The Worth of Souls and the Pygmalion Effect

Viewing others and ourselves how God sees us is imperative to the work of salvation and exaltation. If each soul is great in the sight of God,[1] despite if that soul is not blessed with much popularity or beauty or talent in the secular or worldly sense, then how can we see others (and ourselves) through the lens of divine eyes?

The last words of a poem I wrote years ago and titled In My Father’s Eyes goes like this:

I can have a healthy heart;
I can make a brand new start.
[God] can heal and comfort me
If through His eyes I view me.

Thomas S. Monson (1927-2018) told of a report by N. Eldon Tanner, who was then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, and had just returned from presiding over missions in Great Britain and western Europe. President Monson said,

He [Elder Tanner] told of a missionary who had been the most successful missionary whom he had met in all of the interviews he had conducted. …

Brother Tanner asked what was different about his approach. … He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers. And the missionary could see himself leading that man into the waters of baptism. He said, “When I look at someone that way, I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart.”

To this President Monson added,

 

We have the responsibility to look at our friends, our associates, our neighbors this way. Again, we have the responsibility to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you to think of them in this way.[2]

In psychology there is something called the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect refers to a psychological phenomenon where higher expectations lead to improved performance. The name comes from the Greek myth of Pygmalion and a sculptor’s expectation for his statue results in the statue coming to life.[3] More specifically, the name comes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis and the statue the character created from ivory.[4]

Researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) proved that when students “internalize the expectations and labels placed upon them by their instructor and they will, in turn, self-fulfill those expectations, whether positive or negative.”[5]

To further explain the effect, an article in Harvard Business Review expounded upon the Pygmalion effect in this way:

If a teacher believes a child is slow, the child will come to believe that, too, and will indeed learn slowly. The lucky child who strikes a teacher as bright also picks up on that expectation and will rise to fulfill it. This finding has been confirmed so many times, and in such varied settings, that it’s no longer even debated.[6]

I would ask two simple but profoundly important questions: First, are we viewing ourselves with a capacity of worth and value? Do we say or think things that are inaccurate and wrong about ourselves or to ourselves? Do we believe what we’re saying about ourselves even if it’s cruel, mean, and plain wrong just? Well, we shouldn’t. 

Sure, we don’t want to exalt ourselves to boasting or haughtiness, but we can develop humility and humility can and should co-exist with self-confidence. We are often most demanding and rude to ourselves. We should stop that. Instead, we ought to view ourselves how President Russell M. Nelson does. He has said, “First and foremost, you are a child of God. Second, as a member of the Church, you are a child of the covenant. And third, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.”[7]

President Nelson, as the Lord’s Prophet, offered a blessing to members of the Church “to know the truth about who you are and to treasure the truth about what your glorious potential really is…” He added, “As you do, I promise that you will experience spiritual growth, freedom from fear and a confidence that you can scarcely imagine now.”[8]

The second important question I’d like to pose is how do we view others? Do we see them as God sees them? Do we see them in their full potential and their divine identity? Do we see our spouses and our children, our friends and our neighbors, even our enemies or annoying people this way?

Elder Ahmad S. Corbitt has posed these wonderful questions well worth examining. He asked,

Brethren, do we who are married each look forward and see his wife as an exalted and glorious woman, according to the promise? Do you wives see your husbands as exalted and glorious men? What can we do to treat them more according to the eye of faith? If we are not married, how should we look forward with an eye of faith toward our promised exaltation? How should we see ourselves and what should we do? Most importantly, how should we all act toward our Father in Heaven and our Savior who have secured for each of us—married and single—these sure eternal blessings and promises at great personal sacrifice?[9]

If we view ourselves and others according to the divinity and divine nature within each of us, we can help invoke change for good. We can change and improve ourselves, and we can envision others and ourselves becoming celestial beings. Let us view others (and ourselves) how God sees us, with infinite potential and divine identity. As we do, we will have greater joy and help lead others to the inheritance awaiting each of our Heavenly Father’s faithful children.


[1] Doctrine and Covenants 18:10

[2] Teachings, Thomas S. Monson, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-thomas-s-monson/chapter-15-missionary-service-a-sacred-charge?lang=eng#p3

[3] Perera, A. [2024]. “The Pygmalion Effect: Definition & Examples,” https://www.simplypsychology.org/pygmalion-effect.html

[4] Maier, F. [n.d.] North Dakota State University, What is the Pygmalion Effect? https://kb.ndsu.edu/page.php?id=131858

[5] Maier, F. [n.d.] North Dakota State University, What is the Pygmalion Effect? Para. 3. https://kb.ndsu.edu/page.php?id=131858

[6] Livingston, J. S. [2003] Pygmalion in Management, https://hbr.org/2003/01/pygmalion-in-management

[7] Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, May 15, 2022. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/broadcasts/worldwide-devotional-for-young-adults/2022/05/12nelson?lang=eng#p76

[8] Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” May 15, 2022.

[9] Ahmad S. Corbitt, “Graduating Your Faith to the Next Level,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, Sept. 21, 2021. https://ing.byui.edu/devotionals/brother-ahmad-s-corbitt

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times, Guns.com, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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