Treated Kindly, He Became Kind

Rick Genest

Rick Genest

By Lisa Wade, Ph.D. @ Sociological Images

Studies show that people will often act in ways consistent with how they are treated.

Therefore, treating someone according to a stereotype will likely produce behavior that confirms the stereotype. This is called a self-fulfilling stereotype.

Consider Rick Genest.

In a Bizarre interview, illustrated by photographer Neville Elder, he was asked why he spent $4,000 on tattoos that made him look like death. He replied:

I hated pretty much everything and everybody. I just wanted to pass out in the gutter and swear at cars as they went by, shit like that. I wasn’t a happy person at all. That’s why I got the skull tattooed on my face in the first place, I suppose—I wanted to fucking kill everybody.

But that’s not how it worked out. His tattoos didn’t freak everyone out and ruin their day; people loved them. They flocked to him. They complimented him and took pictures with him. And Genest began to feel… good.

…since having them done I’ve become a much happier and nicer person… I started getting all this positive feedback – people would come up to me and say how cool they thought it looked. I started getting invited to parties and bars all the time. Strangers ask to have pictures taken with me.

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He continues:

I’ve been having so much fun with it that life has definitely changed for the better. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing… not that I have much choice in the matter.

So basically his tattoos were a big fuck you to the world. He “hated pretty much everything and everybody.” But they inspired others to start treating him positively and, in response, he became a positive person.

Sometime after this article was published, Genest was “discovered” and since then he’s done quite a bit of modeling and acting. His life is certainly different now, but the happiness his tattoos brought him didn’t come from the fame and fortune, it came before all that, just from people being friendly. An awesome example of the self-fulfilling stereotype.

NOTE: This post appeared in 2009 and was fleshed out for a two-page essay for Contexts magazine.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 21, 2015, in body image, psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Such an uplifting post of a young man lost and through his struggles found another side to himself and his life. Behind the tattooed mask his smile shines through and so do his good looks. Photographically he is an amazing subject.

  2. I guess everyone loves attention. But it is still dangerous to base one’s esteem on outsider’s views. The core has to be searched within.

    • We don’t have to be run by other peoples opinions. We know more about ourselves then they do, we can consider what their motives might be in the way they treat us, and realize that their behavior may not have anything to do with us. Really, it’s something about them that brings out there behavior.

      And yet we do seem to be hardwired to incorporate other’s views into how we see ourselves. When a lot of other people see us in a particular way it feels more objective than the more subjective way we see ourselves, for instance. Or, when a child is raised by a parent who tells her she is no good it’s very common to incorporate the view of ourselves into our identities. Sociologists call it the social construction of personal identity. But like I said, we don’t have to be run by it.

      And like you said, it can be dangerous.

      • Yes, if we look into a dirty mirror, we’ll always think find our reflection is murky. Best to look inwards.

      • Yes. And of course that can be hard for some people to do. Especially children who have been told by a parent that they’re no good. They don’t have enough sense of themselves and the world and human psychology to be able to look inward without the baggage. I don’t know if that’s what happened with this guy, or not. But I’m glad that he was able to get a new view eventually.

    • Not me !! I dislike attention

  3. powerful, impressive – enjoyable and wonderful complex!

  4. Even dark creativity prompts a response to its inherent beauty. A willingness to be different saved his life.

  5. Who better to embrace than he who will carry our projected shadow. Donald Trump is very similar.

  6. I wrote recently about The Stanford Prison Exeriment, and that’s pretty much what they found: that people slipped into roles ascribed to them, they acted the way they were treated. So weird. Really makes you think.

  7. This is also dangerous too though when someone is so reliant on what others think of them too. I think most people are affected by other people or outside circumstances to an extent, but it’s another thing when you’re mentally like this guy and then people start treating him nice and eventually he starts becoming happier and being nicer. People are unpredictable and things change or can change. He’s come across people who like his tattoos. But what’s going to happen if and when he comes across who shy away from him, look at him funny, are scared, call him a freak because of his tattoos? Is he going to hate the world again? Let’s not forget the ups and downs of life.

    What if he gets fired or laid off from his job, has a long time gf and she cheats on him, breaks up, or he gets married and then a divorce and has his heart broken? Is he going to come after these women and try to kill them or blow up a building, because he’s very mentally fragile and has shown a tendency of having pretty severe negative emotions and thoughts. I mean him wanting to get drunk and swear at cars and him saying he wanted to kill everybody and how he hated the world. Those, I mean, you can’t take such thoughts lightly. Those are the similar thoughts young men and boys seem to also have who showed up at schools, malls and do the mass shootings and bombings like we’ve seen. So it’s good it makes him feel better, but hopefully he’s seeing therapy too or something, because his happiness is or can be a temporary happiness if it’s mainly based on other people’s opinions of him. The tide is riding high and good for him, but what’s going to happen when the tide comes back down? like it always does in life and when public opinion sways more negative depending on other people he meets or changes? Things are never constant in life, especially with the people you interact with and how they act or treat you. You just never know when you meet a bunch of assholes left and right for a month or year.

  8. Beautiful, I think we can all learn a little something from this story….. now if we can just start being kind to each other on a global scale, imagine the world that would be.

  9. Our words and how we treat people can impact them so much- makes me think about the power of the opposite- esp as this is domestic violence awareness month… how negative words can take people down as much as how the positive can lift people. Same for how we treat/raise children… glad that Genest’s life has shifted so much.

  10. I think this can go back with a simple smile can change a person’s day. People that are given a “hello” or smile from a complete stranger can really change their entire mood and day. You take from the world what you give out. If you try to be positive and send that out to the world, you are most likely going to get the same back to you. Because of people’s kindness towards Rick instead of disgust and hate that he THOUGHT he was going to receive, it actually made him into a better person. When I was in high school, we had a speaker that came to talk to us. He told us his story of how he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived, but nearly broke all of his bones. He told us that before he was thinking of jumping off the bridge, if he had gotten one person to smile at him, or a hello, etc, he wasn’t going to jump. But because no one showed him any sort of kindness, he decided to jump. He strained the point on all of us of how important it is to be kind to others. Because on that day, it would’ve saved his life. In Rick’s situation, I think that it helped save him from being this person who had a bad attitude towards the world.

    • So sorry to hear about the man who jumped from the Golden gate. At least it sounds like he is able to motivate more loving behavior. I saw a bumper sticker suggesting we go around doing random acts of kindness. Seems like a good idea!

  11. “What will people think of me?”
    Needless to say, what we think of ourselves is much more important than what anyone else thinks of us. However, our opinions about ourselves are highly affected by other people’s opinions towards us. The tattooed guy was a grumpy and mad guy, when he thought the other people disrespected him. He started to be a happy and nice guy, when he thought the other people welcomed and respected him. I think we can relate his story to the way we raise our kids. Since kids are too young to construct a strong identity, their opinions about themselves might be greatly affected by words and behaviors from parents. What will happen to children who have been told by a parent that they’re no good?

  12. Who does not want to be treated kindly? Indeed, the title of this article is so obvious that how a person is treated reflects his behavior toward everybody else. In my opinion, this is not surprising because every person has their own self-esteem which means that it is not possible to expect a person to act nicely after we give them negative feedbacks. For instance, Rick Genest, as stated in the article, has tattoos all over his body and in fact, tattoo is considered rebellion and unacceptability in society. With that said, Genest thinks that society does not accept him so he got tattoo and wants to murder. However, Genest becomes friendly and has positive attitudes when people compliment him about his tattoo. I think that if we are open to each other and get to know each other deeply, we will see the true color in them. Everyone has their own beauty inside and we cannot judge people by their cover. I believe that communication and understanding are very important within society, which helps create and maintain good relationships between humans. After reading this article, I have learnt that we should acknowledge first then express emotions later. Also, we will be treated the same way as we treat other people. In order to receive nice feedbacks, we need to acknowledge everyone by being kind to them from the beginning.

  13. I can relate very much to how the way you are treated can change you in more ways than one. When I was growing up I was hung out a second story, pushed down stairs and grabbed inappropriately, all because I was gay. I had become angry at the world and completely closed off. You couldn’t even find my voice above a whisper, because I felt I shouldn’t have one.

    During one of the darkest points in my life I was sitting against the wall in my gym class. I was approached by three fellow classmates, all women. They sat down next to me and asked to get to know me. At first I shrugged it off, but they persisted. As they kept trying my personality started to shift. I became warm and confident. I joined a Kendo class with one of the girls; late becoming an instructor myself.

    If we change the way we treat others we can make a huge difference. I think the same can be said for the relationship between men and women. If we start treated each other as partners instead of as a power struggle I think we can change lives. That isn’t to say we should ignore the very apparent power disparity, but to end it through mutual respect and treating each other as equals.

  14. This post reminds me about the retreat in a monastery I went to last November. We practice to come back to our breath and be mindful in our daily life. We learned to be kind with others. Some people shared that they became happier and nicer during the retreat, but when they came back to normal life, they seemed to become angry and cranky again. I do believe that the environment has a great impact to people behavior. In child development course, I also learn about how to create a safe and trust environment so that the children can achieve their best.

    • I guess that in the monastery you can more easily separate yourself — at least mentally, emotionally, spiritually — from others. A little harder to do in the outside world, isn’t it?

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