“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.

Simone de Beauvoir

FIERCELY ALIVE: How Do You See?: 2.2.3

Bending Reality 

A student takes a standardized test.  Upon analysis of the results, her teacher learns that the student and several of her peers have been identified as “growth spurters.” The results revealed that this subgroup of students is on the brink of significant intellectual growth and dramatic academic strides.  The test’s findings are borne out over the course of year as the spurters show significantly greater academic performance gains over their classmates, as confirmed by end-of-year testing.

But it is a lie.

In one of the most well-known studies in all of education, the so-called spurters were chosen at random.  The only difference between them and their peers, according to researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, “was in the mind of the teacher.”

Subsequent research by Rosenthal and Jacobson, and work by many others, has repeatedly confirmed our amazing capacity to alter the performance of others in schools, workplaces, sports teams, and military environments based on our expectations.



Knowing this, why wouldn’t we look at our children, partners, colleagues, students, and neighbors with an eye toward spotting their strengths, activating the best within them toward positive future outcomes? We have the chance, as author Chris Berdick says to, “bend reality” toward expanded positive potential through our expectations with the people we engage every minute of every day.

To bend realities, we might say:

      • Wow, I can see how you two will use your shared capacity for honesty to build a great team.
      • I know you can tap into your strength of love and look beyond the things that frustrate you with your little sister.
      • Your capacities for creativity and curiosity are going to make your work really stand out in this class.
      • I am excited about how our unique strengths will come together to help us meet our stretch goals this year.

In their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander describe the process of positive expectations beautifully as they discuss the practice of “giving an A,” asserting that, “ When you give an A you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.”

Recently, one of our partners shared this story.

Terry lives in a depressed area of town and faces a lot of challenges in his life, including homelessness.  In getting to know Terry, our team discovered that he has a real passion for community beautification.  We saw in him the capacity to lead a new neighborhood beautification committee.  This experience has been transformative for him – he now sees himself in a new light as a community leader and is channeling his energy and strengths toward something all community members can appreciate.  We know that in a more typical social-service setting, Terry might be perceived as a nuisance or would receive support that focuses only on helping him overcome his challenges and shortcomings.  We take a different approach by focusing on people’s strengths then do whatever we can to help them maximize those strengths in our community.

After learning about strengths and how to spot them, if you want to apply them in your life and help others do the same, read more here.