Thursday, September 10, 2009

Solving the Susan Boyle Phenomenon

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We all know of Susan Boyle, the “frumpy” Scottish spinster who skyrocketed to fame with her jaw-dropping rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent. Countless articles and stories have been written about Su-Bo (Soo-Bow) as she is now affectionately called; several of them focusing on our obsession with looks. (Case in point - read this blog entry, which is also the source of the photo you see here...

Much of this speculation of course stems from the initial response of the judges and the audience prior to Susan’s audition – judging her by her looks, and her small town accent rather than giving her talent the benefit of the doubt. Why did so many people get it wrong? Why could they not “see” her talent before she showed it to them?

I believe we can turn to Anger Solutions philosophy to find the answer to this question – and no, this is in no way a “stretch”. One of the key principles of Anger Solutions is that we approach every experience with a certain level of expectations. We also refer to Dr. William Glasser’s concepts of our real world experience being filtered through our senses, our values, and our past experiences; this leads to the world as we see it, or our perceived world. We constantly compare our perceived world against our ideal world – pictures we have in our minds of how things really should be.

Put this all together then. Is it possible that we have certain unconscious expectations or “ideal world” pictures of what opera singers look like? Do we expect all talented people to also be beautiful? When we looked at Su-Bo and heard her sad story, is it possible that we turned to our senses (what we saw, heard, and felt), our values (she’s not pretty – is not educated – has never been kissed; how could she have a good singing voice?), and our past experience (every other opera singer looks different, speaks differently, has had formal training, etc.), and then made a decision about Su-Bo before she ever opened her mouth to sing?

In Anger Solutions we describe the point of “frustration” or anger as the point at which our experiences do not match up to our expectations. In the case of Susan Boyle, the same process of experience colliding with expectations generated quite the opposite effect. The majority of people prejudged her based on their filters. They created a pre-conceived notion of what their experience of her singing would be before she ever actually began to sing. They experienced their “frustration” signal completely in their minds.
BUT when Su-Bo let loose the latent talent within her, that frustration immediately melted away and was replaced by surprise, shock, and indeed absolute appreciation. Suddenly, her frumpy looks were unimportant – nothing a quick makeover can’t fix. Her accent was rendered irrelevant, and the fact that she had never been kissed simply became the romantic exclamation point to an incredible Cinderella-like story.

What can we learn from this? Two things:
1) Although they sometimes last forever, first impressions are often inaccurate. If we open our minds up to the possibility that there could be more than one “ideal world” scenario, we will be both disappointed and surprised less often.
2) When we lower our expectations, we sometimes end up getting much less than what we bargained for – but every now and then, we get so much more.

Thank you, Susan Boyle for reminding us that if a middle-aged frumpy spinster can “change her stars”, then so can we. Thank you too, for treating us to one of those rare moments when our experience completely exceeded our expectations.