Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One wish

photo: www.alabamacrowns.com
There is a time honored question that is asked of beauty pageant contestants the world over, and it is, "If you had just one wish that could be instantaneously granted, what would that wish be?" The equally time honored, tired, plastic answer is generally in the "world peace, feed all the hungry children" category. Those two wishes have merit, of a certainty. We need peace and an end to hunger in this world, without a doubt. I, however, was always determined to plumb the depths and possibilities of that question more thoroughly.

My answer to this question, because yes, I put in some years in the southern pageant system, was as follows:

"I would grant each person the ability to see themselves through the eyes of five other people. Two of these people would be those who love you. Two would be those who do NOT love you, and might even dislike you. And the final person would be a complete stranger who never laid eyes on you prior to the wish being granted."

Why this wish, do you ask? Give this concept some thought for a moment. We each have a very clear mental picture of how we present ourselves to the world. We also are quite aware that that presentation has a strong percentage of subterfuge and false confidence; a mask, as it were, that we use to camouflage the "real" person we are. The world is a busy, bustling place and it makes very little sense for each of us to be rushing hither and yon, with our hearts dangling on our sleeves and all of our vulnerabilities blazing for the masses to see. Therefore, we adopt those social masks in order to cope with various situations, various people, events and circumstances.

We show our authentic selves to those closest to us, to those with whom we feel the most safe and secure. While we are all definitely guilty of perhaps relying too heavily on those social masks in times when they are not necessary, it is something we learn from such an early age that it becomes the norm for us. We allow a select few into our inner circle and those few are able to see us for who we really are, as much as we choose to reveal.

Therefore, the wish being granted to see how others view us, I feel, would be a gift beyond measure. It would be, quite likely, a harsh lesson to absorb in many ways. Even those who love us don't always perceive us in charitable light 100% of the time. Conversely, those who dislike us or do not love us even the slightest, might see us in a more positive, philosophical and accepting light than those who love us the most deeply. There is constant judgment in all of us. We glance around at people and quickly categorize, pigeonhole and label.  

  • They're smart.
  • They're rich.
  • They're slender.
  • They're so happy.
  • They're dressed well.
  • They're in love.
  • They're successful.
  • They have it all. 
All the while we are applying these labels and judgments with abandon, we are neglecting the vital component of actually taking time to learn about those around us.  Those labels apply only to the surface mask we all wear in a public setting.  Inside, we all have insecurities, doubts, fears.

This whole concept has circled around in my mind for years. I know how I tend to present myself to the world, and for the most part, I feel that this is an accurate depiction of who I truly am. I am also quite aware that I hold back certain, very elemental aspects of my personality from the world at large, preferring to keep those delicate, more tender parts of who I am from the cold, harsh eyes of the world. Those who care to probe more deeply will learn of those facets of who I am, and perhaps will be surprised at what they learn of me. Those who rush heedlessly forward will accept the more mundane, slightly surface version of who they have decided I am. We all do this, and there is no fault to apply to anyone for such behavior. It takes a great deal of time, effort and sincere energy to get that close to someone else, and it would not be feasible for us to accomplish it with millions. I do say that it is possible to achieve on a smaller scale, though.

Have you ever been out in public, perhaps at a mall where the glass storefronts tend to reflect the images of the passersby? Years ago, I was walking into such an establishment that had that section of double doors, with a small lobby in between to buffer the outside elements at the entrance way. A truly lovely, stylish woman was approaching me from inside and I remember glancing at her, struck by how happy, confident and kind she looked. She had a sparkle in her eyes and she was smiling. She was dressed beautifully and put together in a manner that all women glance at and mentally nod, recognizing understated elegance.

I admit that in that sweeping glance that lasted perhaps 20 seconds from me, I compared the two of us and found myself lacking. She was so much more....everything...than I could manage myself. Moments later, I pulled open the first set of doors, expecting to see her walking out but she had disappeared. This puzzled me, because I knew I hadn't imagined seeing her approach. I glanced around, frowning and then it hit me - I had witnessed my own reflection approaching in the store front's glass door reflection. This was one of those moments of epiphany for me.

I had, in effect, been granted a silent moment of viewing myself through the eyes of a stranger. The reflection I witnessed, through the trick of mirrored effect, showed me a woman that I quickly glanced at, judged and labeled. I will never forget that moment, for it gave me a 100% authentic example of not only how I present myself in public, but also in how others might glance at me and apply a random label. Happily, my instant judgment produced a positive label.

I learned that I walk with confidence and an assured demeanor. This honestly astonished me to recognize, as inside, I am like everyone else....a mass of contradictory thoughts, doubts and yearnings to be more, better, happier, etc. The woman I witnessed that day, however, appeared to "have it all" and projected a sense of happiness that was attractive to witness. I am not telling this story to blow my own horn, although it may read that way. I am telling it because I wanted to highlight the fact that we rarely are granted a moment such as that one, to see ourselves through different eyes.

In granting the above wish, my intent would be for all of us to pause a bit more often and truly see one another with more clear vision, purpose and intent. Recognize that that other person might be struggling. Notice that the social mask of confidence might hide insecurities that would stun you, and reach out with an encouraging hand or kind word. We are days away from Christmas and this is the time of year where genuine care, kindness, fellowship and embracing our fellow man is encouraged more than ever. If you see a happy person, take a moment to comment on that! There is no harm in repeating the obvious and acknowledging to that person that they simply look happy - smiles will be the result and that's never a bad thing. Conversation could be sparked and a friendship might evolve. You just never know, and you never will, unless you pause and make the effort to delve beneath the social masks we present.

The above wish isn't one that can truly be granted, as none of us are capable of jumping into another person's body and viewing ourselves through their eyes. We can ask, though, what overall impression we give. We can be willing to listen and hear the answer, and learn strong lessons from the results. If we hear negatives and unpleasant things, we can choose to change those behaviors and grow from the experience. If we hear positives and pleasant things, we can congratulate ourselves that we are doing much better than we would have imagined, and continue to strive for higher goals.

This one wish would be a novel thing to experience with long lasting, spiritual repercussions, I think. Definitely something to ponder....


  1. Replied to your message on f.b. and I can't believe what you just wrote (real/brilliant) was so much of what I was trying to convey to you in my response to your "real" answer that I posed to you....what's going on, how is Dawn? love, janie

  2. Janie, I just finishing answering your email. Thanks for the great comment here as well! After reading your comment here, I went back and read through my own post - sort of a "physician, heal thyself" exercise. Thanks!

    ~ Dawn

  3. Hey Dawn, it's been a while. It may seem odd that I'm commenting on such an old post, but this idea stuck with me, so I thought you should know! I read it weeks ago, didn't take the time to comment, but kept meaning to come back and do that... so, here I am finally. In any case, it stuck with me because I think this is such a novel and useful idea; we could learn so much from hearing these perspectives from other people. I think that is one of the best parts and should be one of the major goals in Christian fellowship - encouraging and exhorting each other and telling the truth about what we perceive from others even when it's hard. Since we so often think we're doing horribly at something we do well or think we're doing well what we may be doing horribly, it can be exactly the help we need to hear what someone else perceives. I'll admit, I don't take criticism well; I just about always react defensively at first, though I'm getting better (I think) at just staying quiet for a while because inevitably, my thinking mind WILL think about whatever was said. As I mull over the critique, positive or negative, I realize the truth and then can start figuring out what to do to apply what I've learned. Of course, with our limited human perspective and our deceitful hearts, prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential to learn wisdom and walk as a wise person.

    Thanks for provoking these thoughts!

  4. Ruth, thank you for taking time to come back to my page and dig into the archives to comment! I'm glad to know this was a post that had positive impact for you, and that you received my thoughts in the manner I truly intended!!

    Honestly, I think we all have that initial negative reaction to criticism, regardless of whether it is delivered kindly or harshly. No one likes to think they've failed in a judgment call, but I'm like you - I strive to really listen to the criticism in an open way, and then give it thought over time. If the criticism is valid and given with a good spirit, then eventually I'll take the bits and pieces of it that I feel work best and apply them in my unique way.

    I think with age, we mellow and are more quickly able to recognize, and admit, that we really don't have all the answers. If we're blessed, we have those people around us who care enough to speak the sometimes challenging words that will help us grow and become better versions of ourselves. That's always my daily goal.

    Thanks again - it was such a pleasant surprise to revisit one of my "blog children" in this post!

    ~ Dawn