The Power of Mimicry
For whatever reasons, I grew up quite selfish. My best friend from primary school could tell you how I would chafe when she asked to borrow something of mine. I would loan her my Sweet Valley High novels only after she’d sat through the lecture about how not to crease the spine or doggy-ear the cover. We now laugh when she shows me how she used to read my books: two halves peeled back about 10 degrees, with her peering into the dim divide to read the text.
It wasn’t just as a kid that I struggled with it. Ask me to drive you an hour out of my way? Eish, that’s a lot of my time, it’s a lot of my petrol, and I don’t think you’re even really going to appreciate it. It was only when I started to really take note of how generous some of my friends and family were that I started to feel critical of my own behaviour to the point of knowing I really had to change.
I’ll be honest, I started to copy the open-handed actions of others not because I was beginning to feel generosity rising up in me, but because (1) I was socially aware enough to know that if I didn’t, I would be shown up for what I was, and (2) I had a mental understanding that generosity is better than selfishness. So you could say I was taking ‘cold’ action (versus inspired or enthused action).
But the interesting thing is that what began as pure imitation (because there was no originality to what I was doing – I had to leach ideas off others of how to be generous) evolved into me actually becoming more generous in thought and character! I can now, without any pride, say that I am a more generous person than I used to be. And that, I believe, is the power of mimicry.
More specifically, I believe that character-improving actions, when taken in faith, will produce the heart to go with it. I’m not talking about being superficial or fake; rather, I’m talking about ‘putting on’ the external layer or manifestation of how you want to be internally, while simultaneously praying and believing that God will in time make your inner part match the outer part. I can testify that it works!
Two other habits that I initially just mimicked but now more fully own are:
A few years ago I noticed how others would send thank-you and thinking-of-you type SMSes (text messages) that often struck me as being completely redundant or unnecessary, and yet it was still really lovely receiving them, and always made me smile. So I started to do it myself.
The little gifts that friends would sometimes give me – I liked those, and started to think: are there occasions when I could be the one giving an unexpected or unnecessary gift to someone else? The great thing is that with time I started to develop more thoughtful ideas and patterns of my own. (Incidentally, I think thoughtfulness, like generosity, actually develops one’s creativity.)
One of my best friends is a pro at speaking directly to you about how much you mean to her. I used to find it highly uncomfortable because, I mean, how are you supposed to react? Where do you look? What do you say in reply?
But for all that I still find it hard to know how to act when receiving the words she says, and I’m sure I look hellish awkward, I do love it. It affirms me. It makes me feel cherished. And so I learned to do as she does: make an effort to say the good things I think.
It started small. I never used to give friends compliments. I would think, ‘Oh, you look pretty’, but I wouldn’t think to say it out loud. But I love receiving compliments, so I made a concerted effort to verbalise what I was thinking. Now it comes far more naturally. Moreover, the heart behind it is more ‘there’ – in verbalising kind thoughts, I find myself thinking more kind thoughts. I believe it’s just a wonderful, simple principle that God has put in place that when we walk in the direction we want to go, and it’s good, he backs it up.
So I’ve learned that we can mature and grow by just making a decision to mimic those behaviours we admire in others.
Can any of you share a similar story of learning to be more Christ-like through the power of mimicry?
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