Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reflected appraisals

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
“I think that I have never seen a man as well-defined as he,” is an adaptation of a line written by the poet (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer, from his poem, “Trees” (1913), “I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.”  With my adaptation of Kilmer’s line, I am referring to my 98-year-old father-in-law, Edgar E. Willis; however, I admit, that at 98 most people are well defined.
This is not an essay of complaint nor objection; rather, it is one on “reflected appraisals.”  Since most people reading this essay would not know a “reflected appraisal” unless they met it in a college classroom and knew they would be quizzed on it before that class ended, let me provide a definition taken from a college textbook (mine!): Communicating Effectively, 10e, McGraw-Hill, 2012, page 35.
    “ . . . Your parents, your friends, and your teachers all tell you who you are through reflected appraisals: messages you get about yourself from others.  Most reflected appraisals come from things people say about you. . . . All such messages from others help create your self-concept” (p. 35).
It is a simple concept, and basically it reminds readers of the important role that others play in the formation of their self-concept.  It attempts to counter or refute the idea that a self-concept is something entirely self-derived or self-developed—that it comes from within the self and is projected outward to others.  It is true, of course, that we take the impressions we get from others, assess them, mix and match them, re-adjust them as necessary, and put them together, much as we assemble a puzzle with thousands of very small pieces, to form a self-concept.  And it is true, as well, that this self-concept is constantly changing as we go through each day.  It is neither static nor invariable.
When I taught a course in interpersonal communication (and in my interpersonal college textbook as well), I was well-known for saying, “Other people provide the most important source of information we get about ourselves.  The way we believe others perceive us, often is the way we perceive ourselves.”
In this essay I will be using the term “reflected appraisals” in a slightly different way.  I want to reflect upon the traits I have seen in my father-in-law (Edgar) after a full year and a half of daily one-hour visits.  Like the book by Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), I have come to know Edgar in a variety of different ways, and I am continually thinking about what I have learned and discovered, much as Mitch learned about Morrie Schwartz, his former professor, after he began to visit him on a weekly basis.  Rather than detail the lessons about life I have learned—as Albom did in his book—I want to focus on the traits Edgar reveals that I want to avoid.
It is a coincidence that Edgar was my former professor, and throughout this essay I want readers to know that I have the utmost respect for him.  As I write this essay (April 18, 2011), I am less than one week away from a lecture Edgar delivered, “Who wrote the Shakespeare plays,” to a group of just over 50 people, at the Way Public Library (Perrysburg, Ohio), at the age of 97 years. (He is 99 as this essay is posted on the blog.)
First, for the most part, Edgar has chosen a life of social exclusion.  He now lives in an apartment at Kingston Residence (along with over 100 other seniors).  With the exception of a monthly book-club meeting he feels he was forced to attend, and the speech he gave at Way Library, and meals he takes in the dining room, he attends none of the public events (talks, entertainment, movies, or other social occasions), and prefers to watch sports, read books, magazines, and newspapers, and enjoy daily visits by family members—in his room, by himself.
Edgar would claim that he gave his talk to “test his skills” and that he avoids public events because they conflict with news shows he wants to watch on television.
Second, and closely related to the first idea above, Edgar avoids social contacts.  He eats with a group of men at breakfast, and there are two people at his table for lunch and dinner with whom he shares small talk.  Other than that, the only social contacts he has are with family members.  He never lingers in the lounge, seeks conversation with others in the Residence, nor enjoys being with others.  He stays in his room, sits in a comfortable chair, and either reads or watches sports or news programs on television.  If he was not forced to go to the dining room for meals, he would have all meals delivered to his room.  Unless dictated by illness or health problems, there is an additional cost for having meals in his room.
Third, as can be seen from my description in the paragraph above, Edgar is extremely frugal.  One of the things that made him happy about moving to Kingston Residence was that his financial capital would not be touched.  His monthly Social Security and retirement checks fully cover his rent, and then some.  Financially, he is extremely solvent, and he could be more generous if he chose to be.  I know this is a personal decision, but he has limited himself in unnecessary ways.  For example, he would enjoy television more if he upgraded one level to include both a golf channel and a classic-movie channel—but he won’t.  He could enjoy meals with family members in a special dining room in the Residence—or take them out to a nice restaurant—but he won’t.  He could pay his granddaughter for cutting his hair—but he won’t.  (He has compensated her in many other very generous ways, however.)
There is a fourth characteristic, too, and that is that Edgar is critical.  Over the years he has formed a number of opinions about others that he will not alter in any way.  For example, he formed an opinion of Diane Sawyer, the ABC-news-reader, because she worked for Richard Nixon, and now he will not watch her.  He formed opinions of Tiger Woods, not because of his womanizing, but because he raised his fist in a gesture (“up yours”) that he considered inappropriate, had a foul mouth, and showed disrespect to his gallery, that followed him throughout his career.  He has strong negative opinions about a foot doctor in his Residence who he feels was late to an appointment, and he will not see him again.  Nurses who detain him for the administration of his pills quickly gain admission to his devil’s list, and are never forgiven for their lateness—essentially, making him wait.
In all these cases, the reflected appraisals have taught me what I do not want to be and what I do not want to do.  Not to be totally negative, Edgar reads, watches sports, is aware, alert, and mentally active, and he has an incredible memory.  Even though most of what I have observed, as noted in this essay, are negative traits I want to avoid, they make me a stronger person by underscoring and firming-up the positive traits I have in place.  Reflected appraisals have the potential for making you a stronger person with more clearly defined characteristics.
- - - - - - -
If you want more information on reflected appraisals, the JSTOR website and the article, “Reflected appraisals and self-esteem,: by the authors Charles Jaret, et. al., is an excellent resource for two reasons: 1) the information here is succinct and to the point, and 2) the sources that support this theory are offered in abundance and efficiently. 

Alieshia Escalera has a short little essay, “Reflected Appraisal. When You Look in the Mirror, What Do You See?” that covers the definition, application, and value of reflected appraisals.
- - - - - - -
Copyright December, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.