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Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Audacity of Hope

Sometime back in the mid-1970’s, I attended the 10-week class at IBM’s Systems Research Institute in New York City. SRI was a special treat – an opportunity to step away from the day job and immerse yourself in a bunch of courses taught by some great teachers.

One of those courses that I still remember was the Personal Development course taught by one of those special instructors – as I recall his name was Frank Smith. The course syllabus was a real treat – wish I could find a copy somewhere.

Along the way, we learned lots of new things including just how much you can see in New York if you just look up. Instead of walking along and keeping your eyes at street level, step back and take a look up to the second, third, … and tenth floors. Great fun – and still something I enjoy doing whenever I’m walking in a big city.

One important topic in the course was on self-fulfilling prophecies – how opinions can be shaped by outside inputs and result in unusual changes to outcomes.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false concept come true.

Today’s New York Times has an article by Robert Shiller titled “Can Talk of a Depression Lead to One?” in which he notes how discussion about the Great Depression currently seems to be everywhere and he worries that “this Depression narrative, however, is not merely a story about the past: It has started to inform our current expectations.”

I too have been waiting for signs of a switch in the coming rhetoric out of the White House and Washington in general away from the “depths of despair” rhetoric that seems everywhere to a much more positive and, indeed, hopeful message about “yes we can”. So far, I can’t detect that shift – but it’s desperately needed. Otherwise, our own self-reinforcement of despair will produce exactly that result.

One reply on “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Audacity of Hope”

Scott, great post! I also have been waiting to see the rhetoric change from high places, and haven’t seen it yet.
And I also remember spending 10 weeks at SRI in New York City, but I don’t have the syllabus you are looking for. But I do remember looking up a lot.

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