Dulcinea was the lady of a knight-errant but wasn’t sure she could be a lady. She had been the barmaid Aldonza all of her life until she met the knight Don Quixote, who gave her a new name and said she was a lady. “Take the clouds from your eyes and see me as I really am!” she yells at one point in the musical Man of La Mancha. “A lady? I’m not any kind of a lady. I am Aldonza!” Finally, at Quixote’s deathbed, Aldonza realizes that because of Quixote’s devotion, she has become the lady Dulcinea.
This part of the Don Quixote story illustrates a very basic principle that we too often forget. I like to call that idea the “Dulcinea principle.” This principle simply states that a person’s self-image can be greatly influenced by the way his associates think of him and treat him. It seems that we are often told about how we can improve ourselves by changing our own self-concepts, but we seldom hear about the effect we can have on other people’s attitudes about themselves. After all, Don Quixote made a lady out of a barmaid by seeing her potential and treating her accordingly. I suspect that all of us are what we are in part because of the way our friends think of us.
I first encountered this principle in high school. I considered myself to be unattractive, and so it was easier for others to think of me as unattractive—a vicious circle. But I had the fortune to acquire two friends, Janice and Jim. Janice thought that I had a wonderful personality, and it was easy for me to be pleasant around her. Eventually I found it easier to get along with other people because she had instilled confidence in me.
Her faith in my desirability helped me improve my grooming. I confided to her that I had always wanted to perm my hair so that it would be curly all over, but I was afraid that the other kids would make fun of it. She was so enthusiastic about this idea that I permed my hair and loved it. Janice also never saw the 15 pounds that I needed to lose; and because she helped me think of myself as thin, I lost the weight.
Jim was also a good friend. He was not interested in me romantically, but he still thought that I was attractive. When we became friends, I stopped wondering if the dresses I was buying looked similar enough to what everyone else was wearing and began to consider if Jim would like them. Because Jim was a good enough friend to let me know when I looked good, I gained confidence in my taste and I became able to buy and do things because I liked them. Because these two friends had patience, confidence, and the ability to see the Dulcinea in me, I have become happy with myself.
I have also seen this principle work among other friends of mine. One week in Sunday School, the class was laughing about a girl they called “pit face” who had asked one of the boys, Mike, to the girls’-choice dance. I brought in a filmstrip about a girl renowned in her village for her ugliness. The filmstrip taught the class that after a young man was willing to treat her as if she were beautiful, the girl became very attractive. The class was touched, and they learned the Dulcinea principle. Mike went out with the girl and had a great time. Within a few weeks, two of the girls were able to report that they were becoming good friends with this girl and that she was really very nice.
The Dulcinea principle should always be at the center of our lives; it is not something we use at school and with our friends and forget at home. It can go a long way toward making our homes, as President David O. McKay admonished us to do, a heaven on earth.
My little brother John was having trouble in school. He refused to listen to his teacher, was forever talking, and would not perform well in his schoolwork. Trying to force my brother to do his homework at home was also useless; he could not seem to remember how to do it. We were becoming exasperated, and John was becoming obnoxious. But then my mother talked to the counselor in the elementary school and learned that John had the potential to be a very quick learner but that he was lazy. In a family council we decided to expect John to be his best—the Dulcinea principle. When I helped John with his homework and he would say, “I can’t remember,” I would respond with, “Yes, I’m sure you can.”
At first, he responded with, “No, I can’t” and “I’m not going to do this anymore.” But eventually John began to remember and caught up with his class. Reminding John that he was too old to throw temper tantrums didn’t stop them, but ignoring them because they were beneath his dignity soon did. Now, two years later, John still isn’t convinced he’s very smart; but his schoolwork compares well with his classmates, and he is much easier to live with. We are still helping him to build a good self-image.
It is not manipulative to help our associates to think highly of themselves. One of our purposes on this earth is to help bring other souls back to our Father in Heaven, and none can go back to his kingdom without a sense of self-worth.
Our responsibility might be made easier if we remember to use the Dulcinea principle. By reacting positively toward others and supporting them, we will bring out the best in our associates, and the Dulcinea principle will become a way of life.