Learning About Ourselves and Others

“We discover in ourselves what others hide from us, and we recognize in others what we hide from ourselves.”  This insightful quotation recognizes a relative sameness among humans.  Though we all fancy ourselves as unique, the truth is that we have the same basic motivations, aspirations and weaknesses.  True, we are not programmed, and there are variations among all, but enough commonality exists that we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves by observing others.

“We discover in ourselves what others hide from us.”  In casual settings we tend to speak in generalities; we “put our best foot forward” and work to project a certain image to others.  Thus we may not reveal how we truly feel about a thing; we hide our emotions; we answer according to what we expect others want to hear.  This does not always suggest deliberate deceit.  Rather, we may not want to be a burden, or we are embarrassed that we are struggling with some issue. 

Jesus counsels us, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12).  A friend may be hurting but reluctant to reveal it.  But if you were in a similar situation, what would you be feeling?  Honesty about our own tendencies can help us get behind the façade and explore what someone may truly be experiencing.

I would like to think that Peter had a great understanding of self-disappointment and how to deal with the guilt of personal failure.  I would like to think that Paul had deep insight into the blinding power of preconceptions and the ability to reason around the obvious.  I would like to think that John Mark learned how youthful enthusiasm and idealism can wilt under the searing heat of reality.  I would like to think that Barnabas realized how it is possible for a person to do something he never thought he would do.

And I would like to think that these insights enabled these men to truly relate to others going through similar trials – even if those suffering did not understand their own feelings.

“We recognize in others what we hide from ourselves.”  It is difficult to be honest with ourselves, for honesty is brutally painful.  We think, do, say and wish things that are shameful and, at times, sinful.  So, instead of recognizing these things in ourselves, we hide them behind excuses, rationalization and denial.

But then we may see our brother, sister or neighbor display a behavior that makes us stop and think, “I do the same thing, but I’ve been afraid to admit it.”  A famous example of this is David’s response to Nathan’s story of the lamb (2 Sam 12:5-7):  “Then David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!’ … ‘You are the man!’”  Of course, David needed the application forced on himself, and sometimes we need the same.

If we are not honest, others see it because they recognize our actions in themselves.  If we deceive ourselves, it leads to ruin:  “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.  For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (David, pre-confession, Ps 32:3-4).  Self-awareness should be our default setting.  Life is learning – about ourselves, about others.  And without examination of ourselves and others, we will not effectively deal with our faults.