Today, we say “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” without realizing this fragment has been ripped out of a whole sentence or that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” A little different understanding…right?
I wonder in our age of out of context speaking and overreacting if we are even capable of understanding imitation or do we (consumers) just assume it means to pick and choose some piece of a person to copy and use as a means to our own self-glorifying ends. Who among us hasn’t copied what someone says and does, while turning a blind eye to who a person is, even if he or she is “filled with every injustice, wickedness, avarice, vice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, boorishness; whisperers, 30Slanderers, haters of God,c licentious, overweening, braggarts, contrivers of evils, defiant of parents; 31Witless, faithless, ruthless, merciless—“ The Bible
Consequently in “copying” empty gestures, meaningless words, political rhetoric and cults of personality who are blind, deaf and dumb to the truth, do we even stand a chance at mediocrity? Look at the results at our copying- we have epidemics of diet-related disease and sickness, depression, loneliness, addiction and anxiety. Research shows that we are all dying of the same diseases, consume the same inane entertainment, buy the same crap and speak the same catch phrases and cliches, regurgitate similar opinions and spew commentary that is full of hubris, hypocrisy and contradiction.
Perhaps, this copying is what happens and the only thing that can happen when we only see people in 2 dimensions or we do not see them at all, because we just see their posts. Given our cultural mediocrity, and our desire for nothing more, has anyone seen greatness in the last 50 years? Is it even possible to recognize greatness, let alone copy a “great” human being, without knowing him or her by being in relationship with them? But given our lack of relationships, imagine the risk we run copying someone who we don’t really know or realizing what the short and long term effects of copying a terrible human being would be in determining who you are, what you do, how you treat others and how you live.
Would the mere external copying of a person conform us to their image and guarantee not just physical death and destruction but internal death and destruction, including spiritual death and destruction? I believe Thomas Merton was thinking along the same lines when he said, “Gestures of conformity do not make a man a Christian, and when one’s actual conduct obviously belies the whole meaning of the gesture, it is an objective statement that one’s Christianity has lost its meaning.
– Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p 106
If conformity is the result of copying and it is not just only dangerous, but it is definitely not imitation, then what is imitation. Unfortunately, the task of understanding is not easy especially when we have lost the definitions of many words by simply trying to write and speak them, rather than understand them in context of living them out. Imitation is such a word that cannot be understood unless it is thoroughly embodied. According to the Greek, imitation is much more than copying words and gestures.
“Mimesis, basic theoretical principle in the creation of art. The word is Greek and means “imitation” (though in the sense of “re-presentation” rather than of “copying”). Plato and Aristotle spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature. According to Plato, all artistic creation is a form of imitation: that which really exists (in the “world of ideas”) is a type created by God; the concrete things man perceives in his existence are shadowy representations of this ideal type. Therefore, the painter, the tragedian, and the musician are imitators of an imitation, twice removed from the truth. Aristotle, speaking of tragedy, stressed the point that it was an “imitation of an action”—that of a man falling from a higher to a lower estate. Shakespeare, in Hamlet’s speech to the actors, referred to the purpose of playing as being “…to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” Thus, an artist, by skillfully selecting and presenting his material, may purposefully seek to “imitate” the action of life.” BY The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
It seems like representation looks like reflection in thought word and deed. Even more, imitation is a reflection in one’s very own nature. Great actors do more than copy, they become their character. Often times, actors say “they are getting in character.” Could it be that imitation is not only you getting into someone, but someone getting in you. Consequently, when you look in the mirror you see you but you also see them.
We have to be careful about the shortcut of copying rather than taking the time to be in relationship and allowing that relationship to unite us in love and truth, and then allowing our lives to become a reflection ofthe other. I think about my best friend and how we have grown over the years together and have seen the mingling of our spirits, hearts and minds in our relationship. At times, I know I am reflecting her love and truth in my other relationships, and to be in relationship with me is to be in relationship with her. I believe this is more in line with what imitation is and how it naturally happens when we are loving each other with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.
The Love and Truth that flows through my relationship with my best friend and through many of my other relationships are more than great- they are perfect. So if I can imitate this Love and Truth, then this mediocre girl is ok paying God the sincerest form of flattery humanly possible.