I see you

boyglasses

The boy wanted to try on my glasses

“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).

Comments

  1. This was simply wonderful.

  2. Dancer_Esquire@gmail.com says:

    Blair, this reminds me of the traditional Zulu greeting “Sawubona” (“I see you”) and its response, “Ngikhona” (“I am here”). This manner of greeting implies that the responder was not present until s/he was seen by the greeter. It is the seeing that brings the other person into being. It’s a simple but powerful way of framing a relationship, and not far from your ideas here, I think.

  3. Thanks, Carrie.

    Dancer_Esquire: an interesting connection. Thank you.

  4. Good food for thought. It brings to mind section 82, which discusses creating a Zion society in Jackson County, MO. “Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.”

    I think every person seeking the interest of his neighbor requires a willingness to see others to the degree that their thoughts and desires must be as real to us and as vital to us as our own, thus making the foundation of our wisest charity not love of the notion of being charitable, bút instead, the fact that, with God’s grace, the degree of our focus and comprehension of others has more closely proximated that of God, who so fully comprehends and deeply loves each of us.

    I do believe that learning how to do that is one of the vital elements of putting off the natural man and one of the ones that takes the longest to incorporate. Our own perspectives and desires ring loudly in our own heads, and doing the work required to become like that takes more careful time than we wish to give in our busy lives and more humility and inner peace than we are brave enough to muster.

  5. One of my earliest memories is believing that people could not see me when my eyes were closed, and the discovery that it was not true. Thanks for this reminder Blair.

  6. Thanks for reading it, Steve.

    MB: Thanks for the thoughts. Your comment reminded me of Elizabeth Drescher’s remarks about the Golden Rule in this MIPodcast episode, especially with regard to why it’s difficult and why it takes time to see eye to eye:

    People generally love the golden rule in lots of ways, both believers and non-believers, the affiliated and the unaffiliated. There is a researcher at Boston University, Nancy Ammerman. She did a study a decade or so ago about what she called Golden Rule Christians. And what she found was that in a wide range of Christian communities, both conservative and liberal, when she asked people what’s the main teaching of Christianity, they would say the Golden Rule from Mathew: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What Ammerman found was that the Golden Rule does a really great job of focusing people on caring for people who were most like them. And that’s because the Golden Rule locates the standard for care on you, right? Do unto other as you would have them do unto you. So it’s reciprocal. First of all, it locates it in the person doing the caring. So I’m the standard for what you would want. And also there’s an expectation of a cosmic reciprocity. Eventually that will come back to me.

    There are problems with that. One is, what I might want might not be what you need, and that causes me to look for people who are like me to offer care, and that narrows the circle of care, makes it hard for me to reach out to people whose needs aren’t like mine and so I can’t match them to them. And then this expectation that there’s going to be some type of general reciprocity, that somebody else will also be looking for somebody like them and I’ll be that person and I’ll be cared for—that tends to narrow the circle of care, Ammerman found, and prevent Christian communities from reaching out in really radically loving ways to people who are way “other.”

    Transcript: http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=5423&index=1
    Episode: http://mi.byu.edu/mip-47-drescher/

  7. “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.” In the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about research on young people and technology use, and the extent to which eyes so often now look down at screens rather than across at friends. I know it’s not central to your point, but I wonder about the ways that current technologies affect simple habits like eye contact among peers, and what implications those changes will have for the deeper questions you raise.

  8. Lori: that’s an important point!

    Blair: what a lovely post! It resonates with some of the relational psychology that I’ve been reading lately, which posits that relationships aren’t what happens when two individual selves come together, but are rather the very stuff out of which selves emerge in the first place.

  9. This was great, Blair, thank you.

  10. Blair, this post was really great. I’ve thought about it several times since I read it the other day. Thank you.

    Jason, that relational psychology point is such an interesting insight, and it rings very true with me, as an important principle of the gospel. Whenever I reflect on the idea of being born of / begotten of God, ity brings me back to the importance of relationships on creating identity, which seems consistent with your insight here. Thanks for sharing it.

  11. Thanks guys.

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