My mother said I was a starry-eyed dreamer.
It wasn’t a compliment.
She thought I looked at life through rose colored glasses and wasn’t being realistic about the world, other people, or my future.
I took her comments to heart. I pursued “practical” occupations and tried to see people "realistically."
It didn’t work. Even when my rose colored glasses were abandoned for years after deep heartache, my innate hopefulness about people eventually reemerged.
When I was in my 40s I received a piece of advice that has stuck with me. I was starting my first counseling internship and was told to “see God” in each client. I took that to mean there is a spark of the divine in everyone. By looking for this spark, by finding the good in a client, I could imagine even the most troubled client in a positive light with positive outcomes. I could build on their strengths and not merely focus on what was wrong.
Seeing someone in a positive light isn’t some sort of “magic wand” that changes behavior. However, research shows that positive expectations of others leads to better outcomes. A famous study conducted with teachers in the 1960s showed that teacher expectations of high student performance led to … higher student performance. The “magic wand” is the concrete actions teachers took because of seeing students in a positive light. When teachers believed students more capable, the teachers gave the students more positive interaction and more chances to succeed.1
And this applies beyond the classroom. When we believe someone is kind, well-meaning, or good we respond differently to them. We smile more, give more positive feedback, and engage in more pro-social behavior like helping and sharing. As we give to them, we are more likely to receive the same back from them.
I started attempting to “see God” in my personal life, as well, especially when I am in conflict with someone. Taking the time to see the other person through the eyes of love brings me to a gentler space and can de-escalate the situation. With softer emotions, we can have a productive conversation.
We’re in a time when people are more divided than ever, yet there is a spark of the divine in everyone. Seeing that spark – seeing the good in others – lets you respond differently to them. And our belief in others often makes them respond more positively as well.
Sorry, Mom, but I am wearing my rose colored glasses with pride. And I am the better for it.
By Joni Miller, Ph.D. © 2020
1 Read more about the study here: