mirror, mirror.

they always looked so lonely to me, and i never understood how people could be so cruel as to keep them in such a small bowl, floating in one place for, well... for the rest of their lives. siamese fighting fish, or betta fish, live solitary lives not because it is cruel as i had thought growing up, but because in most situations they will attack or kill any other betta fish they are near, as they are very territorial.

i recently visited my brother tim in washington, dc, and he had one such amazing fish. it had a beautiful long tail, multi colored in purple and blue's. we began to talk about it and he was telling me random facts and behaviors of this 'lonely' fish and mentioned its aversion to mirrors. i had never heard about this and so tim showed me, the 'trick' is to hold a mirror up to the tank of the siamese fighting fish and it will puff up to more than twice its size because it thinks that in the mirror is another betta fish and must now defend its territory. it worked, the fish grew exponentially and it was fascinating to see. we tried it a few more times but i soon felt cruel myself because even after the mirror was gone the fish would swim in circles looking for its attacker.

mirror. the enemy was a mirror.

i am a betta fish. i would assume if were honest with ourselves that most of us are. it is so easy to see others flaws, we can judge at ease, and mocking silently is a sad habit for most of us. we can see easily the problems and map out the obvious solutions in others but when it comes to us, we maintain that 'though we are not perfect, others are worse'. and then comes the mirror.

not to many of us have true mirrors in our lives, they are a very few HONEST select friends, loved ones, or lovers that show us exactly who we are or what we are doing. they inform us that we are failing, that we have a personality flaw, or we are not living up to our potential. and what do we do? we blow up, we circle, and then look to attack. most of us cannot handle the truth when we come face to face with the honesty in the mirror. i know i can't, i want to believe that i have it sorted, that i have come to a place in my life where i am 'good' or have most things figured out. but i don't and it was idiotic to think that i have anything figured out.

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
- William Shakespeare

for those who are blessed (like me) to have a mirror, make sure the next time they are honest with you that your first reaction is NOT to blow up or attack, because from observation that seems to lead to a very enclosed and lonely life. we can all change, we can all reach far beyond what we ever thought possible in our own lives but it is going to take working through those areas in life that are lacking.

'The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.'
Proverbs 12:15

there is someone reading this who thinks they have it figured out or is pretending that they can't relate to this post... and for those people i have a challenge. find your mirror, and ask. thats it. just ask. ask them what areas they feel you can change, or from the outside what do they see in your life is holding you down. most of us don't want to hear the answer... i know i don't. but we have too if we hope to keep from an isolation and stagnation. don't fight your mirror, just stare.

-esteban

'we have found the enemy, and he is us.'
-pogo

Comments

Jordan said…
Your insight is absolutely remarkable, Stephen...sometimes it's the toughest thing in the world to receive criticism, and to look in the mirror afterwards. When we get it, we need to find a way to come to an understanding instead of trying to prove everything about it wrong, and throwing it away as if it meant nothing.

I'm extremely glad you posted this...because this is a true statement. All of it.
burningstarsxe said…
This is so true, Stephen. It's kind of tough for me to read in a way - I am fortunate enough to have people in my life who, if I ask them, will be honest with me. The trouble, though, is the asking. I have recently found that one of the most important "philosophies" in life is that old saying, "Know Thyself". I've been spending time trying to figure myself out; but the difficult part is being able to look at myself from the outside, being able to take not just how I perceive myself but how others perceive me. And that? It's a little scary, because what if I hear something I don't want to hear? But you're right, Stephen. It's something we need to come to term with, our mirrors.
Matt said…
Excellent word picture. I think you're right in saying we can all relate to this. But I guess the question is this: if what we see in the mirror tells us we can be better, why do we resist? why hold on to the things that keep us back?
John Mason said…
Contentment is something we are all striving for and many of us never attain. Being comfortable looking in the mirror, receiving the words of a true friend that would show us our unmasked selves is a key to finding contentment. Great post Stephen. Look forward to more of it.
Lamb said…
Oh wow, haha. I've done that to my betta, only once though because I felt so bad...

Great analogy. I like this post because I'm trying very hard to change right now.

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."

Well, I guess I'm at a good starting point then, because my latest journal entry reads "I'm a fool if ever there was one!"
Renny said…
I just read Ender's Game. I don't know why but this post made me think about that book.
Chris said…
Excellent post Stephen! The Bible is like a mirror. The function of a mirror is to show us accurately what we look like, so that we can make any necessary changes. The function of the Bible is to show us accurately what we look like so that we can make, with God’s help and enablement, any necessary changes. Read James 1:22-25

Chris
nicogirl said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
nicogirl said…
Who's the fairest in the land?

The mirror trick only works with the beta fish bowl because the water is crystal clear and the poor creature has nowhere to hide. If we give a clouded view to others, the mirror trick is rendered useless. If we hide down in the dirty bottom we don't ever have to face the mirror. Half truths and hidden feelings make the waters murky. Swimming to the surface is the hardest thing to do.

Luckily for us, we CAN change our location if we really want to. Sadly, most of us never do jump into a bigger bowl though. We swim in circles repeating the same mistakes and learning nothing from them. Maybe we WANT to be the big beautiful fish in the tiny bowl. Nobody to deal with but our own puffed up pride...and nobody to share our oxygen and daily food. It's safe in there!

One big problem...without your brother feeding him Mr. Blue Beta would perish and be forgotten. How easily we forget to be thankful for our caretaker..watching over us!

9:59 AM
Anonymous said…
You're way with words is just beautiful. This thought provoking passage could not have come at a better time for me. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
my fish is betta than your fish.
Lydia said…
Reading this was a smack in the face, not a terribly violent one, but the kind that brought me to reality. I realized that I have acted like a beta fish to the few special people who are my mirrors. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they have changed my perspective in a very good way.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jessica said…
I completly agree. We are all afraid to see our selves for what we truly are. We are all afraid to see our selves as others do, and when they try to give you advice, they do so with the best of intentions: to make you a better person, and to help you be the best you can be. So if the mirrors in our lives are only trying to help us reach our full potential, why do we react so violently when they let us know that they think we can do better? I think it's because we all have the instinct to protect ourselves. This doesnt only mean physically, but mentally and emotionaly as well. So while our friends come to us with good intentions, in an attempt to keep ourselves from getting hurt, we keep our friends at arms length away by holding on to the thing that hold us back. We do not do this to keep us from being the best we can, we do this to keep those around us from getting too close. Its a way to keep people out. By allowing someone to change us, we must trust the person. And by trusting someone completely, you open yourself up to that person, and allow them to be apart of you forever. This can be dangerous, as it allows us to get hurt if something goes wrong. But we are a makeup of every one around us. Everyone you ave ever met has changed you in some way. Each little event in your life pushes you to be where you are today. So allow people to change you. Open yourself up, and let the world see you. The trick to being the best you can, is knowing who you should let change you. Dont allow those who want you to be like them change you, because you should still be yourself. Just remember that who you are can change. So allow those with good and pure intentions change you, just be carefull of those with their own agenda.
claudette said…
hello hello!
1. yay a new update! thanks!
2. i'm fortunate to have friends and a family that tells me like it is who are also not polite at all when it comes to the truth and honesty. i've learnt to accept and improve the hard way. i took seemingly ages to have my ego deflated by honesty and inflate it again by my own two hands. you are and only can do so much in this lifetime, so why not try to improve and steer your life in the right direction when guidance is just right in front signalling you. i am still working behind the steering wheel and the problem of too much friction (read: pride) gets in the way sometimes. but really, it does feel sooo good when you accept, improve and move on.
Joe said…
Hello. I agree with this to an extent. Isn't it you Stephen, who said to follow your dreams and not let anything get in your way? Would it be foolish to follow your dreams and resist advice you don't want to hear?
Emily said…
... What happens if you keeping the mirror always there with you and focus only on it?...
St. Michael said…
Stephen,
great analogy. I in fact, just 30 seconds before writing this, I asked my mirror, "What do you see?" And now I am waiting to hear what he's going to say. I have double-blessing since my mirror is my father and my best friend. He's going to tell me tomorrow, and knowing him he'll say the scary stuff we're all dreading to hear from own mirrors, but I know he'll then end by saying that he sees in me a great goodness that is waiting to be made known once the mirrors in my life slowly are acknowledged and properly dealt with according to the advice given to me about them.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristina said…
Thanks for this.
~Sarah said…
Just the other day, my mother-in-law brought up this same topic. She said at times, we must hold a mirror up to ourselves, because in doing so, it brings growth and maturity.

She was talking to me about it because I am about to become a mother. And as you know, I am also disabled. Because of this, I have gotten a lot of advice from family members. Most of it has been helpful, and some of it hasn't been.

I started to get extremely annoyed with the hurtful advice. They were telling me that I needed a baby doll to "practice" with before Isaac is born so that I know how to hold him, or that I needed OT (occupational therapy) to help me.

I kept telling them that I was very hurt by that advice, simply because I will be his mother, and even though I am nervous when holding friends' babies, I will have no fear holding my own son.

And then I realized.......people are just trying to help. They may not know what it is going to be like for me to be a disabled mother, but the people offering the advice do know what it is like to be a mother, and so they were just trying to help, even if it came across as hurtful to me.

Since that time, (just a few weeks ago) I realized it's a very good thing to have a mirror and ask God where changes need to take place.
Anonymous said…
thank you for your honesty and opinions. being public with that can be scary. keep your entries coming. I always enjoy your writing.

and thanks for setting me and my little beta fish self straight.
Liana said…
The difficulty comes when you really have no person in your life who will be your "mirror". When it's totally up to you to see your own failings and defects in character, it's so easy to gloss over them, disregard a chance for change, and continue on the same self-destructive path. If you do not learn from your mistakes, and there is no person in your life to say, "You're doing something wrong, you need to stop," it's all too easy to wind up at some point years from now, with nobody around you and only your jaded memories for comfort.
Whenever I look in the mirror, I'm always reminded of the painful moments in my life, times when I hurt someone because I didn't comprehend the consequences of my actions, and that I have the power to affect people on an emotional level. There are those things about myself that I wish to change, as difficult and and as painful as it might be.
But I also remember that, despite all my failings and mistakes, I am inherently a good person. I truly desire to help people and learn from them, because they have so much to teach me. I want to become a better person so that I will be able to form more friendships and learn from the multitudes of people on this planet.
When I make a mistake or hurt someone, it pains me deeply, and the consequences of that action act as my mirror. The fragmenting of friendship is enough to teach me a lesson and halt my current self-destructive behavior.
esteban said…
http://www.thebaybridged.com/2010/08/05/birds-batteries-strange-kind-of-mirror/
esteban said…
http://www.thebaybridged.com/2010/08/05/birds-batteries-strange-kind-of-mirror/
Melanie said…
Well stated.

Perhaps, at least, if we fail and "puff up" we can at least let go and stop circling.

When we look into the mirror, and see something a miss (our hair is out of place) only then can we address the issue.

It's definitely hard for me. I do want constructive criticism, but I think I sometimes fear it as well. And sometimes it hurts.
Anonymous said…
if only you would post more, then I wouldn't feel so alone
Morgan said…
Stephen,
I would love for you to read my response to your post. I truly believe in what you are talking about. I took it one step further and thought about how we can even risk "breaking those mirrors" and hurting those who reflect in our lives. If we are not careful and attack those mirrors too many times, we may lose the opinion of those mirrors we care about.

http://mobacher.blogspot.com/2011/01/beta-fish-and-humans-compared-by.html
Very well said, not that I'd expect much less. Too many of us are binded to our mirrors and we're too afraid to shatter them. It's funny, because it seems to hold so many of us down. I have yet to meet someone who is completely unafraid of change and who will try to take all the criticism received and grow from it.
miss lynn said…
I so appreciate your honesty. I find that this post helped to serve as a mirror of sorts. I don't exactly know why it is, but sometimes those who are close to you may tell you exactly what this post says, but you don't listen to them or you write them off. Perhaps God knew I needed to hear this and brought me to it tonight. I am way too defensive at times. It is a good reminder to be less of a defender and more of a self-reflector. Thanks again.
Valentina Paiva said…
I have a beta too but have never tried the mirror trick because it seems cruel. But wow, that was a great post. It's really making me think about myself in a way I usually try not to.
Hannah said…
Thank you for sharing this...I truly needed to hear it. I don't ever want to become someone who is blind to their own faults, yet quickly judges others for what we perceive as "a flawed character" We're all flawed! Without that downfall, what would be the point of grace?
Raechel said…
Psalm 139:23-24

I hit a rough spot in my faith this past month after being at what I felt like was the highest point in my faith in my entire life. And I think this was because I stopped being honest with myself. I looked in mirrors to see what I wanted. The Lord was on my thoughts a lot, but I also wasn't being honest with myself about his true character, despite what I know. It's been a difficulty getting up to climb back up, but I know God's using this chance to refine me.

"Always littler, lighter, in order to be lifted more easily by the breeze of love." -Therese of Lisieux
Joseph Duff said…
I think I'm too scared of rejection to honestly ask anyone what they feel I can improve on. Too true is the fact that everyone has something they can better, but that harsh reality is almost too much to bear if you're not in the right state of mind. More or less, I feel as if I've had a mirror my whole life telling me not what I can improve on, but what is supposedly "wrong" with me. Society is far too rigid to find someone this honest, but at the same time helpful. If you can find those people, marry them or make sure they're you're closest friend.
nicogirl said…
amazing song by The Velvet Underground and Nico:

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror

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