In God’s image: understanding our role as a spiritual being in a human world

Gerry Chidiac: How recognizing our spiritual being shapes our human experience“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said.

This bold statement is quite a deviation from traditions that tell us not to boast about our greatness.

If we look at the major religions and philosophies of the world, however, we find views similar to those of de Chardin. For example, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all state that we are created in God’s image. Buddhism teaches that we are the highest form of creation and capable of attaining enlightenment.

Notably, those who view themselves in this positive light tend to view others the same. But there is a vast difference between believing in your inner greatness and being narcissistic. Dale Carnegie points out that feeling important is essential to human nature. “If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are.”

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A narcissist builds himself up by tearing others down. In contrast, when we embrace our spiritual nature, we recognize that all around us are divine and treat them with the honour that this merits. When we feel good about ourselves, we make others feel good about who they are.

People who feel good about themselves don’t feel threatened by the success of others – in fact, they celebrate it. Where a jealous or narcissistic person may say, “Why not me?” an effective person will say, “I’m really happy for you!” When we recognize our giftedness, we are at peace with areas in life where others excel.

For example, two of my teaching colleagues once won a provincial championship in basketball. Not only are they great teachers, coaches and motivators, but they also have an innate ability to read what is happening on the court and are thus always able to help their players respond effectively. That is their gift, and the rest of our school celebrated with their team as the championship banner went up in our gym.

Other people have gifts in different areas, which is wonderful as well. Slowly but surely, we are getting better at celebrating our differences.

Our education system, once an institution for creating conformity, is getting better at celebrating diversity. It is a joy, for example, to see aboriginal stories, art, music and dance taking a prominent role in our schools. Teachers are also given more freedom to adapt the curriculum to the students they teach, especially in literature, social studies and the arts. We are also learning to adjust to students’ individual needs rather than trying to force all children into the same mould.

As we recognize our sacredness, we recognize the sacredness of those around us and build each other up. This not only creates a more positive environment, it creates a ripple effect. People who feel good about themselves recognize the goodness of others and encourage them to celebrate the lives of their neighbours.

When dark times and challenges come, as they always do, we can face them together knowing that we are always moving our world forward.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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