Memories of Awe Episode 39

As Liz began to think about her future as an oral historian, she began to wonder why many of the histories she would be capturing had not been captured before. The university certainly wasn’t shy about telling good stories of student success. She decided to ask Professor McKown about this.

LJThe stories you have shared with me have been wonderful and inspiring. I wonder why they are so little known outside of your classroom.

KMcK:  In Physics and Psychology, there is something called the observation effect. When you observe something, it changes its behavior. I’ve always been fearful that turning these stories over to our PR department would destroy the moral beauty I see in students.

LJ: Won’t my oral histories do that?

KMcK:  I don’t think so. I hope you will keep the actual identities of the individuals hidden. Also the stories you will be writing have occurred long ago. I doubt that your story will have any impact on them.

LJ: I’m curious. Do you have a story about a student who was affected by the observation effect?

KMcK:  I do. Jamie was a student in my freshman class who came to see me about a volunteering experience he had with a campus group. What he wanted was advice on how to recruit other students to the effort. He gave me a flyer he hoped I would hand out in class. When I reviewed the flyer it was more about promoting Jamie than it was about the volunteer experience. I tried to get Jamie to make his efforts hidden and focus on the good that would be done by the volunteering.

LJ: Did that work?

KMcK:  Unfortunately it did not. I refused to hand out the flyer. Jamie changed majors, and the next I heard from him was when he was with a group of students doing hurricane relief in Florida. Jamie became the information officer for the group. Later I learned that he did no actual work. But of course, the university made him the poster child for student engagement.

He became the face of the student body for university service, but as I learned he never did perform any service other than to talk about himself.

LJ: What a phony! What happened to him?

KMcK:  He was enough of a con artist to win a prestigious international scholarship. He never actually completed the work. He continued his self-promotion throughout his career. It doesn’t take long for those he works with to discover he is a phony.

LJ: Do you ever wonder how his life would have been different if he had taken you advice to focus on the good deed and not himself?

KMcK:  I do, but then I think there are those who have a genetic trait for self-promotion. They are called politicians.

LJ: (laughing) I hope you are kidding.

KMcK:  I’m not a geneticist. I just comment on what I see and the evidence of a genetic trait seems pretty irrefutable.

LJ: I guess I can’t argue with that.

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“Fake people have an image to maintain. Real people just don’t care.” – Hikigaya Hachiman (character in anime)

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