In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush called it "a haunting question." The Texas governor had gone to visit a juvenile jail.
"What do you think of me?" one young inmate, about 15, asked Bush.
That's not a question we often hear. Yet, it deserves thoughtful attention. Any person asking it (audibly or silently) obviously has concerns. And the answer given could make a difference - possibly a huge difference - in his or her life.
Since hearing Bush's speech, I've been praying to be able to respond more effectively to this question, which points out an underlying yearning for recognition and respect that probably lingers in almost everyone.
Many things contribute to a person's sense of self-worth. How others treat us is a big factor. It can determine to a large degree not only how we value ourselves but how we value - and treat - other people. Who hasn't come away from a situation involving someone close, or even a total stranger, and not wished they had shown more grace, more patience, more respect? I know I've come face to face with my own need for better thinking at such times.
Yes, the way we treat people reveals the way we think of them. Even if we generally think well of someone, a word, a look, an act - or a failure to act in any given moment - can send an unintended negative answer to that person's unvoiced question, "What do you think of me?"
This points to a need for more consistent good thinking on our part. I find myself praying along these lines: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:14).
The way to value others, I've found, is to see them as God sees them. God's view of His children has nothing to do with physical appearance, human heritage, past circumstances, or a personal history of behavior. Jesus intimated that the intrinsic value of anyone is in his or her spiritual identity and individuality - as God's reflection: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Jesus could know people as God knew them because he lived so close to God. He knew God as unvarying, all-inclusive Life and Love. And from what Jesus knew of God's nature, he knew the true nature of everyone. He knew that real identity is the reflection of the divine Life. What God creates, God deeply values, loves, and cares for.
This is what you could call "spiritual thinking." With it, you can see through people's faults and flaws, to the worth and perfection each individual has in the eyes of God. When Jesus did this, the person immediately felt loved, sensed his or her worth and perfection from God, and experienced transformation of character and restored health. Each of us can learn to think of and love people in this healing way.
Here's what I'm praying to see about each individual on earth, and to express moment by moment through my own words and deeds:
"You are God's loved reflection. You are worthy of my respect, love, and care. Your existence counts. You are able to contribute to the good of society, and your contribution counts. You have valuable qualities and talents that I appreciate and encourage you to develop. As God's loved son, daughter, you are bigger than any limiting circumstances. You are greater than any mistake you may have made. You are worthy of God's forgiveness and mine ... and you have it. With God's love and guidance, you can surmount any obstacle that blocks your desire to be good and to do good. I care about what happens to you."
The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "... conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," pg. 17). To help someone feel something of this worth is satisfying for all of us.
Ye are the light
of the world.
A city that is set
on an hill
cannot be hid.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society