This post first appeared in The Finger Lakes Times (NY), in the weekly series, “Denim Spirit.” Here is the link:
Projection is a sneaky cat slipping behind the couch of our consciousness, fully present even though we sit there totally unaware it is behind us. In some ways, the only thing we can do is project our desires, fears, aspirations, and judgements onto other people and in return receive theirs. If it weren’t for moments of intimate self-disclosure and mutual vulnerability, we would be stuck living only in the blue haze of dueling movies projected upon one another and playing on an endless loop.
Take for example, someone we simply do not like. He or she may not have actually done anything to harm us, and we may actually have very little knowledge of what goes on in his or her head and heart, but for any one of a variety of reasons, we are sure we know what makes them tick.
It is more than likely we have attributed to the person the qualities and characteristics we do not like in ourselves, the ones we do battle with every day in the privacy of our own minds. That thing we do not like may or may not actually be manifest in the person we dislike, but we are convinced they have it in spades. We may even vigorously warn other people all about the terrible things we attribute to that person.
The same is true when we idealize a person by putting them on a pedestal. Our aspirations and desires, our hopes and standards of goodness, flow without a thought and collect upon the person to which we attribute so many wonderful characteristics. What we want, like, and hope for are placed upon the other as if their second skin, and then we expect him or her to wear it just as we wish we could do ourselves. In truth, we cannot live up to our own ideals and neither will anyone else.
I know something about the power and prominence of projection first hand, standing in the pulpit and behind the altar as I do. For every person that idealizes the clergy there are at least an equal number that mistrust or judge us critically. In the haze of projection that surrounds each of us in ordained ministry, are the ghostly figures of those who have abused the trust and authority invested in the clerical collar. Also in the haze, move the beloved mentors, guides, counselors, and loving pastors that sat vigil with a loved one who died.
The same angels and demons of past experience are bestowed upon teachers, professors, lawyers, doctors, and every profession. They cloud our vision of the people in our lives, and distort the lens through which we see them. Then, if we are fortunate, we have an awakening.
The gift of intimacy and mutual vulnerability is the meeting of two hearts and minds breaking through the crowded field of ghostly others, and touching for a moment. Even if connecting only for a swift instant, it is enough to distill the light of the constantly running projectors. Then suddenly we see – face-to-face, heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind – the person before us.
Sadly, that cannot happen with public figures.
All we have is the projections they aim our way, amplified or distorted by the sieve of media projections endured on their way to us. In truth, we have absolutely no idea who Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, or Morning Joe are; all we have are the projections coming at us, and the ones we cast back in return. We would do well to caution ourselves, when we become a fierce partisan for someone we only know from a distance, that in fact, we do not actually know that public figure and limit our allegiance accordingly.