Confronting the Reflections of Our Own Imperfections

Leaving a recent dinner presentation, I remarked to Sally, “There was something in that talk that isn’t sitting well with me.” She paused for a moment, then replied, “He has obviously done many great things, is clear on his gifts, and seems to know where he is called to share them.” Without saying it, she knew where I was headed and prudently took the high road on a conversation that I was going to turn into a negative critique.

A few days later, the subject came up again, and Sally shared something she had heard in a podcast suggesting that, when listening to speakers, our tendency is to either idolize or despise them. I didn’t despise the man who presented to us, but the point of casting our reception of such presenters in the extremes of “idolize” and “despise” are great reference points for our own hearts. We tend to buy-in or we don’t.

What was it that troubled me? The talk centered on good things: business success, generosity to employees, great charity to the community through a foundation and direct giving, and lots of praise for team members. The presenter shared his faith and how it shaped his perspective on his works – all of which aligned with my own worldview. Was I reacting to his personality or style of presentation? Was I feeling some sort of envy or the resentment of comparison?

Digging a bit deeper, I was able to discern the elements that grated upon me: lots of “me’s” and “mines,” the success report card, the call-outs to team members that still seemed to point back to the speaker, the casual name dropping that is rarely casual, the subtle but not so subtle reflections of power and authority, etc. Actually, I didn’t have to dig very deeply, each of those items was bobbing in pretty shallow waters. My internal critique was biting, and in my mind, justified.

It also troubled me. Idolize or despise. There is a deep-seeded tendency in all of us to tear-down others in some kind of twisted notion that it makes us more. Somehow, I’m better if she’s less. Of course, the truth is that it doesn’t make us more and rarely makes us feel any better. Was I simply tearing at this man in my own head out of my own small need to feel like I was more?

We filter the world through a lens of many colors. Brilliant or base, that filter colors all that we receive, often shifting, categorizing, interpreting, and even manipulating it into those places that fit our view of ourselves, and the universe around us. Considering this man and his words, I realized that I did not know his heart, the sincerity of his words and actions, his struggles, his failures, or how he interacted with the world he described. I could not possibly know. And, it really didn’t matter.

The truth is that what he shared had nothing to do with me. All I could do was react: positive or negative. I could choose to take it at face value, see the good in it, and take any lessons from it. Or, I could reject it as false, insincere, and self-aggrandizing. Neither reaction would affect him, his mission, the people who work for and with him, or the people he served. But my reaction might affect me or anyone else with whom I share it.

I could not possibly know that man’s heart, but I can know mine. In that man’s style, I saw the bluster into which I might tip if left unchecked. In his words, I heard the arrogance that I might exude if not careful. In his list of accomplishments, I heard the pride of my own voice. In his shout-outs to team members, I felt the danger of false humility that might overtake me. In the “me’s” and “mines” I heard the cries for recognition that could pour forth from the boy within who will always long to be noticed.

Ours is a culture of rejection, criticism, and crucifixion. When we don’t hear what we want to hear, don’t agree, or worst of all, cast our own dark shadows upon others, we react, often viciously. We figuratively stone them and their irritating ways, canceling them, blotting them out, and rejecting all the falsities they share. But often, we sense the things we dislike the most in ourselves as we watch them rear their ugly heads in what we see in others.

Look around you today at the people who trouble you the most. The annoying things they say or do, the sound of their voice, the places where you vehemently disagree with them, the dark feelings that well up within as you react to them. Is it possible you are seeing shadows of your own reflection?

There are places demanding right judgment. There is objective truth and we must continually discern in our response to others. However, there are also places which our own brokenness takes us, unknowingly. Small, dark, places that reflect the wounds, inadequacies, fears, and resentments, that assail our own hearts. What is yours and what isn’t? Tuning that filter to allow the good to pass through for whatever value it may bring, regardless of the heart of the other, will not only change how we see him or her, it will also change how we see ourself. Still imperfect but, perhaps getting better.

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