According to evolutionary scientist, David Sloan Wilson, the most effective way to promote positive change in another is to catch someone doing something right and praise him or her. Since evolution is a response to the environment, creating a more positive environment through praise engenders within us the desire to strive for more improvement. Even smiles were proven to redirect behavior over frowns. Studies show that students who were praised for their hard work worked harder than those praised for their intelligence. (Ironically, praising intelligence stunted growth for the drive to take on harder tasks was diminished.) This past week I was privileged to experience an off-handed compliment and did become aware of my desire to do even better.
Evolutionary scientists, prevention scientists, behavioral scientists and social scientists are just beginning to interact among themselves. Those interactions will lead to more right questioning which will eventually help us move in more positive directions. A master’s thesis done on preventing young children from running into the street showed praise and small tangible rewards were much more effective than reprimanding which made the problem worse. A good behavior game, created by students coming to consensus on what good behavior is, easily became the culture of the group. Wilson states, “We are designed as a species to cooperate in small groups that are coordinated and policed by norms established by consensus.”
Wilson says, “Our current educational system dumbfounds our instincts…” Learning needs to be less structured and more spontaneous since we learn easiest when at play. We need to highlight differences, not try to eliminate them. We need to accommodate differing reactivity by assessing and placing each child in an environment where they can thrive. Classes of mixed age groups were found to foster a spirit of nurturance instead of competition resulting in less bullying and where slower students don’t stand out. And every student, regardless of age, needs to have a vote in all major decisions. All of the above makes me recall Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer titled, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”
I am over three quarters of the way into Wilson’s book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One block at a Time,” and was surprised to first learn now that he is an atheist. His support of praise, diversity and everyone having a voice sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.
What if each day we challenged our self to catch someone doing something right, praising him or her, and smiling more?