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On the Corner

By Robert Docter – 

In our innate drive to categorize ideas, events and people we often make monumental leaps to the wrong conclusion. Sometimes, of course, the conclusion is accurate.

Seven psychiatric researchers presented themselves to mental hospitals and told the examining physician that they heard voices saying “empty,” “dull,” or “thud.” Any other questions posed were answered truthfully, and they avoided any “acting” designed to communicate irrationality.

Based on this amount of information, most were classified as schizophrenics and hospitalized. Their task was to win discharge as quickly as possible. The average hospital stay was 19 days.

During their stays the researchers acted in a perfectly normal fashion. No hospital staff members perceived them as anything other than what the initial diagnosis identified.The label setup an expectancy and locked in the complete interpretation of everything the researchers did.

The real patients on the wards detected the researcher’s sanity and “labeled” them journalists or professors.

As important as labels are in conceptualizing our world, they can very easily blind us. They set up expectations which we then work diligently to make reality. This act of prophesying becomes self-fulfilling.

Sometimes these are negative expectation. We meet someone and immediately form that “first impression.” It filters our relationship with the person for a lengthy period. Then, sometimes even unconsciously, we label those impressions and act as if it were true.

This closed-mindedness leaves little or no room for the person perceived to grow or change. We keep them locked in by the way we relate to them, and after awhile, especially if they are our children, they even begin to believe the label we’ve assigned fits.

We perceive, assess, diagnose and label organizations the same as people. Sometimes, that organization is our job. After a period of time we begin a process of self-talk with statements like: “I get nothing from this job. I feel no support here. I always get criticized. I never get promoted. They’re wasting their money and always go about things the wrong way.”

Check your self-talk. If it’s loaded with words like nothing, never, always and ambiguous “theys” you are in danger of overgeneralizing on insufficient evidence.

There are occasions in our lives when our own state of mind clouds our perceptions. If we are ill or depressed–or if we find ourselves at a particular point developmentally where our view of our world shifts–we tend to perceive people, organizations and events in different ways. Possibly, what we once saw as new, unique and positive is now perceived as stagnant, old and negative. Conversely, it could be a more positive view. When we find ourselves like this, our labels for our world change, and we establish new prophesies which become expectations which then are self-fulfilling.

The challenge, of course, is to perceive our world as accurately as possible. This takes a little time. Resist rushing to judgment. Don’t make too many “schizophrenics” in your world by drawing conclusions with insufficient evidence.

I have great expectations for our Congress. My labels for it are: gigantic, growth producing, motivating, spirit lifting, exciting. I’m part of something very big and very worthwhile.

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