Spiritual foundations of logotherapy: The skill of seeing potential

“If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming.”

This statement by Frankl brings to mind what is known as the Pygmalion effect or self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing in potential creates potential. Studies have proven that students live up to what teachers expect of them for good or for bad. There’s no doubt that positive expectations are a useful educational tactic and this is reason enough to go into the classroom with expectations of student success.

However there is one thing we should be careful of and one thing we should add.

If the goal I have in mind for this person is my personal goal then it is in my interest to create his success. That’s okay if it’s also his goal but what if it’s only my goal, not his? The arrogance that went into creating Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady holds me back from fully celebrating that “success.”

It’s an entirely different matter to help a person because I am able to see this person’s uniqueness as a meaningful thread running throughout his life. I might take note of what a person is passionate about or I might see the person’s angst and frustration in feeling thwarted from something he or she deeply wants.

The concept of potential means that these strengths and talents are currently there in a potential state. Seeing that they do exist enables me to pinpoint, pull out and then bring this self-awareness to the person as a gift of self-knowledge. “Know that you’ve been blessed with this. This is your special gift. With this you can find yourself. Go for it!”

If I believe in the person I won’t be faking it when I treat him as if he has it, because he does have it. I can see it, and this gives me perfect trust in the person’s ability to deal with situations that require this strength. I’ll engage the person in thinking about how it could work. In this way I can help him bring his strengths and talents into an actual state.

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