Sunday, February 07, 2016

Icelandic Searches for Self...and Other Discoveries

There was a great story in the international press about a month ago about a woman who joined in her own search party. I was actually surprised that more people didn't comment, blog and discuss this hysterical story. If you’re an English teacher and you haven’t yet used it as an example of irony for  your students – you’re definitely missing out. 

Then life got complicated and busy, as it does, and I didn't have the chance to properly reflect or write about the story. But seriously - it's just too good to pass up. And it relates in some very interesting ways to one of my favorite moments in the entire Torah, which occurs in this week's parsha.

Apparently, according to the news stories, a woman was reported missing while vacationing in Iceland with a tour group. She went into the bathroom during a pit stop on the way to the volcanic Eldgia canyon and “freshened up.” She returned to the bus so fresh that “her busmates didn’t recognize her” and started a 50 person search party that lasted until 3 in the morning. 


Searching in Iceland...where was that woman?
How did the search stop? While searching for the missing woman along with everyone else, the woman in question suddenly realized that they were…searching for her.

I kid you not.

Now, why has this story captured my attention, other than the fact that it’s absolutely hysterical? This woman’s sense of self image was so far from the description offered by the group that she literally didn’t recognize herself.

I’ve wondered what it was that she didn’t recognize. Did they call her a fat 5'3 woman wearing a black sweatshirt and she saw herself as a hot mama wearing a pink dress? Did they call her Asian (which she apparently was) and she didn’t relate to such a classification? Did they say she was a four-eyed grandma with grey hair and tennis shoes when she saw herself as a contact wearing lady on the town with a hat and heels?

How could someone’s self image be so far skewed from how others see her as to create a search party – and to join in the search?

While the story seems a bit exaggerated, and could certainly appear in The Onion, it brings up many interesting points. And it makes me think about how I view myself – and how I parent.

How do we see ourselves? And how do others see us?

I know as I’ve aged that I still often feel like the 29 year old young mom that I was so many years ago. I often find myself looking in the mirror and thinking, “Really? Where did SHE come from?”

I’m sure that we all do this to one degree or another. I was speaking to a rambunctious friend recently who lost a great deal of weight. I asked her if she sees herself differently now than she did when she was very heavy, and if she acts differently. “Honey,” she said. “I’ve always been a skinny woman in my head. Even at my heaviest, I was too hot to trot and was skinny. I used to look in the mirror and wonder who that heavy woman was because I honestly knew that I was skinny.”

Fascinating.

It’s interesting to think about how our self image serves us, and how different it is from the image that others have of us. In this week's parsha, Mishpatim, Bnei Israel declared "Naaseh V'Nishma" which translates to “We will do, and then we will understand.” And many diet programs tell you to “Act as if.” Act as if you are already skinny and already feeling great about yourself. Act as if you’re brilliant when you go into that major exam to give yourself confidence.  

Some degree of a skewed sense of self can be quite beneficial. And I can see how I use this already in raising my children. I am constantly telling them things like this:

“Think like you’re the best basketball player out there and believe it – then work to make it happen.”

“Assume you’re the most awesome student around, and then study so that you actually become one.”

“Think of yourself as a great friend – and be one.”

Certainly, I don’t want to inflate my children’s egos so much that they think they are the best thing that ever happened; or so they think they are invincible or better than others. But at the same time, giving them a hearty sense of self can carry them through those moments of insecurity, and allow them to strive to always do more and always be better.

So much of life and how we live it starts with our perception.

Hopefully, our self image doesn’t send any of us on a search for ourselves in Iceland.

But it might just send us on an internal search, offering a way to grow as people (and parents) and strengthen our weaknesses; offering a chance to act as if; reminding us that the Biblical commandment of Naaseh V'Nishma can be an incredibly powerful tool for self development and actualization in the modern world. 

And with that, we would all benefit.



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