I love reading books of fantasy and fairy tales. So often the content of such reading is about the struggle of good versus evil and the importance of a positive self-image. A good example of one’s positive self image is illustrated in the fairy tale Rapunzel.
Rapunzel is the story of a young girl imprisoned in a tower with an old witch. The young girl is in fact very beautiful, but the old witch insistently tells her that she is ugly. It is, of course, a strategy of the witch to keep the girl in the tower. The moment of Rapunzel’s liberation occurs one day when she is gazing from the window of the tower. At the base of the tower stands her Prince Charming. She throws her hair, long and beautiful tresses, out the window; (the root-ends, of course, remain attached to her scalp). He braids the hair into a ladder and climbs up to rescue her. Rapunzel’s imprisonment is really not that of the tower. She is imprisoned by the fear of her own ugliness that the witch has described so often and so effectively. However, when Rapunzel sees in the mirroring eyes of her lover that she is beautiful, she is freed from the real tyranny of her own imagined ugliness.
This is true not only in the case of Rapunzel but with all of us. We desperately need to see in the mirror of another’s eyes our own goodness and beauty, if we are to be truly free. Until this moment, we too, will remain locked inside the prison towers of ourselves. And if the thrust of love requires us to be outside ourselves and to be preoccupied with the happiness and fulfillment of others, we will not love very much until we have had this vision.
There is no doubt that the attitude each of us has toward him or herself is the most important of all our attitudes. We have compared an attitude to a lens of the mind. To continue with this comparison, the lens or the attitude one has toward self is always over the eyes of the mind. Other lenses or attitudes may be superimposed when we are reacting to something else, but this lens-vision of “self” will affect favorably or unfavorably the way we see everything else. It is so important to realize that the attitude toward self is always in play, always affecting our other attitudes, always coloring the way we see every part of reality. It is, without a doubt, the basic or fundamental attitude in each and every one of us.
Perhaps the most critical function and result of this attitude toward self is this: Each of us acts out his or her self-image. For example, if I perceive myself as a loser, I act like a loser. I approach each new person or situation with a loser mentality. All my expectations are colored by this “loser” perception of myself. And, as we all know, the expectation is often the mother of the result. Our expectations of failure give birth to our actual failures. And when in fact we do lose or fail, we are then confirmed in our original self-defeating attitude. “You see, I told you I was not good! I failed again.” It is indeed a vicious circle.
I had a wise old teacher in seminary. He gave us an assignment to go out and find by the side of some lonely road a small, unnoticed flower. He asked us to study the flower for a long time. Then he said: “Get a magnifying glass and study the delicate veins in the leaves, and notice the nuances and shades of color. Turn the leaf slowly and observe its symmetry. And remember: this flower might have gone unnoticed and unappreciated if you had not found and admired it.”
When we returned to class, after carrying out the assignment, our wise teacher observed: “People are like that. Each one is different, carefully crafted, uniquely endowed. But . . . you have to spend time with them to know this. So many people go unnoticed and unappreciated because no one has ever taken time with them and admired their uniqueness.”