On Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us
Bobbie Burn's Insight

Several weeks ago, I wrote an essay regarding Bob Trout, because a friend of mine, Dave Wood, said that I reminded him of Trout. Dave and I go to Bakers Square together about every other month. These breakfasts or lunches last about two hours during which we will comment upon nearly any topic. However, that is not what makes this relationship different from others. We agree upon all the topics that we have discussed. That is amazing to me.

I would be willing to make a wager upon how Dave feels about a topic about which we have not yet explored. That intrigues me. In my life, I do not know anyone within or outside my family that there is almost a universal agreement on a wide-ranging variety of subjects. It is like discussing the way we feel about a topic with our clone.

Another parallel between Dave and me is our knowledge of poetry. One of us will respond to the other with some few lines of poetry, which the other can recite from memory. Therefore, personality-wise, we are clone-like.

Having this sense of being of one mind is truly unique. Nonetheless, several months ago, Dave made a comment about how I reminded him of Bob Trout. When he first broached that similarity, I was taken back. What? Bob Trout. What ensued for another fifteen minutes was his Googling photos of Trout on his iPhone. Still, I did not see any likeness.

That evening, late at night, I spent a couple hours Googling pictures of Trout and reading various short bios on him. Then it happened, I started to read and see some similarities that Trout and I share.

Several weeks later, I am writing about some topic and somehow, I was thinking about a couple lines of poetry written by Bobbie Burns. Burns was a Scottish poet who wrote many poems and songs including the words to Auld Lang Syne. He also wrote, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."


Robert Burns

However, what came floating into my head was not the song Auld Lang Syne or a poem about Burns ploughing a field and coming upon the home of some field mice, which he titled To a Mouse. What did flash across my mind was the last stanza of his poem, To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church.

And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

To a Louse To a Louse
At the beginning of that last stanza, we translate as, "Oh the gift that God would give us to see ourselves as others see us." Burns' ode was about his sitting behind a rich, aristocratic woman in church. The woman flaunted her wealth by her clothing and her haughty air in general. Nevertheless, what Burns noticed was the discrepancy between her aristocratic presence on the one hand and that she also had head lice. Over two centuries ago, Scottish society believed that head lice afflicted only the poor of the world. Burns' observation of the rich woman was in juxtaposition to what Scottish society believed. In essence, she was not any better than anyone else was. Head lice were the common denominator whether rich or poor.

Several generations ago, most of my family came from Scotland. Additionally, I went to school at New College at the University of Edinburgh in 1968-69 and returned to Scotland for a month in 2013.


Therefore, I come to writing about Bobbie Burns with nationalistic predisposition toward his writing and thoughts. This is a photo of his home located in Alloway, Scotland.


This is the living room of his cottage. I have visited his home twice during my life and will visit it again when I return to Scotland.

However, while I fully understand and agree with Burns about the hypocrisy and hubris regarding the gentry class, there is another side to seeing ourselves as others see us. This side is the positive side. I learned that lesson during a breakfast with Dave Wood. Aside from the lice issue, we do see others differently than they see themselves. A friend can present to another a snapshot of them, about which they often would not necessarily agree as with the Robert Trout comparison.

Here is a little experiment. Pick someone that you know. Tell them to write down 5-descriptions of who they are related to their personality and character. At the same time, you do the same about them. My guess is that your list will be more accurate than theirs will be. Why? "Oh the gift that God would give us to see ourselves as others see us."

This video is an excellent reading of To a Louse.

This video is a darling recitation of it by a charming little Scottish girl.