As Others See Us

It was just brought home to me that how I see myself and how others see me is very different. I  sometimes had trouble understanding why others react to me the way they do. It is much clearer now.

As an infant, I was very sickly. I was often hospitalized, had a lot of needles and surgeries. My mother always said I was a “good patient” but I find that treatments didn’t stop when I squirmed. I had to scream at times when things hurt too much.

Those who know me would never use the words “shy” or “retiring” about me. During my elementary school years, I was a child actor. I could project my voice enough to be heard in the back row.

I grew to be 6′ 3″ tall. I remember an episode years ago where I was having a forceful discussion with a smaller man. I leaned forward to make a point. He couldn’t retreat because he was standing against the wall. I saw a physical fear reaction on his face and backed up. It was the first time I remember someone being afraid of me because of my size.

An incident from my childhood made me think you had to raise your voice to make a point to children. When I was eight, I got the gift I really wanted for Christmas, a Superman outfit. Since I wore glasses, I could imagine myself as Clark Kent. 

After we opened our presents, it was time to dress for church. Obviously, I put the Superman outfit on under my suit. When I came downstairs to leave my father realized what I had done. Since we were Catholic, he was probably afraid I’d get up during mass, run into a confessional and come out as Superman. It seemed to me that he turned on the “Voice of God” to tell me to go upstairs and take the costume off. As I think about it now, I’m sure he spoke firmly to keep from laughing. But, my memory of the moment was that to really make a point to children, you raised your voice.

At church recently I raised my voice to make a comment to a child. Someone pointed out that I am so big children can find me somewhat overwhelming without my having to raise my voice. I have since learned that is true. I can say “Stop running on the steps” quietly and get the desired result.

What I didn’t realize was that others were seeing me differently than I was seeing myself. The difference was most glaring when I was frustrated or unhappy with the world. At those times, I saw myself as a little child who needed to holler, or at least raise my voice, to get attention. Those around me saw a big man, whose voice can fill a room, raising his voice for no good reason.

I kept trying to figure out why the people around me seemed to be overreacting to my raised voice. They couldn’t figure out why a big man with a strong voice was shouting or talking that loud. Because of this difference I have frightened a lot of people over the years.

We are always our mother’s children and we are always God’s children. On the other hand, the changes in us and the world around us makes it necessary to keep in mind that others don’t see us the way we see ourselves. Sometimes the difference can be funny, sometimes it can be frightening.

I never thought the idea of “walking a mile in another’s shoe” would have anything to do with how they see me.  I guess it does.