Friday, January 02, 2009

Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.
(O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.)

Robert Burns, Poem "To a Louse" - verse 8 (from

Picture a nice breakfast in your mind. Something you could enjoy on a regular basis.

Now imagine that a new acquaintance tells you that the photo below is a pretty good example of a breakfast they would enjoy. (thank you to Jenn Kelley for the photo)

Most of us would find it hard to believe that our new acquaintance was serious. If we were to see them consume this as we would eat a bowl of cheerios, what would we think? Gluttony. Insanity. Illness.

I have wondered why Burns describes it as a "gift" to be able to see ourselves as others see us. I have feared the gift would be a curse. I see myself as living in the "reasonable center". People who exercise a whole lot more than me are fanatics or freaks of nature. People who exercise a lot less are couch potatoes or just pitifully weak. I am in the middle with the other "reasonable" people. In the same way I tend to think that I am just about as patient, kind, or generous as most "reasonable" people. In the past we referred to those folks as "normal", but language morphs. Now normal implies boring and unimaginative. Ah, but reasonable is greatly to be desired. After all, if everyone were reasonable, imagine what a wonderful world this could be. Were I to see myself through other's eyes, how quickly the illusion would be dispelled. I suppose that is why Burns calls it a gift. He was wise enough to know that we would benefit from having our illusions shattered.

If we scratch through the surface of what we mean by reasonable, we quickly see it for the sham it is. Reason alone cannot lead us to a vision of a life worth living, because our ability to reason is warped by our pride and our greed. Only a revelation of all that is good can allow us to see all that is not good in us. Yet even revelation plus reason is not sufficient. We must make choices that are good, and we soon find that we fail to do so far too often. We make resolutions for the New Year and then are shocked by how quickly our resolve is exhausted.

Reason and revelation must be sought in conjunction with relationship with God. God is the base on which we stand. Without a base, we float rather than stand. We are a helium balloon, moved by the prevailing winds of our era. Untethered and unteachable, making progress toward nowhere in particular.

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