Imagine. You Become What You Imagine…

You Become What You Imagine Yourself to Be

Here’s something to think about. Remember that famous Zimbardo study you learned about while sleeping through Psych 101? Here’s a refresher: “In 1975, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment demonstrating that violent and aggressive behavior could be elicited from typical college students simply by asking them to act in the role of a prison guard. Zimbardo was curious about the psychological effects of imprisonment, so he arranged for students to enact the roles of prisoners or prison guards. Male subjects were recruited through newspaper ads offering them $15 a day to participate. Seventy-five men applied to participate, and 19 were chosen. A battery of tests was employed to select those with the most stable personalities. Volunteers were randomly assigned to play prison guard or prisoner through the flip of a coin.”

Guess what happened? The subjects recruited to act as prison guards, did act like prison guards. They became their imagined roles. They behaved in ways they thought real prison guards would behave.

Similarly, in the Milgram study, participants willingly obeyed a perceived authority figure and administered (or thought they were administering) strong electric shocks to other participants, disregarding their own internal judgment of right and wrong. The researchers were disturbed by these findings and outlined the need to understand the psychology of obedience:

“The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

Who’s Writing on Your Board?

Hmm. A professor of mine at York had a great saying. He would look at us, his students, ‘the brightest and best,’ all sitting in an obedient circle in his classroom. He would ask, “What are you here for?” And we’d answer him, trying not to sound stupid, knowing that he was making the point that we largely didn’t have any good reasons for being there, least of all explanations we’d arrived at using our own minds.

“So, you’re here because everybody else was going to university?… You didn’t want to get a job?… You wanted a good education?…. I see. Who told you that you should be here?”

Then he’d step back and let the question sink in.

“When did you internalize the messages that came from outside of you?”

More silence. Then a reference to our internal programming, how we’d been internalizing information without processing it:

“Who’s been writing directly on your board? [paraphrased for the younger generation, “Who’s been writing on your wall?”]……………… Why do you let them?”

He always had a way about him, like he knew something we didn’t, but he just couldn’t articulate to us in words the meaning of what he was really saying. Words weren’t enough to penetrate through the depth of our ignorance so he’d talk to us in metaphors instead. Another one of his favourites was, “This [whatever he was teaching us] is a finger pointing at the moon. Stop looking at the finger, and understand where the finger is coming from!”

Who’s been writing on your wall, telling you what to do and how to think? (Other than me.) 😉 If it’s not you, then who do you imagine yourself to be, and why aren’t you listening to your own truth?


And if you are awake and know yourself, excuse me for giving you the finger… analogy. 🙂


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