“I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways . . .If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”—As performed by Michael Jackson; written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett
“Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”—Rumi
I can still remember the first time it happened as if it were yesterday. Since then, it has happened on several more occasions, each one occurring as if it had never before happened.
“What do I have on my forehead?” I will think as I catch a quick glimpse of my reflection in my bathroom mirror.
“What do I have near my eye, my cheek, my mouth . . .?”
It’s always the same surprise. At first, I think I am seeing dirt, and I begin rubbing vigorously with a saliva-wet finger—as if I do not have a faucet only inches away from my fingers. When it doesn’t disappear under such spirited efforts, I then switch to the soap and water directly below the mirror and renew my efforts. About halfway into the motion of soaping up the so-called soiled skin, it hits me like a red round gym ball smacking the side of my head. Arg! It’s a wrinkle, or two, or seven.
That’s when I go through the next round of self-deprecating thoughts.
“You look at yourself every day in the mirror to brush teeth, wash face, apply make-up, fix hair . . .. How on earth did you NOT notice these wrinkles before? Are you blind?”
The facts are, Dear Reader, I don’t wear contacts, I’ve been far-sighted since I was a kid, and I am the proud owner of aging eyes with an astigmatism; so of course, I don’t see my wrinkles when I am at the bathroom mirror as I typically don’t yet have on my glasses for the day.
Ok, well, that’s not entirely true. I typically have my glasses on when I am brushing my teeth—which is twice per day, but let’s be honest. At the age of nearly 54, I do not spend much time truly gazing at myself. In fact, while I may see my reflection, I don’t really see me. My mind is typically off meandering around the hundreds of thoughts scattered throughout my cerebrum. Still, at my age, it should not be any great shock or surprise to discover wrinkles are mapping out my face like the tattered, overused roadmap that my husband and I once kept in our vehicles in the years before driving apps.
In fact, recently, due to my aging eyes, and a remodel, I now have a small magnifying mirror attached to my bathroom wall near the vanity mirror. Talk about a shock to the system! At first, it was all fun and games because I could actually see to pluck my eyebrows, apply eye makeup, and floss my teeth. The party quickly ended, however, when it also began to reveal how deeply those crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines, and smile lines have really embedded into my face like lines on wet sand made with a stick. What the heck? When did all of this happen? Why didn’t someone tell me? You mean, I’ve been walking around feeling like I am 20, or at the very least, 30 years old on the inside, but actually looking like my real age on the outside? I’ve been lying to myself, and no one had the courage to tell me? Clearly, I have no real friends or honest loved ones!
And so it, with criticism. Hard, cold, biting, slashing, tearing, stomach wrenching critiques offered up freely by others. Speaking of being whacked with a red gym ball, criticism can also be like that. It seems to come out of nowhere when we are not prepared or looking for it—like the way I felt the first time I really gazed in my magnifying mirror and saw the truth of my aging face.
Proclamations of censure seem to happen with great frequency in pop culture, and at this point in time, they almost seem comical given their sources. However, when it is personally delivered and received via special delivery by an important person in one’s life, it is not so funny. Raw emotions, wounded feelings, and even misunderstandings are often tilled up like a fallow field of wasteland as a result of these personal bombshells. What is a person to do at such times?
According to wise words I recently read, one has two options. The first alternative is to make the realization that the person must not truly see you, your true heart, and your true intentions. Understand that their vision may be a reflection of their own self-judgement or insecurities. Accept it with empathy for their suffering, and then move on with the knowledge that you have actually learned more about the messenger.
In contrast, the second option is to think of the critique as mirror magnifying and reflecting an actual smudge of dirt upon your proverbial face that needs to be cleaned. Of course, you can ignore it, and lie to yourself, as I have done for years regarding the wrinkles on my face. Then, there is the option of fighting back, punching the mirror, and shattering its reflection, hurting both the person, your metaphorical fist, and possibly risk destroying any opportunity to amend the relationship. Finally, you can view it for the truth it is revealing. Thus, creating an opportunity to wipe the dirt off, and challenging you to begin to search for ways to change, seizing the opportunity for a more fertile awareness in which a new seed has been planted, offering you a chance to learn, grow, and perhaps even improve.
Here’s to magnifying mirrors. May we embrace the true reflections they reveal.