How Clearly Do You See Yourself?

For the Week of September 1, 2014
by Rubel Shelly

It was Robert Burns who wrote the wistful line about God giving us humans the power to see ourselves as others see us. I wonder if his thoughts turned in that direction because of somebody’s waistline.

A report from the Pew Research Center offers some interesting insights about how men and woman see ourselves. The topic surveyed among more than 2,250 adults was weight. Says the report: “People tend to see the weight problem of the nation as a whole as being greater than the weight problems of their friends and acquaintances.” They might also have added “or themselves.”

Nine out of every 10 Americans hold the opinion that the majority of their fellow citizens are overweight. Yet only 70 percent think that most of the people they know are too heavy. Finally, when it comes to themselves, only around four in every ten of us thinks he or she weighs too much.

If those numbers seem not to add up, the researchers noticed the same thing. “When [people] think about weight,” they wrote, “they appear to use different scales for different people.” And weight isn’t the only thing . . .

We are also inclined to use different “scales” for weighing deeds and motives. So she admits she said something hateful but denies having really meant it. He confesses to hitting her but claims she knows that he really loves her. Or we acknowledge that we have not obeyed some red-letter teaching of Jesus but insist on our religious zeal and piety. What’s going on here?

We are facing a difference of perception versus reality.

• The reality is alcoholism, but the perception is party-animal.
• Reality is painful neglect of family, and perception is hard work.
• Truth is lack of integrity, yet the masquerade is that everybody does it.
• Fact is religious hypocrisy, but pretense is loyalty to one’s church.
• Reality is only words and promises, while perception is deep devotion.

So what do you think? Are your self-perceptions accurate? Or are they skewed by allowances made for self and friends that are not made for strangers? Vices plastered with excuses? Disobedience masked by religious lip service?

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” said Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21 NLT).

Burns was right. It is a gift from above to see ourselves as we really are.