On pages 45-46 of The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus tells the story of playing basketball with a friend who was 6'6. Despite the guy's height advantage, he refused to get open under the basket. He would set a pick but then wouldn't look up for the inside pass. Frustrated with the missed opportunities, McManus confronted him on his play. The guy defended himself, saying that he was just setting a pick, not trying to get open underneath. McManus writes:
"I responded, 'I know you are setting a pick. I also know you can make eye contact with me when you are setting a pick. You don't want the ball underneath. You don't think you're open. You're 6'6. With your reach, it makes you 7'6. On this court you are always open. I need you to make eye contact. I know that you're a guard and you're used to playing outside, but somewhere in your life someone told you that you were small and you believed you were small, and now you are playing smaller than you are. Here you are big. What do I need to do to convince you that you aren't small?'
His response caught me off guard. He said, 'That's what happens to you when your younger brother is 6'10. You are small, so you learn how to play outside.'"
McManus's friend was caught in a feedback loop. He was told he was small, so he learned to play outside. By doing so, he developed outside skills. When people praised him for his outside skills, he continued to develop them while his inside skills atrophied. Eventually, he couldn't play inside. The feedback loop was a self-fulfilling prophesy: he became small.
This guy's story is not unique. I saw these same kinds of feedback loops in my childhood. I excelled in math and was discouraged in the arts. I remember two specific instances of teachers telling me I couldn't write (3rd grade and 9th grade). As a result I withdrew from all of the arts and emphasized math and science. I was further affirmed and I further developed. It wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I realized my love for the liberal arts (and my hatred for physics!) and I walked away from STEM subjects forever.
What are some ways we create these feedback loops in church? Who are we discouraging? How do we break the cycle?