In this week’s sermon at my local church, the priest reminded us that the Pharisees disapproved of Jesus for eating with prostitutes and tax collectors. “Those” people were considered unclean and therefore contagious. It was dangerous to be in their company because one might become like them.
Now that we understand Mimetic Theory, we know that this is actually true. People tend to mimic each other’s values, desires and behaviors.
That’s why, when we were preyed on by psychopaths, we began to lose our sense of self. Our boundaries began to dissolve and we behaved in ways we wouldn’t normally behave. They tried to take our being and insert their being in its place. This is also why No Contact is a powerful tool for limiting their effects on us.
Yet, other people influence us every day, often even without our knowledge. According to the New York Times, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers determined that weight gain is contagious.
Their study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved a detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people who had been closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003. The investigators knew who was friends with whom, as well as who was a spouse or sibling or neighbor, and they knew how much each person weighed at various times over three decades.
That let them watch what happened over the years as people became obese. Did their friends also become obese? Did family members? Or neighbors?
The answer, the researchers report, was that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased one’s chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.¹
So how could Jesus associate with sinners, without risking the threat of contagion? Apparently, He had very good boundaries. In His company, the sinners imitated Him, He did not imitate the sinners. He loved the sinners, though He hated the sin.
Our own encounters with psychopaths, didn’t go so well. We were compromised. We’re lucky to be alive –so many victims of psychopaths don’t live to tell about it.
To understand the difference, it helps to compare how we reacted to “the sinners” vs. how Jesus reacted. In my case, I felt sorry for the psychopath. He used the pity ploy –liberally. I felt embarrassed for his shameless behavior. I owned his shame for him by pretending his behavior was acceptable and making excuses for it. This is what psychopaths count on as they scheme and plot to steal your soul, they know how to make their behavior contagious: they use charm, pity and rage.
Jesus, on the other hand, never deviated from calling a sin, a sin. He understood the sinners’ weaknesses too but when He forgave their sins, He commanded them to “repent and sin no more.” He didn’t say, “We’ll just pretend it didn’t happen.”
It seems that no matter how hard we try to be individuals, we always end up imitating others to some extent. We relate to each other because we share similar experiences, that’s how bonds of culture are formed. So how do we prevent ourselves from imitating the wrong behaviors? The answer is to choose a role model whom we imitate exclusively. Jesus’ role model was God the Father. He didn’t deviate from that role model and Jesus asks us to imitate Him.
Whether we want to protect ourselves from psychopaths or we just want to lose weight, it’s worth remembering how much we are affected by the people around us, their values and their behaviors. We don’t just copy them, over time we become like them.
Also, it bears remembering that we serve as role models for each other. We affect each other, so we should make a conscious choice to affect each other as positive role models.
There is no need to do as the Pharisees did. We don’t need to judge and persecute those who falter. We don’t have to be embarrassed for them, take responsibility for them or pretend it didn’t happen. It’s enough to offer a better role model.
1.) Kolata, Gina. “Obesity Spreads to Friends, Study Concludes.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 July 2007. Web. 10 June 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/25/health/25iht-fat.4.6830240.html?pagewanted=all>.
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