Today’s column explores the idea that men and women have the inherent ability to overcome moral weakness and live more in line with our genuine selfhood as God’s good and complete children.
—“What do you think about this?” my brother asked me, referring to recent news of sexual harassment committed in the entertainment and media spheres. We were on our weekly walk around a nearby reservoir, catching up on each other’s lives.
“Surprised, disgusted … and saddened,” I responded.
Comparatively speaking, I’ve experienced minimal harassment; but like many people, I know enough of what it feels like to be put in an intimidating and unjust situation to be grateful that society is rising up to take the issue seriously.
Is sexual harassment really inevitable? I wondered. How can I make a contribution to alleviating the problem – and dignifying others?
Whenever I need to gain clarity on a course of action, I consider whether I am seeing the situation as intractable or reformable. It’s important to me to strive to see a person or situation from a spiritual perspective, and not be clouded or depressed by a negative viewpoint, which can hamper progress. Clearly, I had work to do in this case!
Michael Kimmel, founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University in New York, consults with companies to combat the problem of sexual harassment. The Monitor reported this statement he shared: “I use the idea of, what does it mean to be a good man? Most men already have ideals and values about what that means, and I try to help men to live up to those ideals” (“In the #MeToo era, what does it mean to be a ‘real man’?” Dec. 26, 2017).
This approach is encouraging, and prompts me to think more deeply about why wrongdoing isn’t inevitable. I’ve found that the Bible provides helpful perspective in this regard. For instance, I love the idea that goodness is inherent within each one of us because we are made in the “image,” or manifestation, of a wholly good divine creator (see Genesis 1:27).
Spiritual thinker, author, and Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy refers to this creator as a loving Father-Mother that creates each one of us whole – that is, spiritual and complete. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she writes, “Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness.” Later in that paragraph, we read, “Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong” (p. 57).
We (myself included) don’t always see ourselves as we truly are – spiritual, good, and whole. In facing life’s challenges, we may develop behaviors that we think will serve us, but ultimately turn out to be counterproductive. Such behaviors aren’t irreversibly binding. In fact, we have the inherent ability to overcome these weaknesses and reclaim our true individuality, our genuine self.
As Professor Kimmel and other thinkers through the ages have indicated, one way to support each other is to shine a light on and magnify everyone’s innate goodness. In particular, just as the darkness of a material view of our individuality disappears in the light of understanding ourselves as spiritually formed, so habits that hide what we really are lose their grip as our true self is more clearly seen.
Following the conversation with my brother, I committed to fan the flame of goodness by actively watching for and appreciating it. Not surprisingly, the more I look, the more I notice men and women alike expressing strength and sensitivity, confidence and tenderness, courage and compassion. This is real power, because such qualities stem from the all-powerful Spirit that made us to reflect its infinite goodness, and knowing this has opened my heart to sweet instances of thoughtfulness, kindness, and cheer.
But while such instances are easy to appreciate, seeing someone’s inherent goodness right when they’re acting disrespectfully (or worse) can be demanding. However, what makes it compelling and powerful is the transformative effect acknowledging everyone’s real, spiritual identity can have.
I remember one time when a manager was exerting power in a demeaning way, and I felt this urgent prayer well up in my thought: “I know you are better than this.” Affirming this individual’s true self as a manifestation of the divine helped me avoid a knee-jerk reaction that wouldn’t have helped anybody. Even better, within moments the manager’s behavior changed to one of calm respect.
Better discerning and appreciating everyone’s real identity and dignity as a child of God is an ongoing process. In the meantime, as a result of my desire and efforts to be more conscious of our divinely innate, wholesome qualities – both masculine and feminine – here’s a surprising added bonus: I’m more able to live in line with my own best and true self.
Through understanding everyone’s relation to God, I know that I have the power to do this, and so do we all!