HARDLY a week goes by without a newspaper printing a poll of people's views regarding their leaders, their aspirations, their tastes, or some other subject. While polls can serve a useful purpose, sometimes they influence us in ways that aren't productive. For example, if polls show many people feeling hopeless, particularly over a long period, we may find ourselves unwittingly adopting a similar outlook.
One way to protect ourselves from such negative effects is to get a clearer understanding of who and what we actually are. Many of us might think that we are merely the product of a particular racial group, a specific gender, a certain educational level or ethnic background.
But these outward characteristics--even our own or others' opinions of us--don't really define who we are. Our real being--the qualities of love, goodness, intelligence, purity, and liveliness that each of us expresses in a unique way--isn't measurable by polls, because it is spiritual in nature. And these qualities come to us from God, divine Love.
The foremost teacher of the spirituality of man is Christ Jesus. The Master was so confident of his--and othersrelationship to God and of man's inseparability from divine Love that he didn't need to do a survey to find out how popular he or his teachings were. Nor did he need others' opinions to tell him that an understanding of man's spirituality would heal, reform, and guide anyone who needed his help. Over and over lives were transformed by the Master's prayer and his reliance on God alone.
There were many who scoffed at and even endeavored to undermine Jesus' work. But their opinions were unable to stop him. They were looking at man in material terms--the things that polls can measure--not in the spiritual way in which Jesus was seeing those who came to him for help.
At one point in John's Gospel, the Master is recorded as saying, "He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. His obedience to God, rather than to the opinions of others, enabled him to find his way through the tangled motives of both friends and enemies. And the power behind his teachings--the activity of Christ, Truth--can have a transforming effect on our lives also.
So often we are tempted to believe that we are the result of merely outward material measurements. This tendency makes us vulnerable to the limiting influences of polls. When we think of ourselves merely in terms of a particular economic or social group, for instance, we are leaving out the crucial qualities of Spirit, God, whose offspring we are. These qualities include strength, patience, joy, purity. And they are illustrated in our experience as we pray to overcome setbacks, as we strive to be more lo ving, and as we persist in leading moral lives.
As we accept that these spiritual qualities define what we really are, we begin to break out of the mental mode that would lead us to be influenced by a depressing poll, and we begin to look more closely at who we really are and what we can do for our world.
Here is a small illustration of how such thinking can help. There had been rather prolonged media coverage of the impact of a recession in the area where I live. One day I realized that I had completely accepted the often-repeated contention that the downtown shopping area had nothing to offer. Yet during a visit specifically motivated by a desire to pray for the economic revival that seemed so needed, I found all the items I needed--and more. Still, there didn't seem to be many other shoppers around. Th at day, and for the week following, I prayed earnestly about the city. I recognized that good could not be hidden, because it comes from God, divine Mind, who is ever present. And I affirmed that man, as the offspring of this Mind, is always receptive to good. I wasn't trying through my prayers to get more shoppers for the stores, but I did want to acknowledge the presence and power of good and its availability for everyone. In short, I was actively resisting the picture of hopelessness that media coverage had presented.
One statement by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, that I found particularly helpful during this time is in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes, "In a world of sin and sensuality hastening to a greater development of power, it is wise earnestly to consider whether it is the human mind or the divine Mind which is influencing one.
The next week I again visited this area and found more people shopping. The atmosphere was totally different, filled with activity and good cheer. One of the businessmen I talked to commented on how things had changed. I'm not saying that my prayers alone were the answer or that conditions have totally turned around. Many in our area are praying earnestly for permanent solutions. But my prayers did free me from the hopelessness that I had accepted. And this men-tal freedom does have an impact on a situat ion. If six people are trapped in a room, and one finds a way to open the door, all six can find freedom.
Polls, however useful they are, measure only finite opinions--measure only what we think about a given subject on a particular day. When we see polls for what they are--and turn away from them in prayer to a better understanding of the spiritual reality--we can help ourselves, our community, and our world become a better place.