No man is an island, is the saying. People need people. We need to feel that we are in the thoughts of others and that we influence their wills or desires. Our existence as personal entities depends on our assurance that others are aware of us. Even if they despise us, they are still cognizant of our existence, and this gives us proof of our own personal reality.
We are all islands, however, to some degree. And alienation is increased as one becomes an island in more and more aspects of his life. This happens especially when a person believes himself to be of so little worth that many people do not want to be aware of him or to acknowledge his existence.
The person himself may begin to feel that he is worthy of this neglect, and since this is an unbearable threat to his psychological existence, he begins to try to present himself as something that he is not. His self he leaves as an island, and tries to project another self before the attention of other people. He may try this so continually that he forgets all about the island of himself that he left, and he tries to be different things to different people. Never the self that was unacceptable.
When this happens he has alienated himself so much that when he tries to bridge the gap between himself and others, he finds the gap unbridgeable because the other person cannot bridge to him. His island is gone, hidden, camouflaged too completely. The other person finds nothing to bridge to.
Most of us do not go this far. We are able to keep in contact with our real selves and find that others can react to us with acceptance. We can then accept ourselves also.
In as far as we can accept ourselves and can feel that others will not find it impossible to accept us also, in that measure we can communicate ideas to other people. We can bridge the gap between the islands that we are. In as far as we cannot accept ourselves and are afraid that others will utterly reject us if they should discover our faults, we are not at liberty to listen to what they are saying to us or to communicate effectively with them. Too much of our attention is used in the fear that our unacceptableness will be uncovered. This lack of ability to communicate effectively is a serious hindrance also in our attempts to work together.
Sensitivity training is an effort to learn techniques to bridge the gap between the islands that we are. One must learn not only to hear what others say with their words, but also what they are feeling when they say the words and to understand why they are saying the words.
To get this technique one must first know the island that one is. He must not hide it, but know it in all its despicable worthlessness. Uncover all his hostility and wretchedness and find in this way that he has nothing to fear concerning these previously unacceptable traits. Nothing happens to us when we act all our bad feeling right out. They are very evil and unacceptable but by uncovering them we remove the guilt feelings connected with them. When one is able to do this, then one will be able to communicate freely, and without guilt, openly.
It is with these beliefs in mind that the world is trying to work for a unity among people, nations, etc. The executive is trained to be able without fear to look full face at his own fears, worries, dishonesties, anger, hostility, etc. He must be trained to accept these traits and to expect to find them in those with whom he works, and accept them there also. Neither one will need to hide anything and they will be able to work together as a team. Both pulling for each other and for the company employing them.
What is needed in order that people may be able to live and work together in harmony is a feeling of unity. They base this unity on the fact that no one is perfect. We are all the same, fearful and liars, but each has something to offer for the good of the group. If he is not too concerned about his faults, he can help himself and help to make this a better world.
Nimrod, or whoever was the leader at Babel, had a unity of purpose going for the people of that time. They were able to cooperate together for the formation of one large project. God said of them, “Behold, they are one people.” And concerning their activity He said, “. . . this is what they begin to do, and now nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.” Gen. 11:6. When people are united as one, they can move forward together, and accomplish much.
The people of God have had a unity all the while. Their unity is not based on the fact that they are all imperfect, wicked sinners, but on the marvelous reality that they are all saved from the guilt of that terrible wickedness by the free gift of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The sacrifice that makes them members of a body or organism. They have a union together with Christ called the Communion of Saints, based only on the perfect work of Christ.
The world tries in every way to get back to the unity of Babel. The bank says, “We’ve on your side.” Those strongly opposed to war, advocate an emphasis on human brotherhood. They plead that we must remember that we all (the enemy included) are humans and on this basis, we should feel a unity together with all people, and love each other, not fight. The industrialist offers financial help to his striking laborers, and in this way tries to remove the opposition by creating a unity.
The children of God will be tempted to join this common cause with the world. And if they yield they will be swallowed up in the world. For their faith in God will have no place in that unity of the world. Their goals and purposes are altogether different, for theirs are not established here, but in heaven. The children of Shem were spared by the confusion of languages. The church of Christ must be alert to the temptations and cling to the unity of the Communion of Saints in the body of Christ.
Our acceptableness proceeds only from the fact that we are in Christ. He is our only righteousness. All that we have in ourselves are liabilities, but we can be transformed by the power of Grace to such an extent that there is an indispensable place for us in the unity of the Body of Christ. There we belong, as a part of the whole. We are not islands.
Since this article was supposed to be about the experiences of a Sunday School teacher, I’d better add that this unity in the Body of Christ is experienced especially when a group of God’s people gather to study His Word. If one is to impart information about the Word of God to the children in Sunday School it is a comfortable feeling to know that you have studied and prepared yourself to know the answers to many questions about the portion to be explained. This serves as added motivation for the person to give the portion some real thought, and carefully to follow the discussion of the lesson in the teachers’ meeting. The teacher of the Sunday School is the one who receives the most benefit.
Vol. 31 No. 5 August/September 1971