Jesus said, “They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” – Matthew 23:6-8
Carol Dweck was doing research at Stanford University when she discovered something amazing about human motivation and resiliency.
She had teachers praise half their students for being smart, and the other half for being hard-working. The teachers then administered math tests that were increasingly hard.
The “smart” students did well—until they didn’t. As soon as they encountered a problem they couldn’t do, they gave up. Even worse, they weren’t curious about the right answer. They figured they’d gone as far as they could, and that was that. Dweck called these students “fixed mindset.”
Conversely, the students dubbed “hard-working” became exactly that. They plowed through with grit and resiliency. The harder the test got, the more they enjoyed it. She called these students “growth mindset.”
The most depressing part of the experiment: 40% of the fixed-mindset students, asked to report their grades privately to their growth-mindset peers, inflated their grades. Praised for ability over effort, they were motivated by a hunger for approval rather than a passion for learning.
Jesus reminds his disciples, whose reputation is growing and who are coming into their own fame and status, that they are not to fall prey to praise and therefore the fixed mindset. You are all lifelong learners, he says, and there’s only one Teacher. So if you think you’re wise, get over yourself.
God, let me not think either too much or too little of my own smartness. Instead, let me work to become what you will, you who place no limits on our being or becoming.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.