By Eunan McDonnell

In his book, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck compares our vision with present day reality and the map we have created of it as a child. When we are young, each of us needs to make sense of what is out there. We are continuously collecting and interpreting various experiences. We begin to compose a map that helps us to cope with reality. It is at this stage that we learn that the world is not always a safe place, and so, we begin to build necessary defences. We incorporate these into our road map, and gradually, we learn what is best for us to get along. However, the problems arise later in our adult years. We can still be operating out of the same map we had composed as children without realising that the scene has actually changed. This insight resonated with me personally when I revisited a place I knew well from childhood, after a few years of absence. I found it difficult to navigate my way because the roads had been changed into a new one-way system. I actually ended up lost. The reality had changed, but my internal map had not updated to meet this new reality. Why is it that, as adults, we often still rely on our childhood map to interpret reality?

The truth of the matter is that the unfinished business of our childhood gets in the way of a correct reading of reality. We hold firm to what we have learnt and consequently, repeat the same attitudes and behaviour, refusing to learn and move on. If we are to move beyond guilt and shame, we need to learn that a map that served us as children no longer serves us as adults. We may carry wounds from childhood which have conjured up a poor self-image that still impacts on us as adults. These primaeval wounds can lead to self-sabotage, preventing us from enjoying the fullness of life. It is vividly captured in the childhood fairy tale, Rapunzel

There was once a girl called Rapunzel who was very beautiful. She was captured by a witch who knew that if the young girl was to stay with her, she would have to convince her that she was ugly. If she knew that she was beautiful, then, one day she would go away with some young man; If, on the other hand, she was convinced she was ugly, then, she would be afraid to be seen and would hide herself. As a child she had lived with the witch, and although she grew into a very beautiful young woman, she believed she was ugly because the voice of the witch had convinced her of this. 

One day, when combing her hair in her room, she becomes conscious of someone looking at her through the window. Instinctively she looks up. She sees a young man gazing at her. He is looking at her with love, and seeing her reflection in his eyes, she recognizes her beauty. She is no longer afraid. The young man often visits her. When she is with him, she believes that she is indeed beautiful. However, when he goes away, and once again she has only the witch for company, she begins to doubt her beauty. The time comes for her to leave the witch. She realises that if she stays with her, she will never arrive at the truth. And so, she sets off with the Prince on the long journey of freeing herself from the vision she had learned to believe in, the one that the witch had taught her, even though it was not true.

If you like, there is in each of us the witch who teaches us to dislike parts of ourselves. We begin to believe the witch and so we don’t really see our own beauty, truth and goodness. And yet, Jesus reminds us that God who is good, created us good. St Paul says, “we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Eph. 2:9-10). It is only when we look at ourselves freed from the witch, when we look into the eyes of God that we can begin to see our real goodness and beauty. Without ‘the Lord’s loving merciful gaze,’ without God’s eyes as mirrors, we run the risk of not seeing our real self. It is true that we are imperfect, but again we are told that we are “earthen vessels that carry a great treasure” (2Cor.4:7-12). Learning to reconnect with the way God sees us with love, to embrace our new life in Christ as his brothers and sisters, is of paramount importance on the journey towards the fullness of life. This new vision of ourselves not only releases us from the tyranny of self-sabotage but it frees us up to recognize and share our gifts. Don Bosco is adamant that every young person contains an inherent goodness: ‘in the heart of every young person, even in the midst of difficulties, there is a disposition to desire to do what is good. The first duty of every educator is to locate this part from which good intentions are born so as to encourage the young in carrying out the good.’