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Mirrors and Light
Just the other day I got to watch a video about a deep-sea creature called the "mimic octopus." It was a fascinating display of how this animal can take on the likeness of many other, different animals. It's gotten me thinking about how we tend to do the same thing. At the beginning of the Bible, it says how God created mankind in His own image and likeness. And later on, St. James uses the imagery of a mirror as an analogy to explain what our natural condition is like. All of this can be summed up with one simple statement: we were built to reflect.
From the time we're children, we are constantly watching others, mimicking and imitating them, and incorporating the new behaviors we see acted out by others into our own ever-growing repetoire. Children learn entire complex languages this way -- at least in part -- and then continue to develop their abilities through further mimicry and repetition. And there's that old adage, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
But there comes a point when you really need to stop watching others so much, and start doing things yourself. I say this because I've definitely been guilty of the former! In fact, I think most people have. It's something that we often have to learn to grow out of doing so much. Too much focus on watching others leaves us with less time in the day to really be ourselves; it tends to atrophy creativity. And it often comes hand-in-hand with the belief that we just don't matter. But nothing could be further from the truth!
Examples of "too much watching, not enough doing" are in behaviors like watching too much television, compulsively reading gossip columns, obsessing over politics, fantasizing and daydreaming, and pornography. Activities like that mistake consumption for real reflection. Those activities consume without creating anything meaningful. A good litmus test to tell if an activity is really "bad" is whether it leaves you with a mental or spiritual hangover. Honest activities never do. Honest, productive engagements inspire and uplift.
There was an interesting article in the New York Times about politics last October titled, I'm Right! (For Some Reason). The article examined the effectiveness of political "attack" advertisements, and how readily people will rally behind an attack ad against the politician they don't like. But when the same people were asked to explain policy ideas themselves, thereby putting themselves in the shoes of a politician, suddenly everyone became a lot more moderate. It's a lot easier for people to "attack" politicians when they don't feel any accountability for the process themselves -- when they're just passive observers. But if they are forced to think about how to create policy that will impact themselves, their neighbors, and even their opponents, often they become a lot more open to other ideas.
This highlights the importance of being active do-ers rather than just passive watchers. If too much focus on watching others tends to erode moral sensibility, then the opposite must be true, that a focus on being, living, doing actually strengthens self-esteem and values. In the Bible, Jesus sometimes used "light" as a metaphor for ones individuality, like when he said, "let your light so shine before men" or "no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a lamp stand -- then its light shines on everyone in the house."
When we're actively filling our time with productive things we can be doing, that is letting our light shine. Then we become more focused on reflecting God rather than just reflecting others. That is the right kind of reflection, which brings with it a sense of freedom, goodness, and satisfaction.
How have you risen to start doing more than watching? How have you gotten over fears that your unique "light" somehow wasn't good enough? And how have you encouraged others to move away from the wall and start dancing, to take that candle out from under the basket and share it with the whole house? Please share your examples in the comments.