Life Shapers

by Andy Wood on February 5, 2011

in Ability, Life Currency, Love

I have a friend who makes me funny.  Not makes me laugh.  He makes me funny. As in Night-at-the-Improv, bust-a-gut hilarious.  I hear myself say things to him I wish I could remember later and somehow capture the moment.  

There are plenty of times when I do OK by a crowd and generate a smile or two.  But this guy takes me to a whole other place.

How does he do it?  For starters, he has a very rewarding laugh – one that boldly proclaims, “I think you’re funny.”  He also anticipates the fact that I’m going to make him laugh.  He’s always on the edge of another crack-up when we talk.  On top of that, he tells other people how funny I am.  The laughter we have shared has forged a unique identity I step into whenever we talk or get together.

I have another friend who makes me wise.  As in Child-of-Solomon, guru-deep profound.  I hear myself say things to him I wish I could write down and remember for my own benefit, to say nothing of his.

I know God uses me sometimes to strengthen someone else’s life or faith.  It’s one of the joys of serving Him.  But this guy takes me into a completely different zone, just in the course of natural conversation.

How does he do it?  For starters, he writes down what I say.  He literally keeps a pen available or a computer close by, expecting me to say something wise.  He reminds me of things I have said in the past that reflected a wisdom that, frankly, was not my own.  He quotes me to others, and frequently thanks me for sharing wisdom with him.

I’m noticing a pattern here

and it’s not isolated to these two people.  I have a friend who makes me a better writer.  Another makes me profoundly patient… with myself as well as others.  Another makes me more self-confident, another more forgiving.  Yet another arouses a spirit of excellence in me – I find myself, in the natural, being a better man than I know I am.

I have had others who drew other things out of me I’m not so proud of.  One person gives me the unmistakable urge to be deceitful.  Another consistently arouses anger in me – not toward him, but toward “them” (whoever “they” happens to be).  Still another leaves me constantly feeling like I don’t quite measure up; like a little boy I’m always trying to win their approval.

So what’s the common link?  Why do some people (again, in the natural) make me a better man and others make me a bitter one?  Why do some make me want to change and others make me more stubbornly stuck?

In a word – faith.

Each of these people act on an evolving set of beliefs about me.  Those beliefs create a sense of expectancy in them.  They also affect how they communicate to me, and how they communicate about me.

And here’s the crazy part – setting my own will aside for a minute, I easily become what their faith suggests… and so do you.

Do you realize the implications of that?

David’s Mighty Man Machine

Interested in building a super team?  An all-star cast of earth shakers and world changers?  Here’s one way to do it:

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around [David], and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. (1 Samuel 22:2, NIV)

Now there’s a strategy!  Gather up all the “losers, vagrants and misfits,” as The Message calls them.

Oh… one more thing… Treat them like mighty men.  And in one of the most remarkable transformations in history, that’s exactly what they became.

Jesus Had Some Mighty Men, Too

Jesus did a similar thing in the ways He molded a ragtag group of misfits into His own army of earth shakers and world changers.

He let a group of fishermen lead out as fishers of men.

He took two brothers – lovingly nicknamed Sons of Thunder – and transformed them into the first martyr and the Apostle of Love.

He treated a wishy-washy hit-and-miss apostle as if he were a rock of strength and stability – and that’s what Peter became.

Isn’t this the Pygmalion Effect?

Yes, to a large extent.  The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.  But what I’m describing has three other features.

First, I’m describing internal beliefs, not just external behavior.  This isn’t just raising the bar or manipulating people into greater or lesser performance, a la Eliza Doolittle.  It’s a deep, to-the-core belief that affects our physiology, nonverbal communication, and unspoken assumptions about others.

Second, it’s as much emotionally driven as it is logically driven.  The more someone loves you, laughs with you, fears you, or feels grateful for you, the more influence they have over the person you are becoming.  (Maybe you should read that last sentence again.) That’s how one friend motivates me to improve and another motivates me to improv.  It’s also how David harnessed the power of his fledgling army.

Third, it isn’t limited to what you see with your eyes.  Future vision, based on faith and love, can create just as powerful a set of expectations.  Jesus saw something different, believed something different, and behaved toward the disciples differently than anyone else on the planet.  In turn, they became the people He envisioned.  And like it or not, a huge part of who we are is the result of what others have envisioned us to be.

Do you realize the implications of that?

You are who you are largely because of the people who believe in you, have you in their hearts, and expect the best (or worst) from you.  This may be a good time to say “thank you” to the ones who are building you up, and “good-bye” to the ones who tear you down. 

And for those who still answer when you call or read what you write, maybe it’s time to wise up – and rise up – to the life-shaper you can be.  More on that in the next post.

(Next post:  The Life Shaper You Can Become)

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