Despite my instincts to steer clear of self help literature, I recently read Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Can anything good come from the self help genre? To my surprise, yes, especially this excerpted section below on “Scripting Others” from Habit 7: Sharpening the Saw (basically, self care). In the following section he talks about something akin to imputation—the act of attributing to someone a trait not otherwise natural to themselves.

seven habitsAt some time in your life, you probably had someone believe in you when you didn’t believe in yourself. They scripted you. Did that make a difference in your life?

What if you were a positive scripter, an affirmer, of other people? When they’re being directed by the social mirror to take the lower path, you inspire them toward a higher path because you believe in them. You listen to them and empathize with them. You don’t absolve them of responsibility; you encourage them to be proactive.

Perhaps you are familiar with the musical Man of La Mancha. It’s a beautiful story about a medieval knight who meets a woman of the street, a prostitute. She’s being validated in her life-style by all of the people in her life.

But this poet knight sees something else in her, something beautiful and lovely. He also sees her virtue, and he affirms it, over and over again. He gives her a new name—Dulcinea—a new name associated with a new paradigm.

At first, she utterly denies it; her old scripts are overpowering. She writes him off as a wild-eyed fantasizer. But he is persistent. He makes continual deposits of unconditional love and gradually penetrates her scripting. It goes down into her true nature, her potential, and she starts to respond. Little by little, she begins to change her life-style. She believes it and she acts from her new paradigm, to the initial dismay of everyone else in her life.

Later, when she begins to revert to her old paradigm, he calls her to his deathbed and signs that beautiful song, ‘The Impossible Dream,’ looks her in the eyes, and whispers, ‘Never forget, you’re Dulcinea.’

Covey goes on along this vein to tell a similar story about how scripting can work in the classroom—something I have experienced firsthand from years of experience as both a teacher and a student. Another way to describe scripting/imputation here is “self-fulfilling prophecy”:

One of the classic stories in the field of self-fulfilling prophecies is of a computer in England that was accidentally programmed incorrectly. In academic terms, it labeled a class of ‘bright’ kids and ‘dumb’ kids and a class of supposedly ‘dumb’ kids ‘bright.’ And that computer report was the primary criterion that created the teachers’ paradigms about their students at the beginning of the year.

When the administration finally discovered the mistake five and a half months later, they decided to test the kids again without telling anyone what had happened. And the results were amazing. The ‘bright’ kids had gone down significantly in IQ test points. They had been seen and treated as mentally limited, uncooperative, and difficult to teach. The teachers’ paradigms had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But scores in the supposedly ‘dumb’ group had gone up. The teachers had treated them as though they were bright, and their energy, their hope, their optimism, their excitement had reflected high individual expectations and worth for those kids. …

What do we reflect to others about themselves? And how much does that reflection influence their lives? We have so much we can invest in the Emotional Bank Accounts of other people. The more we can see people in terms of their unseen potential, the more we can use our imagination rather than our memory, with our spouse, our children, our coworkers or employees. We can refuse to label them—we can ‘see’ them in new fresh ways each time we’re with them. We can help them become independent, fulfilled people capable of deeply satisfying, enriching, and productive relationships with others.

Goethe taught, ‘Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.’