“Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion.” (Mosiah 12.22)
My son is almost two years old. We play a game when I’m getting him dressed to keep him from trying to roll away. I take my time as I pull his shirt over his head, leaving his eyes covered, asking “Where’s Dorian?” He’s surprisingly patient with this game. Eventually, as his turtle head emerges, his eyes invariably lock onto mine like magnets and he laughs. He’s found again.
It’s a common phenomenon—little children seem to believe they can’t be seen when their own eyes are covered. Psychologists have explained this as egocentrism. A child can’t yet view the world through any other perspective than their own. If they can’t see, nobody can. This is how I’ve thought of Dorian’s game until this morning.
Children may in fact be quite egocentric, but a new study I saw today suggests their poor hide-and-seek skills might not be very good evidence:
“Each child in our study sat down with an adult who covered her own eyes or ears with her hands. We then asked the child whether or not she could see or hear the adult, respectively. Surprisingly, children denied that they could. The same thing happened when the adult covered her own mouth: Now children denied that they could speak to her.
A number of control experiments ruled out that the children were confused or misunderstood what they were being asked. The results were clear: Our young subjects comprehended the questions and knew exactly what was asked of them. Their negative responses reflected their genuine belief that the other person could not be seen, heard, or spoken to when her eyes, ears, or mouth were obstructed. Despite the fact that the person in front of them was in plain view, they flatout denied being able to perceive her. So what was going on?
It seems like young children consider mutual eye contact a requirement for one person to be able to see another…Built into their notion of visibility, then, is the idea of bidirectionality: Unless two people make eye contact, it is impossible for one to see the other. Contrary to egocentrism, young children simply insist on mutual recognition and regard.”
Perhaps children experience seeing in a way we’ve forgotten. Our eyes have scaled over with self-protection.
The Book of Mormon is largely the story of egocentrism run amok between two peoples, Lamanites and Nephites. A prophecy early in the book suggests that one day the “scales of darkness shall begin to fall from [the Lamanites] eyes” (2 Nephi 30.6). But a closer reading of the book suggests the Nephites had their own serious scales to deal with, as suggested by their failure to include the words of Samuel the Lamanite in their records until Jesus himself asks them to fix the omission.*
Joseph Smith’s revelation about heavenly degrees of glory includes a description of “the church of the Firstborn.” They dwell in God’s presence where “they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace” (D&C 76:94). Rather than being a reward for particular deeds performed, perhaps this church is one where people have simply learned to see. Exaltation requires an awareness of the presence of others; to be truly seen and to see, not only by God but by each other. In this way our souls are co-constituted, our identity is interwoven with other identities—in Paul’s metaphor, the body of Christ requires each member.
Crucial caveat: Just because we need each other doesn’t mean we individually have equal power to create such sight, to enact such reciprocal relationships. We don’t. But perhaps we each have, buried deep inside, that childhood impulse toward mutual engagement. As the authors of the new study on children suggest:
“Our findings underscore children’s natural desire and preference for reciprocity and mutual engagement between individuals. Children expect and strive to create situations in which they can be reciprocally involved with others…At least in this respect, young children understand and treat other human beings in a manner that is not at all egocentric. On the contrary, their insistence on mutual regard is remarkably mature and can be considered inspirational. Adults may want to turn to these preschoolers as role models when it comes to perceiving and relating to other humans.”
Or as the scriptures have it,
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18.2-3)
We can’t enter it if we can’t see it.
*See Jared Hickman, “From the Pulpit: Learning to Read with the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue 48/1 (Spring 2015).