There is a social psychological concept called the “looking glass self”, coined in 1902 by Charles Cooley. It goes like this – We are who we think others think we are. That’s quite a mouthful, wouldn’t you say? Three components relate to the concept: 1. We imagine how we appear to another. 2. Then we imagine what judgments others are making about our appearance. 3. Finally, we decide how the other feels about us. The imagined assumptions are then internalized to encompass the whole of our being. The ultimate result is that we develop our self-image, or how we feel about ourselves, from these assumptions that are not based upon facts a lot of the time. We tend to adapt our behavior in the company of others based on how we think they perceive us. Ever notice how our image changes in the presence of different people? Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
We all have images or beliefs about ourselves that are deeply embedded. So much so, most of us aren’t even aware how deeply and universally our beliefs about self affect everything in our lives. Physically, we look in the mirror and see the image we believe others see, but the belief is ofttimes inaccurate because the belief is based on assumptions. Women especially, focus on the flaws and imperfections we adopt as self-image; the flaws we believe others see in us. The same would be true of our emotional and spiritual images. Do you keep spiritual beliefs on the down low for fear of being thought of as a “Bible thumper”, or spiritual “weirdo”? Of course, this process is an unconscious process, and we may not be fully aware of the images we have buried in the subconscious, nevertheless, we all are affected to one degree or another. More passive individuals will allow others to define who they are, whereas a stronger personality may form some opinion of self looking through the eyes of others, but will not be dependent upon the image. Makes one wonder if we are ever our authentic self? Does any of us really know who we are?
For those who use the Bible as a reference tool, their interpretations are based on the belief systems and doctrines of the churches they choose to attend, in other words, interpret the Bible based on the doctrines or beliefs associated with a particular denomination, rather than the Bible alone. In many ways, the Bible is a living document in the sense that as we grow, change, or learn, our interpretations change; the scriptures seem to give us new insight into ourselves and others. Turning toward a more focused experience on journey with the Divine, and opening myself to theories and ideas long-shunned or rejected by the church without any discernible merit, I can still appreciate the Bible, especially as it relates to Yeshua (Jesus). I see the Bible as a manual on human behavior and our relationship to self, others, and God.
Using the looking-glass-self theory, the church teaching is that we should see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus. To that end, I am in agreement. Yeshua, the embodiment of the Divine, living on earth as a fully human, fully matured spirit man, was and is our teacher, mentor and example. Applying the looking-glass-self theory, we will form an image of ourselves the way we believe Jesus sees us. One of the two mirrors will reflect back to us the image of what we believe to be God’s opinion, whether we believe ourselves to be filthy sinners saved by grace, born a sinful being without hope apart from the shed blood of a Savior, or a valued, precious spirit, living in a body, having a human experience, and loved fully and completely by God, the source of Divine love. Perhaps the first image evokes feelings of guilt for perceived sin, with a dollop of gratitude for escape from the wages of sin. How will we live and breathe and move within that scenario? For many, whether one chooses to believe it or not, the primary motive to live a life of ‘righteousness is fear; fear of sinning, fear of judgment, fear of not measuring up, or fear of being denied heaven after death of the body. We become dependent on the whim and mercy of a fickle and unpredictable God. Conversely, if one chooses to believe we are on a journey with God, the Divine Source of Love, a journey of learning, growth and empowerment, we will think and act accordingly. In the first scenario, we are at the mercy of a Being who holds all the cards, so to speak. Within the second scenario, we are part of the Divine, worthy and precious, and loved for who we are, right this minute, without judgment or need for discipline or punishment. In either case, we are human and will screw up, fall on our faces, make wrong decisions, and will be just plain ugly at times. How I believe God will handle me at those times will reveal the way I imagine God sees me. Will I feel guilt-ridden whether I even need to own that feeling or not, or will I see any and all experiences as opportunities to learn and grow, to ascend to a higher level of understanding?
Yeshua (Jesus) accepted people as they were, yet saw and encouraged their potential and gifts for the highest good of others. From the scriptures, we see that Jesus didn’t sugar-coat anything while remaining tender toward those who were honestly searching. He recreated the realities of people who had allowed others to define their current reality. The woman with the issue of blood, told by every doctor she was incurable, the lepers shunned and ridiculed by society, forced to walk through the streets shouting, “unclean, unclean” to warn others of their presence, and the woman caught in the act of adultery, labeled as a whore, a prostitute worthy of stoning. Each of these are examples of people who lived the reality others had created for them until Jesus came along and spoke a different reality, a reality filled with life-giving energy, healing energy, transforming energy.
Jesus, the earthly representation of Divine Love, loved and loves today. No one had to be perfect, super religious or spiritual. All were accepted as they were; the messy, lame, blind, and the battered and bruised by life. Even those He chose as His disciples were a ragtag bunch of misfits, but Jesus saw them differently. Peter, the rough, brash, impulsive fisherman was deemed The Rock, destined to become ‘fishers of men’. All were worthy of love, all were loved, all were seen as precious and shown a new reality, a new self they could view through the looking glass, a self created without judgment about physical appearance, emotional or mental health, or spiritual maturity. Who is it you see in the looking glass? Someone who has been judged unworthy, unintelligent, unattractive, crazy, weird, not good enough, or any number of inaccurate adjectives or labels? Maybe it’s time for another looking glass…..