DOES it matter so much what others think of us? Often it is helpful ``to see ourselves as others see us,'' as the beloved poet Robert Burns put it. And sometimes it is startling to realize how differently we see ourselves through others' eyes.
I've found it very revealing to ask myself, What am I seeing in my neighbor? Mistaken ways? Prideful ways? Stubborn ways? If that's what I'm seeing, it shouldn't surprise me that what my neighbor is seeing in me is likely to be similar mistaken, prideful, and stubborn ways! How often experience shows us that what our neighbor sees is simply a mirror image of what we perceive in them. We must purify our hearts in order to see God's children. In his Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, Christ Jesus tells us, ``Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God'' (5:8). This beatitude is just as applicable to seeing God's perfect child, for does not the Bible tell us in the book of Genesis that God made man ``in his own image''? (1:27)
There is a good way to know whether we are succeeding in seeing ourselves and others correctly. Do we love others as ourselves? If we think we are right and they are wrong, the answer is no. If we think we love them but that they do not love us, the answer is no. If we think we are in the light and they are in the dark, the answer is no. Jesus was able to do his marvelous works in healing by seeing both himself and others as created by God. This true view of man's inherent spiritual perfection frees us from the impositions of error that would deceive us. There's a sentence in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, that helps me answer the question of whether I am truly loving others. She writes: ``We know no more of man as the true divine image and likeness, than we know of God'' (p. 258). Knowing more of God helps me to see myself- -and others--more clearly as His image.
Thinking that our neighbor does not love or appreciate us is one form of not loving and appreciating him. In the Bible we read of Jacob's return to his homeland after many years of estrangement from his brother whom he had wronged. The night before he was to arrive he had a mighty struggle. Although God had told him to return with all his family and possessions, he could not help worrying about the wisdom of this step. All that he held dear was about to be delivered into the hands of a brother whose declared purpose had been to kill him. Certainly, this was a time when he might have been justified in fearing what another thought of him, even though he knew in his heart that he had changed and was worthy in God's sight. His struggle seemed to be with an ``angel.'' He persevered, the book of Genesis tells us, and in the morning was met by a loving and forgiving brother. He told his brother, ``I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me'' (33:10).
I learned a similar lesson some years ago when I began working in an office. My boss was a woman who, although usually quite pleasant outwardly, would occasionally let go with a burst of temper over some small mistake I had made. It got so that I would mentally crawl into a hole when she appeared at my desk. I would not know whether to expect a word of commendation or another tirade. This colored my work to the extent that I felt drained and uncertain of myself.
One day I had a little honest conversation with myself. I said, ``Are you doing the very best you know how?'' ``Yes,'' came the answer. ``Do you have any reason to be ashamed of your efforts here?'' ``No.'' ``Then why do you cringe before anyone? Can't you treat yourself with dignity and respect?'' ``Yes!'' At that moment I felt free of any sense of personal pride or fear. I determined to continue praying to correct my attitude toward my boss. As a result, I was able to stop seeing her as critical, insincere, and volatile. I saw that we each were doing the best we knew how and both of us were worthy of respect, forgiveness, and courtesy. It was a joy to know that I could take control of my own thoughts and not cower in the presence of what I might think someone else was thinking of me.
The result of this change in my thinking was remarkable. I no longer dreaded the appearance of my boss at my desk. I was able to look her straight in the eye and give her a fearless and sincerely friendly smile. From that time on I enjoyed only courteous and kind encounters with her.
I learned from this experience that many of our problems with others are in our own expectations of them. Seeing another as someone to be feared, as temperamental, mean, unkind, can be a kind of self-fulfilled prophecy, which can, in turn, cause us to take offense, be unkind, and engage in self-justification and suffering.
In Science and Health we read: ``Mortal mind produces its own phenomena, and then charges them to something else,--like a kitten glancing into the mirror at itself and thinking it sees another kitten'' (p. 220). We need not be fooled by appearances of mortal mind. God, divine Mind, created us and gives us the purity of heart that enables us to think clearly of ourselves and our neighbors. When appearances try to deceive us we can turn humbly to God and accept that purity of heart.
What do others think of us? That can have much to do with how we think of them. And we think most accurately of others when we're learning what God knows of all of us.