When John F. Kennedy was 17, he was part of a prank club. At Connecticut’s elite Choate school in 1935, word spread that the group was planning to pile horse manure in the gymnasium. Before this “prank” could happen, the school’s headmaster confronted the troublesome boys. The scheme was the culmination of a list of offenses at the school, and young Kennedy was expelled.
Though the sentence was eventually reduced to probation, the headmaster suggested that Kennedy see a “gland specialist” to help him “overcome this strange childishness.” The doctor Kennedy ended up seeing was Prescott Lecky, a young, mutton-chopped psychologist. Lecky had made a name for himself at Columbia University as a skeptic of psychoanalytic theory, running up against Carl Jung and the Viennese establishment’s approach at the time. Instead of tracing Kennedy’s rebellious instincts to repressed motives or early-life stress, Lecky interrogated the boy’s sense of self.
Lecky paid particular attention to Kennedy’s talk of sibling rivalry. “My brother is the efficient one in the family, and I am the boy that doesn’t get things done,” Kennedy says in one of Lecky’s records. This constituted what Lecky considered a “self view”—a deeply held belief about oneself. He wrote that Kennedy had a reputation in the family for “sloppiness and inefficiency, and he feels entirely at home in the role. Any criticism he receives only serves to confirm the feeling that he has defined himself correctly.”