The Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale & The Legendary Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali Book
The biography of Muhammad Ali, written by Alan Goldstein

#BookReview  #GudjonssonScale  #MuhammadAli

Dear readers,

Last month, I had read  a biography of The Legendary Muhammad Ali written by Alan Goldstein and Masya-Allah, I was blown away. It was a truly absorbing read and I finished reading the book in 3 days. Muhammad Ali’s life was nothing short of inspiring.

I knew that Muhammad Ali was this great boxing legend who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee” but in my opinion, his greatest achievement was not made in the boxing ring. There was no specific arena… no particular moment while fighting in  the ring… in which I could say “Yup, that’s it! That’s when he was at his best.”

It was just the way he led his life… the way he stayed true to what he believed regardless of what other people said about him. The way he had stuck to his gun regardless of the risks of losing his money and  fame, and even regardless of going to prison. That was some heavy-duty powerful faith there! How many people would rather be in prison rather than sacrificing their principles? These days, I assure you, not many!

float and sting

When people persecuted him for his staunch principles, he stood firm and fought back with witty words that spoke volume of his wisdom. I didn’t know before what was the big deal with Muhammad Ali. I only knew him as this great boxer who also happened to be a Muslim. To me, ah… ok fine, just another famous Muslim celebrity.(What can I say? I was never into boxing and Muhammad Ali was famous way before my time. Now, I am acutely embarrassed of my previous ignorance of this legendary persona!)

But after reading his biography, I was in awe.

I remember, whilst reading the book, that Muhammad Ali would have no problem with the Gudjonsson Scale if the test was administered to him. He would stick to his gun and to hell with what other people say to the contrary.

Want to know what I mean? Read on!

***

So what is the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale?  Well, this is not a very well-known test in psychiatry. When they are used, they are usually used in the forensic setting. It has been used in court cases in several jurisdictions but has been the subject of various criticisms.

I am not sure whether this scale was ever used in Malaysia. I certainly never came across it when I was doing my forensic posting.

But I had to study this scale when I was doing my Part A MRCPsych exam. I remember feeling slightly troubled when I thought of how my performance would be if the scale were administered to me.

According to Wikipedia, this scale was created in 1983 by Icelandic psychologist Gísli Hannes Guðjónsson. The Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale consists of reading a story aloud to participants, who are then asked to recall as much as they can remember. Subsequently, participants are probed with 20 questions pertaining to the story, 15 of which are misleading. When the 20 questions have been answered, the participants are clearly and firmly given a negative feedback on their performance. Specifically, they are told that they have made a number of errors and that it is therefore necessary to repeat the questions to obtain more accurate answers. On the basis of participants answers to the misleading items, a total suggestibility score can be calculated.

I remember thinking, would I ever change my mind, even as I know that I was right, if the pressure towards me was administered just hard enough? Would I break? Or Would I bend? Would I stand straight or would I fall in heaps and pieces?

Imagine someone administering the Gudjonnsson Suggestibility Scale to you.

Let me walk you through the simplified version of the scenario (you can read the actual details on how the scale is administered in Wikipedia)

So an examiner reads you a story and after hearing the story to its conclusion, you are initially reasonably sure that you have understood the story correctly. The examiner then proceeds with asking you a few questions to test your comprehension. You are confident with all the answers you have given the first time. Then, the examiner asks you some of the questions again and again… the examiner acts as though he thinks your answers are not quite correct…. so….would you slightly alter your answers to accommodate the expectation of the examiner? If the examiner asks you repeatedly “Are you sure that was how the story goes? Are you sure? Is that REALLY what happened? Could you perhaps be mistaken?Is that REALLY how you understood the story?”…. would you then doubt yourself?

Or would you stick to your gun and say “I know what I heard. That’s how I understood the story. I could be wrong. But that was what I heard and what I understood. And I am not going to change my answers no matter how many times you question me. Period!”

Seriously, in my own experience, MOST people would accommodate expectations (subtle or non-subtle) regardless of how wrong the expectations might be or how right their answers initially were.

Heck, it happens to our politicians all the time. It takes someone with strong conviction like Tun M to oust Najib out of his political throne because everyone else around him were as fickle as the weather when it comes to speaking up for the truth and fighting for justice.

It happened to me when I was a junior doctor. It happened to many other of my colleagues. It happened to even specialists and consultants when they were dealing with their own superiors.

It happens in our ward rounds and teaching sessions ALL THE TIME. For example, you might KNOW that you have given the right answer to your specialist’s question…. but when your specialist tests you by deliberately questioning your answer (or maybe the specialist himself also did not know that you were actually correct), you would change your answer to accommodate the expectation of your specialist. And even if you don’t change your answer, you will still start to doubt yourself even as you give the same answer… but this time, your answer comes in a less convincing manner.

One of my close friends had answered correctly regarding what are the anti-depressants licensed for OCD. She rattled off “Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Fluvoxamine, Paroxetine, Sertraline.” Her answer was correct and spot on! Of course she must have read it before doing her presentation and she should have been confident with her answer. But someone in the audience had questioned, “Are you sure Sertraline was licensed for OCD. I am not sure… but I think, Sertraline is not licensed for OCD, right?” And EVERYONE fell silent regardless of whether they are HOs, MOs, specialists or consultants. Maybe everyone was also not sure at that time and it was too easy to assume that someone who was brave enough to question the presenter must have been correct. 

But me and Dr. T…. we have this curiosity that is not easily satisfied. We used to read that Sertraline is licensed for OCD. Our Part A MRCPsych notes had a list of all meds and their licensed indication. And we kind of vaguely remembered that Sertraline is licensed for OCD but we were also not very sure when someone had questioned our friend’s answer.

By the time, me and Dr. T had finished extracting the information from the pdf version of Maudsley Guidelines and had confirmed that my friend’s list of answers were correct, the audience had moved on to a new topic of discussion.  And me and Dr. T didn’t feel like it was appropriate to point out to everyone that my friend’s answer was correct and the person who had questioned her was the one who was mistaken. I mean, people make mistakes and if we can let it go, we will let it go. But rest assured, if the CME gathering was still talking about the same topic, I would have offered the correct information for the benefit of everyone in the audience. My close friend deserves to have the credit of having given the correct answer. It is only fair for her to receive that recognition, in my opinion.

After my friend had finished her presentation, I went to her and said, “Mesti kau dah prepare sebelum present. Kau tahu kan jawapan kau betul. Just be firm and stick to your answers. Lepas ni, tak kisah siapa yang tanya…. specialist ke, consultant ke…. if we know what we know…. we stick to it!” (Bab mengajar orang suruh rebel, memang boleh bagi kat aku. Hahha)

She told me “Aku baca sekali lalu saja… takut aku tersalah.” This friend of mine is the nicest, the most humble and the least aggressive among my close circle. She is the angel to my devil. Hahha. So, I know she would willingly accept the appearance of being mistaken even when she was right. I am her exact opposite. And I think, Dr. T is also like me. When we believe we are right, we are going to question you regarding what made you question our facts in the first place? (As in, how dare you question me when you yourself are not sure! Now, face our wrath! Hahaha. Okay, just kidding.)

Look, it can happen to anyone. When an ‘authority’ questions you, you become uncertain of yourself. Most people are like that. As stubborn as I always am, even I used to be like that too when I was a HO or a junior MO.

Now, I am more certain and more confident of myself in general. Yes, I still doubt myself, but much less than I used to. If I don’t know, I will say I don’t know. BUT… If I know what I know, there is NOTHING you can say that will convince me that I was wrong. I accept only evidences and references. You must give me more than words before I will accept I was wrong. I had invested time and effort to read my academic materials to come to a conclusion of certain facts, and for you to say that I am wrong, you must give me enough reasoning and evidence for me to change my mind. I would love to learn the right thing…. but I am not suggestible. I might pretend to accept what you say just to keep the harmony… but I will not accept anybody’s dubious words at face value without doing my own research.  I will go back home and verify your answer until I am satisfied. 

But even I sometimes feel unsure whether or not I will ever be as staunch and resolute the way Muhammad Ali had been.

In his life, Muhammad Ali provoked his opponents with razor-sharp words that rhyme and comical one-liners that hurt. But what made him an iconic cultural figure was his quotes on achievement, social justice, religion and war. And what made him greatly impressive was his rock-solid stance in his principles.  

***

Why did I say Muhammad Ali would have passed the Gudjonsson Scale with flying colours?

Well, because he was the epitome of faith and belief in himself and in his religion that there is just no room for him to doubt himself on what was the right course of action. He knew what he knew and even if the whole country was against him, he would not budge.

muhammad-ali-motivational-message-and-quotes-4-638

He held firm to his principles and his belief NOT to fight in the Vietnam War waged by the Americans towards the Viet Cong. Because he was persistent in sticking to his belief, he was exiled from boxing, ostracized by his peers and fans, and stripped of his crown as the heavyweight champion of the world. He was pressured right, left and center. People called him as a coward for refusing to fight a war he did not believe in. He lost almost everything – money, fame and reputation – and he also had to face the risk of prison for refusing to go to war… but he remained firm in his decision.

Muhammad Ali had declared himself as a conscientious objector and refused induction into the U.S army, famously saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,”. He also had said “No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger,”

vietnam war

 

He was also recorded to say, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

I am free

I especially love Muhammad Ali’s beautiful words in defending his stance: “I believe in Allah and in peace. I know where I am going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I am free to be what I want. You can’t condemn a man for wanting peace. If you do, you condemn peace itself. A rooster crows when he sees the light. I have seen the light and I’m crowing!”

Beautiful!

But his words had upset the US Government. So, the US government then tried to send him to prison. He was put on trial and sentenced to 5 years in jail and $10,000 fine.  He was also banned from travelling and was not allowed to participate in matches outside the US. To this, he had said, “They want to stop me working, not only in this country, but out of it”. He must have suffered greatly at that time but he pushed on. 

He was 3 years in exile from boxing. And he almost had to serve his prison sentences, but fortunately, the US Supreme Court later overturned his charges. Muhammad Ali praised God on hearing the news. “I’ve done my celebrating already. I said a prayer to Allah.” 

He added, “They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right.” To him, it was as simple as that.

Muhammad Ali had no higher education. He came from a poor family. But when he spoke, it was full with conviction in his faith and belief system. 

After 3 years in exile, he then resumed his boxing career after the Supreme Court had overturned the charges. Amazingly, he returned to the ring stronger than ever, winning match after match, strengthening his reputation in leaps and bounds.

History later had proven him right. Vietnam War was an embarrassing failure to the US. The US had lost the war and its veterans returned home to taunts and abuse by their own countrymen who were frustrated by the cost of the war to the US economy and to the morale of the country. Influential Hollywood celebrities started to protest the war which Muhammad Ali had condemned much earlier from the very beginning. University students had begun to protest the prolonged war with pickets and demonstrations, cementing the fact that Muhammad Ali was right not to be enlisted even at the risk of being imprisoned.

The truth had prevailed and Muhammad Ali’s wisdom had shone crystal clear and bright.

See?

As I had said, even though he was this great boxing legend of the world, his most impressive achievement was not made in the boxing ring. It was in the way he stood up for what he believed as right, no matter what!

Years later, Muhammad Ali’s name on the Walk of Fame was placed on the wall, instead of on  the ground as in the case of the rest of the other famous celebrities. I am sure, his name was supposed to be on the ground initially… but knowing Muhammad Ali, he must have insisted that his name should be placed on the wall… or NOT AT ALL. And his wish was accommodated since his name is so great that it would be preposterous and ridiculous to leave his name out of the Walk of Fame. So finally, when his name was placed on  the Walk of Fame…it was on the wall, as he had wished, instead of on the ground like the rest of the others!

 

When asked regarding why he wanted his name to be placed on the wall, he had said, “Because I don’t want the name of Muhammad to be stepped on.”

This, my dear readers, is the greatness of Muhammad Ali. May Allah be pleased with him.

Ali
May Allah be pleased with you. Amin.

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