Mirroring the perfection that is already in us
Regular columnist James Knight argues that responding to the best qualities in others, and in ourselves, is the best way to live our lives.
You know when you have an annoying person in your life - a family member, a work colleague, an acquaintance who has joined your social circle, etc - you know that the best way to make them less annoying is to treat them as though they are anything but annoying, right?
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It works like this. Pretty much everyone who has faults doesn't have them all the time. Bad tempered people have their temperate qualities, angry people can be gentle and kind, incompetent people can show flashes of proficiency, and selfish people can surprise you with irregular expressions of empathy and generosity of heart.
And as sure as eggs are eggs, the best way to get people to show more of the good qualities and less of the bad ones is to focus on the good parts of the character - that is, doing your best to treat them as if they already are the thing you want them to be.
If you do this, you'll find that when you treat angry people as though they are gentle and kind, they will be gentler and kinder. By treating them as the best version of themselves, they will become more like the best versions of themselves, and it will probably even help them deal with the things that were making them angry in the first place.
Miraculously this even works with incompetent people too. Treat them as though they are much better than they are and they seem to raise their game. Obviously don't get complacent - faults need dealing with, particularly when they jeopardise the running of a business or cause bad relations - but generally incompetent people seem to respond positively to being built up above their merits.
I suppose it's because the converse is so apparent: that when we pick fault or focus on the worst in people it makes them an even less good version of themselves. I think the above wisdom can help inspire us in our Christian faith, because when God looks at us He is no longer looking at our imperfections, He is judging us through what Christ did on the cross. When He looks at us He doesn't see all the selfishness, greed and unkindness - He sees the love and grace of His Son on the cross, giving His life to proclaim a victory for us over sin.
Hebrews says that because of one sacrifice Christ has made perfect forever those who are being made holy; and Romans says that righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. In other words, God already thinks we're awesome because we are living with the power of Divine love and grace inside us (the same power that raised Christ from the dead, no less - which, in terms of a motivation for development and progress, are probably the most powerful words that have ever been revealed to us).
I'd argue that that is perhaps the principal motivation that can inspire us to be the best we can be - not that God is perfect and looks upon us as being imperfect creatures needing to sort our mess out - but instead that God has already sorted our mess out with the death and resurrection of Christ, and that all we must do to live a full life under the free gift of salvation is act as close as we can to the perfection that is already in us.
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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