The saying, “He is dancing like nobody is watching,” brings to my mind a specific context. I have heard it almost exclusively at celebrations (graduations, weddings, birthdays) in reference to someone (he or she) who is dancing (usually not very well) fully aware of the setting but in a world of their own. A world that does not, for the moment, care about anything else but what is being celebrated.
This is usually not the dance of the one who has practiced moves and performs them for the entertainment and attention of others. That dancing may be physically challenging, but it is stilted by the need to be appreciated. It is more innocent or difficult to arrive at a place of being free from the fear of judgment or criticism to be able to dance because it is the right thing to do and the only thing to do at that moment. I say this as one who has witnessed it rather that knows it by experience, and I am worse off for it.
There have been many truths hammered into me from youth. Some are family specific. Most are religious or cultural. They nearly all have to do with how something might look or what others will think or what example I might be setting. If you are the one who says, “Well, not me” as a reaction to this then I would say that you are just the other side of the coin. To do or not do the opposite of what we have been told to do or not do demonstrates being more a prisoner to what others think, just less cooperative.
One of those truths is that people (parents, children, grandchildren, co-workers) are watching what we do, and we need to be aware of that. It is here I would like to call on one of my favorite quotes from the Danish Physicist, Niels Bohr, whom I first heard of in high school chemistry. “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” He was speaking in the context of physics, but I believe what he said can be broadly applied.
So, I would like to explore what it might be like to live like no one is watching. This is admittedly as dangerous as the saying taken on its own, so let’s keep it right next to its opposite truth. Let’s also think about it regarding our spirituality.
Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount when he warns against doing acts of piety (giving, praying, and fasting) to be seen by others. There are stories in the gospels about the first two. The first is of a widow who put “two mites” into the treasury. There was no doubt that she was doing this from a stance of humility and love of God. No one noticed, except Jesus. The second is a parable of a Pharisee praying for all to see and proclaiming that he was not like the “sinners and tax collectors.” Jesus pointed out the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” by commenting, ‘everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be lifted up.” Giving and praying like no one is watching.
Living in such a way can free us from the baggage that we all carry with us. All of those “you can’t do that’s” and “I told you so’s.” I just heard a story this morning about people who have decided to get a COVID vaccine but are afraid to because of the repercussions from their family and friends.
How much good in the world is not done because of the fear of the judging and condemning eyes of others? How many friendships never formed because of the eyes of the racist watching? How much truth is not spoken because of fear of listening ears? It helps me to consider these things without weakening them by discretion. The unmitigated thought of dancing as though no one is watching is terrifying and for nearly all of us unrealizable.
That does not mean that it is not worth considering. It does not mean that we cannot have moments of clarity, courage, or joy in which we act on such impulses for the good of others or ourselves. There will be those times in our lives when it is possible, but we need to have the thought planted there first. Believers know that God sees. May he give us times when we can live like no one is watching.