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Anna Karenina: Looking at Ourselves And Others through Jaded Eyes

"The chief reason why the prince was so disagreeable to Vronsky was that he could not help seeing himself in him.  And what he saw in this mirror did not gratify his self esteem.  He was a very stupid and very self satisfied and very healthy and very well washed man, and nothing else.  He was a gentleman-that was true, and Vronsky could not deny it.  He was equable and not cringing with his superiors, was free and ingratiating in his behavior with his equals, and was contemptuously indulgent with his inferiors.  Vronsky was himself the same, and regarded it as a great merit to be so.  But for this prince he was inferior, and his contemptuous and indulgent attitude to him revolted him.  "Brainless beef! can I be like that?" he thought."  Leo Tolstoy from Anna Karenina, pg. 420

In this moving reflection Alexei Vronsky reflects upon his own self hatred as is embodied by his feelings against a prince whom he is entertaining. The dramatic backdrop of this scene is the affair that Vronsky is carrying on with Anna Karenina who is the book's tragic protagonist and the wife of the influential politician Alexei Karenin.  What makes this scene and novel so gripping is Tolstoy's masterful exploration of the psychological and spiritual guilt of both Vronsky and Anna Karenina who are enveloped in a passionate but disastrous affair.  I would highly recommend this masterpiece to anyone.  Although the length of the book can be daunting, it is still a worthwhile venture, one that I assure you will yield many intellectual and spiritual benefits.

As I was reading this passage two questions popped into my mind, "Who do I dislike and why?" and "If I had to look at a mirror would I like what I saw in myself?   As I explored these two questions I realized that my answer to the first question was that I often did not like a specific person because they possessed some of the characteristics that I disliked in myself. Like Vronsky I also discovered that many of the judgements that I levied against a person where often times the same judgements that I would pronounce upon myself.  The words of Jesus suddenly popped into my mind, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." Matt 7: 1-2

For the second question I realized that I did not like what I saw in myself when I glanced at the mirror.  This realization had little to do with my physical imperfections, it had to do more with my spiritual imperfections which were intensely magnified each time that I looked at myself in the mirror.  So why was this the case and how could I fix my flawed perceptions of myself and others?  The answer was simple, but very difficult to attain.  I needed forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of judgementalism.  In short I needed Jesus' forgiveness to help free me from this bondage.  Once I would attain this forgiveness than I would be free to look at others and myself without the oppressive, stifling weight of my own self criticisms.

So these two question remain, "Are we truly free in our judgments of ourselves and others?  Or are we still bound by our own petty self hatred?

My prayer is that unlike Vronsky we can view each person and ourselves through the same freedom that Christ views us. 


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