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Rabbi Shmuel Gluck - Areivim "Self Image Part 2"
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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Self Image: Part 2

Last week's article pointed out that people shouldn't feel negatively about themselves. In addition to having a healthy self image, people must consider how they appear to others. Many people, particularly young and non successful adults, reject the importance of concerning themselves with other people's opinions of them. Nevertheless, the Torah, in multiple places, talks about presenting oneself properly to others. We find various versions of the phrase B'ey'nei Elokim V'odom (in the eyes of Hashem and man) many times.

In addition, many people mistakenly, believe that they can succeed in life without having a support group. However, to succeed in life, people must receive support and, in return, give support to others. To accomplish this, they must present themselves in a manner that motivates others to "work" along with them.

To successfully present themselves to others, people must consider two points:

1) Their image must be a positive one. Presenting themselves in a manner that people will negatively stereotype them as being irresponsible (by wearing their shirt not tucked in), dishonest (because they speak disrespectfully about others), lacking religious values (by not having the same dress code during Davening as their community does), etc, will hinder them in their life goals.

Notice my examples. Keeping their shirts "out" shouldn't lead people to believe that they are irresponsible, but the reality is that many people will draw such conclusions. Their responsibility to present themselves as positively as possible, must consider, even unfair, common, conclusions.

When I mention this to people, they stop and complain. "Why should I reward someone for stereotyping me. It's wrong to stereotype and, if people do stereotype, it's their problem." My response is to tell them that everyone stereotypes. Even though it's wrong, it's a natural thing to do. I tell them that they must go beyond their belief that the world should be fair. Life is not always fair, and they don't also always act fair to others.

Instead of focusing on why other people aren't being fair, they must focus on their becoming more effective. Most people walk into interviews by presenting themselves in a manner that should increase their chances of receiving a job offer. They ignore what is fair, and spend time researching the preferences of their interviewers. They should do the same thing when they walk into Shul or the grocery store. They should be concerned with how others will interpret who they are and for what they stand. No one knows which of their meetings will effect their lives most. There will be many times, when "bumping" into someone may have greater implications than they could ever imagine.

2) The second point begins after they've agreed to present themselves in an effective manner. They must decide what they'll consider an effective manner. However, before they do this, they must decide with whom they want to affiliate. To affiliate with the Torah world may require them to wear a hat during Davening. To affiliate with the business world may require that their car is less than 10 years old. They may not actually have to wear a black hat or buy a newer car, but they must acknowledge that not acting consistent with whom they're trying to affiliate, lessens their chances of truly belonging to that group.

I frequently speak to people who dramatically "contrast with their surroundings". Imagine a young man, with a pony tail, Davening in a Chasidishe Shul. He should expect many stares. When he complains to me, I tell him that he has a right to present himself in a manner that is different, but that he shouldn't become upset when it elicits the expected reactions. He would also "do a double take" if a Chassidish dressed person entered his territory. Although we can all decide on the images that make us feel comfortable, nevertheless, we must then accept anything positive or negative that may come along with those images.

The point of the previous illustration is that people should accommodate and motivate others to work with them. Accommodating others makes them believe that they're a part of the system or community. They then, subconsciously, feel, responsible to offer them the privileges offered to members of their system or community.

What's more difficult than dressing the part, is acting the part. This is something that has been repeatedly brought to my attention. There are several young men who I know, that are highly talented, sincere, and can connect with others. Their desire and ability to help others is evident to everyone with whom they come into contact, and they could have a tremendous future ahead of them.

However, because of their self images, and the images in which they present themselves to others, they've limited their ability to achieve the success for which they so strongly strive and of which they're capable of achieving. For some of them it's their dress that contrasts with their image; for others, it's their inability to wake up early; For still others, it's their inability to see that they aren't the worst people in the world. These contrast with their otherwise flawless focus on being true Ovdei (servants of) Hashem.

These negative self images will eventually make themselves recognized as the primary cause of their not achieving the greatness for which they're striving. Greatness is a blessing, but it's also a responsibility. "Average" people may not be significantly criticized by Hashem for their inconsistent personal behavior; those with greatness will.

My advice to those who feel that there's a huge gap between what they want to accomplish and what they feel they can accomplish, is to consider whether or not they have poor self images. If they believe that they do, they should consider whether those poor self images are deserved. Finally, they should consider in what manner they could present themselves to others more effectively.

Shmuel Gluck

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