Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Impressions

When I was a little girl, I can clearly remember being frustrated that I was too short to open the cupboard door and get my own glass for a drink of water. We had a little wooden step stool in the bathroom that my brother and I would use to reach the sink to brush our teeth, that I'd bring to the kitchen to get to the cupboards.

Then one day I realized I no longer needed the step stool as I reached up to the cupboard and was able to reach my own cup. What once seemed to me from my little girl perspective to be the tallest cupboards in the world, no longer seemed so tall.

I thought about this last night, as I thought about a recent conversation I had regarding perspective. Depending on various factors, one person may have a certain impression of you, while another person may have the complete opposite impression. Interestingly enough, it may not have a single thing to do with how you conduct yourself or the words you use, but may be entirely based on that person's preconceived ideas, traditions or personal set of character criteria standards. In other words, what they see may not necesarrily be an accurate representation of what is actually there, who you are, or what you really believe.

In one recent conversation, I was told that I have the opinions I have about certain things because in that person's view, I am "overly conservative". I don't know about you, but when I hear that label I think of someone who maybe doesn't watch tv, doesn't buy pre-packaged foods (ever), doesn't keep up to date on the latest fashions or trends and keeps old traditions and insists everyone around them keep them as well.

Maybe that's not a very accurate description of overly conservative, and maybe there's really nothing wrong (for the most part) with a person who behaves like this (I have a fondness for old fashioned, it's true), but it certainly isn't me. Probably a more accurate definition of overly conservative is someone who dabbles a bit with legalistic opinions about things? I'm honestly not really sure, it's one of those labels that eludes me.

In any event, the reason I was given this label is due to my opinion about the cultural shift that has made private things (sexual matters) public, and using graphic words and descriptions to discuss private things in a public format. I don't know that there is an age-limit-line, but it would seem to me that for the most part it's folks over 40 that think the way I do on this matter, and folks under 40 are more prone to accepting this whole "let it all hang out, baby" attitude about private things. The irony of that is I'm at the latter end of the aging hippie era where letting it all hang out was the norm, and yet I've never held to that even as an unsaved heathen.

While I have no objection to discussing private things, I do think those kinds of conversations should be private discussions. While I also have no objection to using detailed descriptions of things when needed, I also think there is a line of discretion and propriety that should be taken into consideration so as to not cheapen or make a joke of such things. I guess this is what makes me overly conservative. I was hoping it made me mature and thoughtful, but apparently not.

In this person's perspective (based on their own criteria plus the influences and examples that have shaped their own thoughts) this is the impression they have of me.

In another situation not very long ago, another person shared with me a very very different impression they have of me, which in some ways is rather the opposite of discretion, discernment and propriety. I find this mind boggling since if anyone were to hear these two impressions you'd be certain that two different people were being spoken of.

When I thought about the cupboards in my kitchen when I was a little girl, it occured to me (obvious, I know) that those cupboards never changed at all - what changed was my perspective. They were the same cupboards when I was 5, that they were when I was 10 but I saw them differently based on my own viewpoint, literally. The same can be said for me; I am the same person being defined by these two seperate people, but the way they see me is completely different. In many ways this reminds of me when I was first questioning the whole free will teaching. I was accused of being a Calvinist (and I hadn't even heard the term before) by the folks in my church, but accused of being an Arminian by others who obviously held a Calvinistic view of soterieology. Opposing opinions were shaped by various factors and influences, yet I was seen as two completely opposite people.

While I very strongly believe the impression you leave with others is important (and one you should take very seriously, if you're a believer calling yourself after His name), I also realize that sometimes no matter what you say or do, some folks just think whatever they're going to think. Its interesting that the older I get the more real my mom's wisdom is to me, as she told me once when I was a teenager and being falsely accused of something pretty aweful. She said to me: "all you can do is what you know to be right, but you cannot control what other people think of it". It was a profound statement at a painful time, and I've remembered it ever since.

I know I'm not the first person to deal with this, as our Lord suffered through much worse false accusation and faulty impressions in the minds of others. I know countless believers have suffered and died as a result of false accusation and erroneous impressions others have of them.

I know my situation is petty and insignificant compared to these examples... I just wish it didn't feel so discouraging.


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