Friday, March 9, 2012

Stop Copying Me

Imitation might be the most basic form of learning in humans. Researchers have shown that infants who are less than an hour old are already capable of some form of imitation.  At two or three weeks old, babies can imitate tongue protrusion. I must say that this is my personal favorite skill to demonstrate in real life. I think it is amazing that at a time when connecting with a non-verbal, non-ambulatory being is so remote, you can stick your tongue out and they will likely do the same. 
This tendency to imitate does not go away when we become adults. Research also suggests that adults tend to unconsciously imitate the speech and gestures of their conversational partners. In fact, a recent study even showed that humans can unconsciously imitate a person’s speech patterns and sounds even if they only see the person’s lips moving without hearing the actual sound. For some skills, imitation may be the most efficient means of learning. By imitating others, we can avoid making the mistakes that we would inevitably make if we were to learn things through trial and error.
Knowing humanity’s very basic tendency to imitate, it is not very surprising that Paul encouraged the members of the Church in Philippi to imitate Christ. He is compelling them to take on Christ’s humble and loving nature and perspective. It seems that Paul spoke of the life of Jesus with the Philippians enough that the probably had a good vision of what that meant.
I see this aspect of the New Testament as a stark contrast from how God related to his people in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God started with a few general rules (the ten commandments) and then followed that up with some more “best practices” (see the book of Deuteronomy). With the coming of Christ and the New Testament, the overall message is basically “see what he did, do things like that.”
I know it sounds very simplistic, but I wonder what would happen if the Christians of today took Paul’s message seriously, instead of making it into a brief fashion fad for teenagers. Since God has created us in such a way that imitation is very natural, What should we do with it? How then should we be teaching our children? How should we be learning from each other?

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