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Are We Shaped By How We’re Seen?

I have seen this quote now several times in past months:

I am not who you think I am;

I am not who I think I am;

I am who I think you think I am.

– Thomas Cooley

To me it has the meaning, that none of us – or at least very few of us – are completely immune to what other people think of us. Or rather, what we assume other people to think of us. No one can know the depths inside us, no one can really walk in our shoes and on the other hand our own conception of ourselves is often flawed as well. We have built our image of ourselves on top of different assumptions, beliefs, memories, feelings and even misconceptions which might not reflect reality well at all.

Too often we put value not on how things actually are, but on how we think they should be. Worse still, we often put value not on what we want or how we feel, but on what we think we should want and how we should feel. The constructs of society, the expectations and norms, are something that easily steer our life. Often those are something that we perceive as simple facts, things we know and believe to be true.

Today I read following quote, which I have tried to translate to English:

In us that which has been seen is born.

The idea was that we are kind of discovered bit by bit based on how we are seen (by others). That inside of us the actual self is waiting to be found. Our own beliefs constrain what we can be. Our beliefs of who we are, what we are capable of, what we should and should not do shape our life heavily.

There was also the idea that our dreams and wishes are of that part of our personality which has not been “born” yet. They are made out of that something that we intuitively feel to exist but that hasn’t really realized.

What We Believe Is True?

All this is not far away from Henry Ford’s rather classic quote:

Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t — you’re right

The problem often is that it is not so much that you actually think that you can’t. You instinctively know that you cannot. You cannot do, have, be, think or want this or that. Maybe if you were able to actually think the thing through you might know otherwise, but as it is so clear how the world is – has always been – and who you are – will always be – the idea will never even occur so that it could be thought.

I think this is rather close to the timeless strategy of “ Fake it till you make it“. Wikipedia article touches the Law of Attraction but if that is a bit too much for you, consider at least the Law of Action (not the actual one by Newton, but rather the one that I just made up). “If you act, it is more likely that something is going to happen.”

Timothy Ferriss states it quite nicely in his book The 4-hour Workweek:

For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you… If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.

It is just unlikely that you act on something that you think is impossible. Or something that is not for you, something that is not supposed to be done or something that never occurred your mind, because of all the previous.

From this point of view the appearance actually is everything. And the beauty quite concretely is in the eye of the beholder. If I think “I can” or even “maybe I should consider for a while” only after I can break the barrier of what’s possible with my thoughts, it just might be that you being able to see me to be more than I think I am is rather priceless.

When you fake self-confidence and get treated for the confident bad-ass you seem to be, then what is the cause and what is the effect?

When you assume the best of others and emit joy to the world, what kind of people will you mainly meet?

If I see you as beautiful, maybe you are? Unless of course, if you think I think otherwise…

What Do You See When You Look At The Children?

Robert Rosenthals study on Pygmalion Effect is something I associate to all of this and which is worth of some consideration. Here is pretty good article on it (from 2012… But the actual study is from 1964. And I have seen it referred so many times myself just out of general interest. Maybe there is something more recent built on that? There has to be? Feel free to educate me…). In nutshell the point of the study is that children get better results when the expectation is that they should/could get.

How do I look at my children? What do they see in my eyes every day? Or what do they believe that they see in my eyes? If I frown at dirty shirt after dinner, at what age do kids fluently enough read minds to understand it was indeed the shirt and not him/her?

It is quite a responsibility to shape others by just looking at them. By just seeing them. It is quite a powerful idea that what you believe becomes true by setting boundaries for what is possible, what can be thought, and not just in your own mind but also in the minds of people around you.

You might want to put some extra effort in seeing the best in everyone.

I’ll wrap up this with one last quote. This one is from Michelangelo:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

First photo by Quino Al on  Unsplash

Last photo by Steve Barker on Unsplash

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