There’s something you need to know about yourself. But there’s a problem: No one will tell you this truth.
Once you know this truth, you will know who you are at your most personal level. Despite the fact that no one will tell this, deep down you already know it. But mimetic theory will help you know this truth even better.
The Myth about You
Throughout most of our lives, we are told a myth about ourselves. It’s the myth of autonomy. We are told that you are your own person. In order to live into our truest self, the myth says, just be true to yourself.
But this leads to an important question – who are you?
The myth tells us that your inner essence is never changing and that you shouldn’t be influenced by anyone else. Because you should be your own person!
But that puts us in an impossible situation. After all, we are highly social creatures. We are constantly influenced by those around us. You cannot escape the fact that you are influenced by others. This fact about yourself is neither good nor bad. It just is.
The truth is that we are not autonomous individuals. We are inter-dividuals.
This truth about yourself is important to realize. Once you grasp it, you will have the power consciously choose who you will allow to influence your life.
You cannot escape the fact that you are influenced by others. This fact about yourself is neither good nor bad. It just is.
First, a Story
When I was a teenager, I attended my church’s youth group. We met on Sunday mornings from 9:00-9:45. Let me be frank – those are horrible hours. Especially for a teenager! I’d still rather stay in bed than go to church that early. And I’m 40!
But as a teenager, I made it to church, even at that god-forsaken hour.
I remember rolling out of bed, thinking I was too tired, but then I remembered why those 45 minutes mattered so much.
They mattered because of the two adults who led our youth group.
This husband and wife team started each session with the same question: What was a high and low of your previous week?
There was one rule: only one person could talk at a time.
The adult leaders of our group were in their 40s. They listened carefully to each person. Sometimes they would respond to someone’s high or low and sometimes they just remained silent. But each time we shared, we knew that they cared about us.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my youth group leaders were influencing me in profound ways. In a world that is full of judgment, they were a nonjudgmental presence in our teenage lives. Over time our group was able to build trust with our adult leaders and with each other. This growing trust allowed us to share some pretty deep and emotional aspects of our lives.
I remember once a younger high school girl of our group became pregnant. Pretty soon after our session started, she began to sob. The husband and wife responded without judgment, but with compassion and care.
I was formed by those youth group leaders. They gave me a gift that has impacted my life ever since. They modeled for me how to listen to others. And, while I struggle with this, they also modeled for me how to be a nonjudgmental presence in the lives of people going through the highs and lows of life.
In fact, their influence on my life is partly why I became a pastor. I wanted to be like my teenage mentors. It was hard to navigate middle school and high school, but they made it easier. I wanted to be that for the next generation of Christians.
So I went to seminary and soon found myself with a job as a youth pastor. During my initial interview for the position, I told the story about the husband and wife who greatly influenced me during my teenage years. They did something so easy, and yet so difficult. They cared about us. I wanted to be like them.
I was not always successful at following my models. Being a nonjudgmental presence is not always easy. But I knew that all those years ago, I had been given a gift and I wanted to pass it on. So when I became a youth pastor, I began every session with an opportunity for people to share their highs and lows of the week. Sometimes sharing took the full 45 minutes of our time – and that was okay, because we were learning how to listen with a nonjudgmental presence.
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René Girard and Inter-dividuality – Why It Matters
René Girard revealed that we are inter-dividuals. Indeed, we are always influenced by others.
The problem is that we are generally unaware of the ways that others influence us. Or as Girard puts it, we are non-conscious of our inter-dividuality.
It’s important to become aware of our inter-dividuality so that we are conscious of the various ways others influence us.
Fortunately, I had two models during my teenage years who influenced me in positive ways. At the time I was just absorbing the fact that they cared about me and our group.
I wasn’t consciously aware that they were modeling for me how to be a caring and nonjudgmental presence for others. Nor was I aware that many years later they would influence me to want to become just like them.
Of course, there were other types of models during my teenage years.
There were models at my school and in the wider culture who were not as caring and who were more judgmental toward teenagers. Those models also influenced me. Instead of mimicking the compassion and care of my youth group models, I could have mimicked models who were not as positive.
Mimetic theory helps us become aware of the fact that we are always influenced by others. Once we are aware that we are not individuals, but rather inter-dividuals, we can consciously choose which models I will follow.
So, Who Are You?
So, who are you?
The truth about yourself that no one will tell you is that you are a combination of the people who have influenced you. You are not free from being influenced by others. But you are free to choose which models will guide you.