Posted by: Rob | April 6, 2008

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Katy is on spring break from school this week and Ann has been engaging her with “special” activities to keep her busy and amused. One scheduled activity was to have lunch together, so on Thursday I met Ann and Katy at Subway in Fort Saskatchewan for lunch.

On my drive to and from the lunch date I was listening to one or two of the news stations on XM Radio. There were live broadcasts of the proceedings as various participants testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee about the near collapse of Bear Stearns and its US Fed backed rescue by JPMorgan. I found Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz’ comments about a “self-fulfilling prophecy” to be of interest:

“Even though the firm was adequately capitalized and had a substantial liquidity cushion, unfounded rumors and attendant speculation began circulating in the market that Bear Stearns was in the midst of a liquidity crisis. … Due to the stressed condition of the credit market as a whole and the unprecedented speed at which rumors and speculation travel and echo through the modern financial media environment, the rumors and speculation became a self-fulfilling prophecy. … There was, simply put, a run on the bank.” _ Alan Schwartz, president and chief executive officer of Bear Stearns Cos.

I’ve often thought that much of the propaganda we get in our media coverage is often meant to become self-fulfilling prophecy. One such topic near and dear to the hearts of most North Americans is the price of motor fuel (gasoline). In recent years, as the price of crude oil and, subsequently, gasoline and diesel have become much more volatile, it would seem that Big Oil has found it necessary to employ propagandists to prepare consumers (their customers) for the inevitable price shocks. I never fail to be quite annoyed when the news media picks up the latest press release from MJ Ervin & Associates and blats it over the airwaves non-stop. These press releases are typically in advance of price increases at the pump. I wonder why it is necessary for the so-called clients (“Our active clients include federal government, industry associations, and major, national petroleum refiners and marketers.”) of this firm to waste any money funding these “studies”? Seems to me that this capital could be much better spent on defraying the costs of actually making the fuel or, better yet, investing in finding different or more energy efficient ways to move people and goods. But no; the motor fuel buying public apparently must be softened up with propaganda which, ironically, likely causes a run on the fuel stocks, depleting them with the result being? Surprise! Higher pump prices. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

I wonder why many people can not apply the principle of self-fulfilling prophecy to their own lives. This is, in my opinion, a common theme in the lives of many widowed people. Clearly I had never had occasion to address this topic from this angle in my own life before being widowed myself, but it is one I have observed in others in my time since. Specifically, it relates to how a widowed person manages their life after loss. Granted, the loss of one’s spouse is one of the most traumatic experiences most people will ever have to face. And yet, it doesn’t have to be the end of the widowed person’s life. Still, many widoweds are convinced their life is over. They give up trying to create something new and good. And so their sureness that they are doomed to live the rest of their life in misery becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-fulfilling prophecy is, in general, a herd mentality response, although it can occur on an individual basis.  How do we stop it?  I think one person at a time.  Draw a line.  Take a stand.  Just say “Homey don’t play that game.”  (For those that don’t get that last reference, check re-runs of “In Living Color” – Damon Wayans character Homey D. Clown.)  We can stop self-fulfilling prophecies but only with deliberate action.


  1. Yes, deliberate action is right. As a widow of four years, I thought the world came to an end when my husband passed away. It certainly felt like it, but since then my life has changed tremendously, as I have. I have grown in many ways I might not have, if I had not had this loss. I remained open to life, and that allowed me to move to a different phase of my life, to the person I was always meant to be.

  2. Elaine Williams,

    Welcome to the Tome.

    Although I have not been widowed as long as you, and I have remarried (a widow as well), I find my experiences to echo yours (as noted). However, I am not certain about “the person I was always meant to be”; in some ways – intellectually – I can grasp this and it probably fits with my belief system, but in other ways – emotionally – I tend to reject this concept.

    At the end of the day, being widowed young is an experience I never, ever figured upon and I think could only be eclipsed in degree of pain and loss by having my child die before me.

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