I would like to title this week’s article “Hidden Talents in Our Children.” This week, I was listening to a shiur by Mr. Charlie Harary, who related two stories. Both stories make the point that too often we limit our own and our children’s capabilities with the boundaries that we place upon ourselves and them.
Professor Robert Rosenthal of Harvard University had a theory in the 1960’s. The prevailing philosophy at that time was that we are born with a certain degree of brilliance and that is what we can achieve. To disprove this, Dr. Rosenthal went into a classroom and pulled out a number of students. From this group, he randomly selected six students. He informed the teacher that he had administered a test to measure blooming intelligence and that he had ascertained that these six students had special emerging intelligence that would surface in the future. The teacher responded, “Really?” and Dr. Rosenthal answered, “I am from Harvard University, and I know!” Dr. Rosenthal left and returned at the end of the year, and these six young people were the top students in the class. He then retested their IQ, and their scores had increased an average of two to six points over the past year. We usually believe that reality shapes beliefs. We don’t want to let people down, so what do we do? We examine our background, decide how smart we are, and get the right job accordingly. Dr. Rosenthal’s theory was that belief shapes reality; since the teacher believed that those six students had a high level of intelligence, they rose to the challenge. They were typical children who had not previously scored any higher than their classmates, yet they rose to a level they had never achieved before, because reality does not shape belief, but belief shapes reality. When a child takes a test while thinking that he is not so smart, there is a boundary that blocks him from doing well on the test.
One day, while Mr. Harary was delivering a lecture at a business firm, a large non-Jewish man from the South shared that when he was growing up, he was the football coach’s dream. Josh was 6’6” when he entered high school, and he was an average football player, until his coach saw a motivational movie and decided to try out what he saw on him. The coach asked Josh how far he could do the death crawl on the field (which requires a person to crawl on the ground without using his elbows and knees, a very hard and painful exercise), and he answered that he could go to the 20-yard line. The boy got down on the floor and his coach told the smallest kid on the team to climb on his back. Josh said that he had not stated that he could do the death crawl if someone was on his back. The coach replied, “Josh, you promised me the 20.” Then the coach pulled out a handkerchief and blindfolded him. Josh started to crawl and the entire team began cheering. The coach kept pushing him, “A little more and you will get to where you need to go,” until Josh finally collapsed and said, “You see, Coach, I can’t even get to the 20.” His coach responded, “Turn over and look,” and he saw that he was at the 50. The coach commented, “There are two types of athletes. There are those who want to win to get the points, but they don’t want to get hit, and there are players who want to be great, and when they get to the 20, they still push to the 50.” Greatness is when we challenge ourselves and we get excited to see how much more we can push ourselves in the challenge. Greatness is not just about winning; it is about deciding that we want to push for the 50 if we can.
While I am not advocating the rigors of football training nor its safety concerns, I am advocating that “belief shapes reality,” and that we as parents, teachers, and administrators should never place limits on our children’s and students’ potential. The more we encourage and believe in our children, the more they will succeed.