It almost seems too easy when we think about this week’s topic. If our objective is to make ourselves known, there are plenty of ways to get our contact information out there. “Word of mouth” now includes social networking and mobile communications. Our faces and names can be pulled up in a moment’s search, and uploaded photos tell our stories faster than we can. Speaking up, joining in and being seen are the ways to be included, remembered and invited places.
A good number of us are not fond of groups, public places or elaborate activities, but we need be no less known. Personal introductions and detailed profile pages take care of that, even if we hang back, decline invitations or choose carefully what we do when we do go out.
Another number of us are not skilled in social situations. We are aware of our discomfort, our anxiety, our dislike of having to recall and meet expectations to gain approval. We may have had supportive adults in our childhood who provided mentorship in social skills through formal training or subtle role modeling. Or, we may have stayed off to the sidelines, through our own choice or being left out of the group before us.
Some of us are completely powerless, having every good intention and potential skill but facing people who refuse to know us. There’s no social skill model for that, other than those with the section on “dealing with rejection.”
The Mission of Saint Thorlak promotes “being known” as a protective factor against spiritual starvation. But it would be absurd to suggest that interpersonal disconnection is solvable by practicing better social skills and seeking wider exposure. Spiritual starvation goes far deeper than that.
The key to being known is found when we clarify: by whom should we strive to be known?
The very beginning of our chain of connectedness, you will recall, is the Source of Life: God. We did not spring up one day out of nothing, but rather, were imagined by God and brought into fulfillment as the person we are. We were created in immediate and necessary relationship to our Creator. The One who knows us best is the mind from which our realization came forth.
We realize ourselves most perfectly at the moment we become our own person.
Then, we travel down the chain on our life’s journey.
How well we retain our original, intended identity is a function of how true we stay to the original image.
To toss out some analogies…
No matter how connected we are, whether we have hundreds of connections or only one or two, we cannot be known for who we are if we do not know the original.
Numerous reasons exist for losing sight of ourselves. One scenario particularly relevant to people with autism is a processing dysfunction related to theory of mind whereby these people cannot recall defining characteristics about themselves – or cannot imagine how others perceive them. It is as though they can never quite trust that they are visible or memorable to others between face to face encounters. For those familiar with face-blindness (protopagnosia), this would be the inverse – self-blindness (autoagnosia).
This may be a neurological reality for some, but for others, the mere habit of comparing self to others, adapting our behavior or image to arbitrary ideals, can have the same effect. And then, there is the gradual drift away from our originally intended, God-imagined way of living. Just as teenagers assert their individuality by going against their parents’ wishes, we, too, frequently carve our own embellishments into our identities regardless of how far they might range from God’s intentions. Some of us end up looking quite differently from when we started out.
What we can do – what we MUST do – is get an accurate snapshot, without comparison or embellishment, using the principles of the Mission of Saint Thorlak: understanding, recognizing and addressing of our unedited selves through the lenses of caritas (acknowledging our value) voluntary humility (accepting what we are, as we are) and mercy (recognizing not only our imperfections, but our needs). We must be willing to look at our own image with love… because God loved the idea of us enough to make it reality.
We know how to face resisting being known by others. Now, we must face those times when we resist being known by ourselves… and, by God.
Pray: God, I come before you exactly as I am. Please show me who you intend me to be.
Contemplate: Do I go about my day thinking of myself as the person God imagined me to be?
Relate: In an unfamiliar setting, do I first think, “I do not know anybody!” or, “Nobody here knows me!” Which perspective keeps us closer to our true selves?
To understand "autoagnosia" from a reader's firsthand experience, visit our Guest Thoughts.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak