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Lara Patangan considers how our preoccupation with selfies mirrors our lack of perception about what's going on with others around us.

I didn’t grow up with social media. I handwrote notes on notebook paper and folded them into small squares to pass to my friends. I took a picture with cameras that didn’t make phone calls and it was months before I bothered to get the film developed. I didn’t take 10 iterations of the same pose because film was expensive. I just smiled and said “cheese” and that was that.  

Fast-forward like an obsolete VCR to thirty years later, and now we can take pictures of ourselves. The “selfie” has become an art form that I imagine an anthropologist in another millennium will discover and muse about our culture’s fascination with taking pictures of oneself with puckered lips and wagging tongues.


2 young women taking selfies with puckered lips


If I sound cynical, it’s only because I’m jealous that I’m not skilled at taking a good selfie. Last summer when I was on a quest to eat as many McDonald’s ice cream cones as possible, I took countless selfies with my ice cream in an effort to chronicle my frozen lactose journey that I was sure would eventually have profound meaning. I thought it would be cute and peppy because ice-cream is universally appealing – apparently, that is, until you put my face next to it. Then it becomes a deranged geometry lesson trying to formulate the precise intersection of the askew angle of my face with the triangular cone where I don’t look like an idiot. I didn’t have the patience to solve the equation because, for the love of God, I just wanted to eat my ice cream.

So, now I only do selfies when necessary and I usually put my hand over my face or try to superimpose the cat’s head over mine to make it more aesthetically pleasing. This still feels cumbersome but I’m much happier with the results. What I realized during my brief selfie sojourn is that looking effortless and spontaneous is not only a lot of work, it can cause us to miss the bigger picture.


mom and daughter taking selfie and making silly faces


When Jesus lived among us, things were also not as they appeared. He lived as a carpenter, not as a king. He didn’t fit the image of royalty. He was humble and kind at a time when people were conditioned to worship power and prestige. He embraced sinners and lepers with gentleness and forgiveness when society was accustomed to social hierarchy and an eye for an eye vengeance. Jesus didn’t appear like anything that they thought a messiah should look like so they shunned Him, stoned Him, and spat at Him. There’s no way that would have happened had they seen clearly – without their judgments discoloring reality.


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When I seek to understand others first, my viewpoint changes in a way that, unlike a selfie, makes everything look better. #catholicmom

It makes me wonder how my own perspective alters my perception because the lens in which I view others is pointed on myself instead of on trying to understand them. I bet there’s a good bit I miss or misconstrue. Maybe certain words didn’t intend to hurt. Perhaps what I perceived as lacking was intended with great love. Undoubtedly, the hurt I hold onto distorts how much of the picture I am able to see.

It makes me think of the words in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand.


When God created us in His image, I suppose He knew that one day we would be turning the camera on ourselves to capture it in cute, clever, or in my case, clumsy ways. All I know is that when I seek to understand others first, my viewpoint changes in a way that, unlike a selfie, makes everything look better.


woman taking a selfie


Copyright 2021 Lara Patangan
Images: Canva Pro