what psychologists had long claimed to be true in the educational and emotional arena: The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Students in classrooms, workers in shops, patients in therapy all do better when the person in charge expects them to do well, when they themselves expect to do well.

One’s own self esteem, one’s own self-image, what someone thinks of themselves and thinks himself capable of are extremely crucial factors in deciding what one can be, of what one is to make of himself or herself, and that the way we see ourselves plays an important role in the way others see us as well. 

The circus

Did you ever go to the circus? Remember those huge elephants that weighed several tons who were held in place by a small chain wrapped around one of their huge legs, and held to the ground by a small wooden stake? If those huge elephants wanted to, they could walk right through those small chains and that small wooden stake like a hot knife going through butter. But they don’t. Why is that? 

When they were little baby elephants, they were chained down by those same small chains and the small wooden stakes. But to them, as babies, they couldn’t move. They tried and tried and tried again and could not release themselves from those chains and stakes. And then, an interesting thing happened. They stop trying. They gave up. They developed a belief system.

Now, as adult elephants, they don’t try because they are programmed to believe that their efforts would be useless – in vain. As huge, adult elephants, they don’t even try. They’re held in prison by their beliefs. 

The same is true with so many of us. The spies in Moses times declared: “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so were we in their eyes.” As a result, the nation wept in vain. The spies caused the Jews to perceive themselves as hopeless, small and futile “grasshoppers.” Thus, they also came to believe that everyone looks at them as mere grasshoppers. When you think you are weak, you indeed become weak, and you believe that everyone considers you the same. 

Part of leaving exile and being worthy of redemption is that we must stand firm, united, filled with resolve. We must never capitulate. As individuals and as a community, we must dismiss the sense of powerlessness.

We ought to remember that in every situation we are empowered by G-d to create light out of darkness and to continue our march to bring healing and redemption to our world, with the coming of Messiah, so that this Tisha B’av (anniversary of the destruction of both Temples) is transformed into a grand festival. Amen.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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