This morning I am listening to the rain and working on a book chapter proposal. My goal for the morning is to complete a draft of this proposal so I can then shift gears and work on grading and recommendation letters for students this afternoon. Ideally, I’d do research and writing every morning, but that can’t always happen. So I am savoring this opportunity along with a mug of hot tea.
So why, then, am I blogging here instead of working on my proposal? It’s already 9:00! I have actually found that sometimes, I can wake up and immediately get started with my writing. The ideas are there, just waiting to be formulated into interesting and meaningful sentences. Other times, though, I need to think, to free-write, and to mull over ideas as a sort of warm-up. It’s almost like a physical workout, except it’s my mind that needs the stretches and the slow aerobics. So, for today’s writing workout, I am going to write out a few thoughts on the topic of mirrors. This topic doesn’t relate to my heart disease research at all, but I think that’s why I’m turning to it now.
Mirrors are everywhere. In homes, in public restrooms, in our cars, in stores, even in unsuspecting places like storefront windows and puddles. Some mirrors provide us with reflections that seem quite accurate, according to the mental picture we have of ourselves. Others seem to distort. Whether it’s the angle of the lighting, or simply the construction of the mirror itself, sometimes we see ourselves and think, “wow, I look GOOD today,” while other times we cringe and immediately start adjusting our hair or clothes — or we just think it’s a lost cause. I know that both women and men do this, though often women seem a little more susceptible to the mirror-check. But in all of these cases, we are seeing ourselves as reflected in an external object.
I’ve found that some mirrors are more flattering than others. For some reason, the mirrors at certain family members’ houses always make me look nice. I don’t know why, and perhaps I’ll never know why. Maybe they’re squeaky clean? Maybe it’s the right level of lighting? The mirror in the bathroom at school can be flattering, but only if one of the fluorescent lights in the bathroom isn’t working.
I’ve realized that mirrors aren’t just physical objects. They’re also people. By that, I mean that we often look to the people around us to validate or support our sense of self. Our identities are largely constructed based on social interactions and the perceptions of others. We define ourselves based on our familial and social roles: daughter, son, wife, husband, student, teacher, friend. We are always someone in relation to someone else. Even for the most independent individuals, our identities to some extent necessarily presuppose relationships.
As a result, the people with whom we engage often serve as mirrors that can reflect our best and worst selves. Quite literally: if a friend is upset by something we’ve said or done, we can see his or her reaction and realize that we need to reflect on our words and actions.
But beyond the literal, immediate reflections of ourselves in others, there are also other ways people can serve as mirrors. Through the things they say to us and the way they treat us, the people in our lives can either build us up or bring us down. They can either make visible our every flaw and imperfection, or they can highlight our skills and virtues. They can remind us of our goals and push us toward being the best we can be, or they can make us feel as if our goals are meaningless and our efforts trivial.
Sometimes, it’s just in a subtle word or barely perceptible attitude. But the words and actions of the people around us are powerful mirrors, whether we realize it at the time or not. I’m not saying that we should just surround ourselves with people who will offer endless compliments, but I do think we should generally be aware of how the people in our lives make us feel. If talking with or spending time with someone consistently makes you feel as if you’re looking at yourself in harsh, fluorescent lighting, then maybe that relationship needs to be reevaluated. On the contrary, if spending time with someone leaves you feeling confident, energized, and refreshed, then that’s a relationship worth cultivating.
We should also be conscious of the role we play as a mirror to others. Through kind words, encouragement, and support, we can help the people in our lives to see themselves in the best light.