Thursday, June 9, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Life Lessons About Appearances & Perceptions)

In addition to reflecting on the futility of seeking power, in watching this documentary I was also struck by the futility of worrying about appearances and the opinions of others. I have no idea if the allegations in the film were true that in his final days Mr. Atwater told many that he was a frequent reader of the Bible, but never actually took his own Bible out of the cellophane. For the sake of argument, just assuming those allegations were true, that alleged hypocrisy is instructive and worth reflection.

Maybe the rest of us are not facing a terminal illness while under media scrutiny and worrying about public perceptions of us as we head into eternity. But that does not mean we are immune from the same type of pointless vanities that were alleged in the documentary. Such concerns are just on a smaller scale for most of us.

It seems to be human nature that we worry about what others think of us. Am I liked? Am I popular? Am I respected? From an early age, we are preoccupied with such things. But if we step back, we realize how silly and what a waste of time such trivialities are. It can make us feel good to be liked or to have others think well of us. Alternately, it can make us feel sad to be rejected or disrespected. But at the end of the day, how other people perceive us and what they think of us are really irrelevant.

Imagine that it is true that Mr. Atwater was more concerned that other people thought he had found God, but was not interested in actually finding God for himself. How tragic would that have been? As one is heading into eternity, it could not be less important what other humans think of us. What really matters is what God thinks. How sad it would be to spend one’s final hours on this planet cultivating public and private opinions instead of preparing for eternity with God. What a tragic waste. What a colossal juxtaposition of priorities.

If most people believe something about an individual—whether it is a positive or negative belief—it does not alter reality. Even if large numbers of Americans thought Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that would not make it true.

And particular gauges (e.g., class rankings, employment reviews, US News & World Reports rankings, etc.) are not always reflective of the reality that many believe. A student who ends up with the lowest score in a class is not necessarily someone who is lacking in skill or knowledge. Such a person may have mastered the course material quite well, but is forced by a mandatory grade curve to get a sub-par grade because others did relatively better on an exam.

If a person graduates second in her class from a third tier school and goes to work at a company in the Fortune 100, who really cares? In reality, those are pointless labels that simply reflect various elitisms and petty pecking orders. Such things always strike me as incongruous in a nation built on democratic values.

I would never dispute that that others’ beliefs and those types of gauges can have a huge influence on the decisions that people make. And some of those decisions have huge economic repercussions. Such perceptions can determine which house a person buys, which candidate gets a job offer, and which employee gets a raise, among other things. As a result, it is important for economic self-preservation to be aware of such economically important perceptions and to do one’s best to make sure perceptions are positive when they are associated with you.

But when economic repercussions are not at stake, we should realize that others’ opinions of us are just not important. If others don’t like you or think ill of you, who cares? Each of us should strive to be the best person we can be, but if others don’t appreciate who we are, tough cookies. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that more and more. It is freeing to have that epiphany. I feel very fortunate to not be in my teens or twenties anymore!

Even when there are economic repercussions of others’ opinions, we should not become consumed with what others believe about us. We don’t have complete control over what others will think of us. Everyone has baggage. People may make judgments or prejudgments that negatively impact us and over which we have no control whatsoever. If one obsesses over what one cannot control, one will be unhappy and waste a lot of time.

We should never lose sight of the fact that perceptions are not necessarily reflective of reality. We should not buy into labels that ultimately are just words and may be quite different from whatever lies beneath. As Christians, we should always seek the truth and recognize that some will try to deceive us. Truth is not always easy to discern. It can take effort and time. Labels are easier. But that does not always make them true.

Proverbs 8:13

All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.

Luke 6:22

What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man.

1 John 3:18

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

1 John 4:18

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

No comments:

Post a Comment