On Jan. 25, fans of poetry, fans of Scotland and fans of good Scotch will be celebrating the birthday of Robert Burns. He is widely considered the national poet of Scotland and penned the words to favorites like Auld Lang Syne and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. Though his personal life had a good helping of scandal, he is a well loved figure in history and literature in the British Isles.
In one of Robert Burns’ well known poems, he gave us this caution;
And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
In this poem, To a Louse, Burns describes a well-dressed woman kneeling in church in the pew in front of him. She looks the picture of the loveliness until he sees a nasty little bug crawling along one of the ribbons on her bonnet. The woman in church has no idea that her well-manicured image is disturbed by this little hitchhiker.
Ah, to see ourselves as others see us. That would be quite the trick.
Not that I think it is good to be overly concerned about how folks might think well of us because of our expensive clothes or the new car we drive. That is about showing off. But I do think it would be good if we could pay attention to how we impact other people.
Do others see us as unreliable, so they are reluctant to put their trust in us?
Do others see us as bossy, so they resist asking for our help when they need it for fear we will take over?
Or do others see us as pleasant, so people want to spend time with us?
The impression we leave with other people will help determine how they will choose to be with us.
As a minister, I also think about how people of faith and our religious institutions are seen. I think it is important that we try to see ourselves as others see us.
What impression do we, as people of faith, leave folks with in the community when we share our beliefs?
When we speak out on matters of morality, do we come off sounding judgmental and intolerant?
When we speak of spirituality, do we sound spacey and superstitious?
When we speak of working toward a world of peace and brotherhood, do we sound out of touch with the real problems faced by people every day? I hope not.
I think we can share our view of what is right and still leave the person who disagrees with us feeling valued as a human being. I think we can speak of our own spirituality in a way that assures others of our grounding in the real world. And I absolutely think that we can fully acknowledge horrors of war and the inhumanity that people sometimes show to each other and still believe that a better world, a world of love and justice, can exist if we all do our best to bring a better world into being.
I hope we can speak effectively about the important things that matter to people of faith. I hope we can share our beliefs in a way that leaves other people feeling respected and valued.
It does matter how others see us, when we talk to them about things that matter deeply to us. It matters because that is how we keep the conversation open. When we can share our beliefs in respectful dialog, this truly is a gift.
• Schurr is a visiting pastor of Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship