Cynthia Breazeal at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has designed a robot dog that monitors its owner’s daily food intake. If they keep to their daily kilojoules, the dog will jump up and down, wag its tail, play cheerful music and flash the brightly coloured lights that stud its body. But if they splurge on cheesecake, it will move ponderously and play sorrowful, low-energy music.
There are other areas of life too where it might be helpful to have an observant watch dog that prompted us to keep on the straight and narrow. Friends and family can fulfil this function and they are often very willing to assist in the breaking of bad habits or helping us to see where we might be going wrong. If this can be done lovingly and in a way that makes it possible for us really to hear what thay are suggesting to us, it’s a great gift they give us.
The data which prompt the correct response in the robot dog are sent to it by wireless technology from a pedometer, bathroom scales and personal digital assistant on which the owner is supposed truthfully to record food intake. In fact, the whole idea is based on the fact that people who record what they eat and how much they exercise are more likely to succeed in their diet. The most important function the dog fufils is to encourage self-awareness in its owner.
Perhaps today, as we reflect on those areas of our lives where we feel there is room for improvement, asking for help from others would no doubt make a valuable contribution. But there is no substitution for developing the ability to be conscious of our actions and disciplined in controlling them.Then, when success comes, it can be us, not our robot dog, that jumps up and down with joy – and with pride.
Virgin Atlantic is targeting a growing market in pet travel by launching a special frequent flyer scheme for jet-setting dogs, cats and other animals.So far, four dogs and a cat have been signed up to Flying Paws reward scheme since it was launched earlier this month. Dogs taking their first Virgin trip will be given a T-shirt and dog tag, while cats receive a toy mouse. Ferrets - a surprisingly popular animal companion for Britons - get a flying jacket and collar tag. Once pets have notched up five "paw prints" in their frequent flyer book, they can acquire other goodies such as hand-made food bowls, while yet more trips win pedicures or Burberry, Prada and Gucci pet clothing.
Whether the rewards will encourage pets to choose Virgin Atlantic over other transatlantic airlines remains to be seen. But for most human beings in our attempts to live well, it’s not this kind of reward that inspires us. We feel good when we have done something satisfying whether it is superficially for someone else’s benefit or our own. The reward is in the doing.
This may well have been Jesus' view
too. He distinguished between two types of reward. One was the approval of our fellow human beings. The other comes from God. The nature and timing of God’s reward is not specified but the context suggests there is an element of hiddenness about it. The inherent satisfaction that comes from doing something because it’s right, hidden as it is from the sight of others, is a way of rewarding us that God has built into the way we humans are made.
Few people now believe that notching up stars in our “frequent good deeds book”is going to produce any reward. Instead let’s delight in the enjoyment we get from being people who care about others – it’s God’s gift and God’s way of saying “Thank you and well done”.
Statements such as 'I can't spell success without you', 'There's no "i" in team' and even 'Aim for the moon, and if you don't get there at least you'll be a star' are now even found on chocolate bars. But recent research suggests that 2 out of 3 employees find such attempts to motivate them patronising and 3 out of 4 react by being less effective in their work, not more.
Perhaps the problem is that such slogans make it all sound too easy. Apparently half the bosses interviewed believe they’re effective but most employees know there’s rather more to it than that.
When Jesus wanted to motivate people to commit themselves to him, he never underestimated the cost. He once compared deciding whether to follow his way to embarking on a new building project. It’s important to make sure the resources are there to finish what you’ve started (Luke 14.28-30).
Perhaps today we might be grateful for those who don’t underestimate us but assume we will respond to a challenge. It’s not sweet talk and chocolate bars that will bring the best out of us or others; it’s the prospect of the sweet feeling of accomplishment when we’ve achieved something demanding and worthwhile.
An electronic frown is the latest attempt to persuade motorists to drive more slowly. Electronic signboards in some parts of Britain read the speed of an oncoming vehicle and flash it on the screen. Safe driving produces a smiley face. A speeding vehicle gets a frown.
A television programme shown on BBC television last night revealed that belief in God in the UK has increasingly little influence on how people behave. Only 67% believed in any kind of higher power. Perhaps the picture of a judgemental God so often painted by the churches has contributed to this decline. If fear of a frown from God was ever an effective motivation of good behaviour, it is much less so now than it was.
Jesus said little about God’s frowns. He was more interested in God’s encouragement. God’s committed and forgiving love was the inspiration for the loving behaviour he asked of his followers. As Christians use Lent to reconsider their lifestyle and conduct, it’s a deepened awareness that God smiles on them which is most likely to effect any necessary change. But anyone who loves us unconditionally is encouraging generous and caring behaviour. Perhaps all of us who want to enhance the quality of our loving and living might today notice and enjoy the love we are offered, from other people or from God, because when we really take that in, it is an effective instrument of change.
Anxious for approval of his work, artist Stuart Pearson Wright apparently asked Prince Philip if he had caught his likeness. “I bloody well hope not!” Philip snapped back. Mr Pearson Wright reported that it wasn’t that the session didn’t go well. “Just that his response was less than complimentary”.
Photographer, Patrick Demarchelier, on the other hand, has a reputation for “making every woman he photographs look incredibly beautiful”. It was he who turned Princess Diana from a shy young mother into a woman who came over with confidence and grace. His latest client is to be Cherie Blair.
We all know the difference between people who look at us in such a way as to build up our confidence and those who seem somehow to undermine it. For Christians, God’s utterly affectionate, though not uncritical, way of looking at us, is an enormous boost to our confidence. We also can contribute to how others feel about themselves by our attitude to them.
Let’s today view those we meet in a way that affirms them and makes them feel positive about themselves. There’s beauty in everybody and to help it emerge makes everybody feel better.