It has been a while since I posted anything – holidays, summer and kids, perfect weather for gardening . . . I have been working up an article on the scene in Perelandra. But I’ve wanted to get back to posting on here, so I’ll share something on another topic from Perelandra that has also been popping up time and again in talking with others and in my own life and relationships.
It relates to a scene from near the beginning of the book, when Ransom has only been on the planet for a day or two. He’s trying to find out about other people on the planet, as the Green Lady is the only person he’s seen so far. She mentions being separated from the King, but doesn’t seem to understand his questions about relationships (parents, siblings, etc.). “’Who is this King?’ said Ransom in desperation. ‘He is himself, he is the King,’ said she. ‘How can one answer such a question?'”
This interchange made me pause, as do so many conversations in Perelandra. Obviously the Lady has no experience of people other than the King, so of course this question would confuse her. But at the same time, I think there’s more to it than that. I think part of what Lewis is getting at here is that each individual is simply themselves. I mean, think of having to describe your spouse or best friend. Certain contexts make it easy – like if I’m at a function for my husband’s work I start with his position in the company. If I’m looking for him in a crowd, I start with his physical appearance. But just some random person asking me to describe my husband? I wouldn’t know where to start! There is far too much information after seventeen years of marriage – I’d have to think about it a bit. Start with his family of origin? When we met? His work? Hobbies? Personality traits? He is himself. “How can one answer such a question?”
Now, of course we can’t have that much information about everyone. Our limited brains have to use categories to simplify our interactions with other individuals – we would go insane if we tried to process that much information about everyone we meet. But that categorization tends to lead toward perceiving all people in a particular category as sharing much more than merely that category – like thinking, somewhere in the back of our minds, that homeless people are drug addicts or conservatives aren’t compassionate. It is true of some people in the category – but it is not true of all. And that’s what leads to stereotypes. And whatever particular stereotypes we hold, we tend to treat people as though they were the whole of our stereotype, rather than belonging to that one particular category. The story of how each homeless person became homeless is different. He is himself. She is herself.
So how would things be different if we tried, as much as possible, to treat each individual as unique? God creates each individual, well, individually – He prepared Jeremiah to be a prophet and John to prepare the way for Christ while in the womb. Each aspect of their personality, appearance, circumstances, relationships, is uniquely crafted for them to be what God created them to be. (Sorry if you don’t like my theology. Maybe I’ll write a post on that . . .)
It’s something I’m trying to practice more, even with those close to me, like my kids. Sometimes it’s easy to lump them together, especially after a rough day, when one of them might have been really good and the others made the day difficult. Sometimes it can even make a difference in the way I see myself. I’m not just any mom – I’m the mom God created specifically for these kids; and He created these kids specifically for me. There is no need to compare myself to other moms or my kids to other kids. We are unique. Insert plug for homeschooling 😉
Waaaay too often I see people on either side of the political spectrum make broad statements about the other, and often those statements make it clear that they’ve probably never talked to someone on the other side of the issue. Or at most one or two people. It’s one reason I’m thankful to have read widely – it makes it much easier to see how people can come to the same conclusion from widely different perspectives. Or oppose the same problem but have widely different solutions.
How much might it help us to be patient and kind and gentle toward others if we just trained ourselves to see each individual as unique? To look in their eyes and maybe even ask for their stories? Everyone’s story is different. Every individual is unique. May we try to see each person as God does. He is himself. She is herself.
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