“I am not yet able…to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.” – Plato
Sometimes I’ll go all day without even glancing in a mirror and, when I finally cross paths with one, the reflection can be startling. This partly because I’ve never been what this culture, or any culture, would immediately identify as “attractive”, and it is also because by the end of most days, I have three pieces of spinach in my teeth and my hair has given up. Largely, though, when I’m away from a mirror for a good amount of time, I truly do tend to forget what I look like. So it’s always good to encounter the bathroom mirror at night so I can mutter “Hello, old friend”, and be reminded that I’m not Jason Bourne and I still need extensive dental work.
I suspect it’s like that with all of us. I also suspect that this is true on more levels than the external.
Left unchecked and un-verified, I quickly begin to make some relatively serious assumptions about myself. I assume I’ve read and studied enough to speak authoritatively on any and all subjects. I grant myself every benefit of all doubt. I assume I’m genuine, sincere, and well-intentioned and therefore you should trust my opinion and my clever use of synonyms. I assume my knee-jerk reactions are right, regardless of the topic. Trump as a candidate. Hillary as a candidate. OK Computer as the best album of all time. Caramel as the nectar of the gods. Mushrooms as the complimentary food of the seventh circle of hell.
We all do it. In our homes, in society, and on the internet.
Precisely because we do, there forms a teeming, rolling, swampy ocean of influencing pressure which shoves us back and forth, screaming at us to “be ourselves”, but wanting to decide what we are.
In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger from the psych department at Cornell conducted a series of experiments investigating the phenomena of over-estimating one’s own competence. They proposed, and generally confirmed, that, “for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- fail to recognize their own lack of skill
- fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
- fail to accurately gauge skill in others
- recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill.” (Wikipedia, “Dunning–Kruger effect”)
It is of vital importance that we know who we are, however, we can’t just say “be yourself” and expect that to be enough, because, if we are honest, we’ll admit that there’s a whole heap of stuff inside that is off the rails and should in no way be allowed to drift.
The glibly thrown out “you be you” is true, but who defines who you are? Is culture, comprised of fellow meanderers all in the same boat, qualified to inform you as to who you are? Heck, are you even qualified to tell you who you are?
Someone who’d never seen himself in a mirror would be unable to identify himself in a lineup.
When we’re all Dunning-Kruger-ing our way through the most important of questions, who can we trust to inform us? It seems to me that we would benefit from input from someone outside and above the slum. It seems to me that the best bet would be to find out from Whom we originate and seek guidance there.
Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation…would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape.” -G.K.Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”
Allow me to be a traditional Christian for a moment.
I believe, and Christianity professes, that God is your Maker, your Savior, your Beloved, your Spouse, and your every Answer. You are looking for God when you seek friendship. You are looking for God when you seek pleasure. You are looking for God in every mouse click, every compliment you squeeze out of others, every orgasm, and every sunny day. I’m looking for God in every Radiohead track, every laugh shared with my kids, and every time I embrace my wife.
Every moment that is true, good, and beautiful is made to be a delivery service, a messenger of the love that God has for you and of your true identity, but we’re closed off to it because we are too cluttered and muddled by listening either to our own incessant internal monologue or the cacophony of everyone else’s opinions of us. Or both.
Christ, the “exact representation of the nature of God” (Heb 1:3), the One through Whom, with Whom, and in Whom all things were made, longs to joyfully reveal your identity to you. He is the only One without an “angle”. He is the only One Who will tell you exactly who you are, without error, without vested interest, without need for reciprocity, and with a wonderfully disinterested gaze.
Christ is desperate to show us our depth and beauty, but we’re too clamped down on who we think we are to listen. We’ve got a stranglehold on being “us”, because we’re afraid of losing ourselves in the swarm; but the problem with a stranglehold is that, eventually, what we’re holding gets….strangled.
We don’t even know who we are, yet we’re afraid of losing ourselves! What if we’re rubbish? What if we don’t matter? What if we’re not worth keeping? In that case, who cares if we get lost?
“Christ…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself…” – Gaudium et Spes (22)
By revealing the Father’s love for us through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus systematically erased every lie and misconception as to our worth and goodness. His actions cleared away the grime, the darkness, and the death that encased us all like a coffin. When we search for our identity by looking within, we get an inverted, selfishly skewed view of ourselves. When we search by looking outward, horizontally, we get our feedback from a million other inverted, selfishly skewed opinions.
However, when we fix our eyes (Heb. 12:2) on God, Who can’t desire anything bad for us, Who can only will and work toward what is good for us, we begin to see ourselves reflected more and more clearly. Sure, God is quick and unhesitant to tell us where we’re smudged and crusty, but when He does, you find yourself saying, “Why thank You!” With God, any criticism or discipline is welcome, because, for once, you’ve stopped being afraid that the dirt means you’re horrible. In Him, we see our worth, and suddenly, you don’t want any blemishes or streaks, because you now see how they besmirch and taint the true light shining out of you.
This is at the heart of our news cycles and our politics, our dreams and our nightmares. Not knowing who we are is why the poor aren’t fed. It is why we suicide bomb. It is why we tinker with, and fight about, bathroom designations. It is why we smudge and redefine everything. This is why we move from “confused” to “fluid”. This is why we become doormats and dictators. This is why we scream and abuse.
We are afraid of what others are bellowing, but we’re far more afraid of the silence that results when everyone shuts up.
Be not afraid.
Terrifying as it may be, I encourage you to set down the magnifying glass that you use to look inside and the manifestos of a confused and angry world. They will do you no good. Choose to set down all of the mess, the alphabet soup of everything you’ve allowed to define you. Choose to let the Author of all things expound for a while. Let the most genuine and sincere Lover of your soul and body tell you why He made you. He fashioned you; why not let Him identify you?
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our capacity to become the image of His Son.” – St. John Paul II