Affirmation Experiment

Verse: Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
— Matthew 7:1–2

Years ago graduate students at an Ivy League college conducted an experiment. First they observed undergraduates until they found one of the most unkempt, most socially inept women on campus.

Then they drew up a schedule; each would spend a month getting close to the woman. They would “happen” to bump into her between classes. They would show up in line behind her in the dining hall. They would call her for lecture notes or assignment reminders. Moreover, when each was “on duty,” he would compliment the woman, expressing delight in her voice, her talents, her insights, her clothes.

The first student performed well. In spite of his misgivings, he began to speak to the woman, finding ways to affirm her. By the end of the month he found his task less onerous as the young woman started to respond. She smiled occasionally, combed her hair more often, and paid more attention to how she dressed.

The second graduate student took the experiment a step further. He asked the undergrad out on an official date and spent the month showering her with gifts and compliments.

By the third month there was a new glow about the young woman, and the third researcher enjoyed her company more than he cared to admit. When the graduate students got together to share their experiences and laugh at the “progress” of their victim, the third student had to force chuckles through self-conscious embarrassment.

The fourth member of the group never got the chance to lavish attention on the young woman because by then she was engaged to the man assigned to her during the third month. What started as a cruel and belittling pastime for the students turned into a love story.

None of us would want such a trick played on us. Yet there is something instructive about its outcome. As Jesus noted, when we spend our days looking at others with critical eyes, we find ourselves more in a laboratory than in a relationship. But when we begin to respect and affirm others as men and women made in the image of God, we move back into the relational warmth of family.

The implications are obvious for marriage. People who live closely with one another are bound to chip away at each other’s rough edges. We become experts in analysis and faultfinding, but we don’t gain much by that besides divisiveness and pain.

Jesus’ warning not to judge others doesn’t mean we should be blind to the faults of our mates. But it reminds us to be caring more than critical, compassionate more than judgmental. Just as Christ lavishes grace upon us, we can extend loving grace to each other, rejoicing as we together blossom and grow beautiful in each other’s eyes.
—Wayne Brouwer

Let’s Talk

• In what areas are we critical of each other? What brings out words of judgment in our relationship? How has this affected who we are together?

• When has our relationship blossomed with warmth? What kinds of things did we say to one another during those times?

• How can we bring out the best in each other? What practices will help accomplish that?

This devotion is from the Couples' Devotional Bible by Zondervan. Used with permission.