Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Pygmalion Effect

My Fair Lady, a truly wonderful musical second to Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, has a quote from Eliza that stirs my soul. She makes this comment to Pickering, the professor's friend: "You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treat me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will."

I touched on this phenomenon just the other day. Countless times each day we communicate our expectations to the people around us. I know that without realizing it, I've sent cues to others about what I expect from them. I think I got real messed up when I had started listening to this talk show on my way to and from work everyday. I listened to Dr. Laura and took to heart what she said about everything. She basically said we have no way of changing anyone around us. For the most part that's true, but her fatal flaw in her prescription was also stating that we just have to accept the behavior if we want to continue to have a relationship with these people. I disagree.

I believe that our expectations can shape behavior, if this weren't the case, wouldn't we just all let our kids do whatever they want? I mean, we do have expectations and we give our children feedback. Why not do this with the adults in our lives as well? Sometimes putting the expectations out there may end the relationship, and that's probably a good thing.

Just recently, a person in my life changed some travel plans which caused hers to overlap with mine and thus not allowing my child to participate in her planned activity. The same thing happened last year and I was forced to choose instead of being able to participate in both events. I had a feeling that the same thing might happen again. So, I should have said when I found out about her trip and when it was planned; "Okay, you told me you're leaving on this date. I've marked it on the calendar. I'm planning my own trip on this date. You know when it is and when I'm coming back. If you change your date, and it interferes with my plans, please don't get upset and demand that I change the date of my trip or cut my trip short."

Then I began to wonder if, because I expected the possibility of a repeat performance...did I cause her to behave this way? Did my poor communication with this person lock her into poor performance? I truly believe that our expectations gets us exactly what we get. That's something to ponder...


Gar said...

I went to counseling for many months concerning this issue. I believe J, that you might be taking it too literally.
Without writing paragraphs, it's hard to summarize months of counseling. But suffice it to say that it's more a mechanism of not blaming yourself when someone misbehaves.

Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

Hmmm...so it wouldn't have mattered what script I used the outcome would have been the same? I'm actually testing this positive expectations right now...using positive statements, pointing out the outstanding qualities I see in certain people in order to establish appropriate behavior. Do you think I'm working too hard?

Durango said...

I learned over a decade ago that Dr. Laura is basically a loud mouthed fraud who should be taken with a grain of salt.

If I was you I would have said to mom, "I've got a tripped planned with the kids. We'll be back on the 7th. You said you are leaving for the coast on the 9th, so this should work out fine. If for any reason you change your plans and leave before we get back, that's fine, Annie will make it to the coast some day."

I think being like this is called something like being proactive.

Gar said...

Durango was also a good counselor.

Sometimes he talks a lot and then you have to go back and summarize.

Like those 3 paragraphs above. He was saying, "Do what makes you happy. And don't rely on someone else to make you happy."

As for your question about the outcome being the same... Well, you are probably asking the wrong person. Sometime in December of 2008 I realized that most the decisions I make are to prevent guilt. The only way you'd be working too hard is if you aren't happy doing it. Plan your own happiness and the others can follow or get out of the way.

Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

Durango, I allowed Dr. Laura to make me feel like such a bad mom...with working and all. I experienced a lot of guilt. I only listened to her for about a year...and then I finally said enough was enough. I'm glad to hear that someone else is in consensus with me. I like your script better than mine...

Gar, I like a lot of detail and at least he didn't stray off subject like I did...:) I admire your ability to "sum it up"...I've always been a bit wordy. I can identify with guilt...been experiencing that emotion for a very long time.