In My Mirror I See…

by Ray Colon on February 8, 2013 · 19 comments

Self-Portrait shaving with reflection By saintbob (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIt surprises me that people are so enamored with the sight of their own reflection.

To take what we see when we look into a mirror and somehow leave that experience with a positive feeling just doesn’t make any sense at all. The mirror reveals every blemish, every imperfection, and every bit of well-worn evidence of our age and of our aging. All that is required to see the truth is that we take a realistic look.

But we don’t.

Instead, something odd happens. We see the faults, but quickly go through the exercise of covering them up, as if by the application of some mysterious mental concealer. Our perspective easily warps what our eyes can plainly see. Our minds excuse the faults and focus on the more pleasing aspects of our appearance. It’s a pretty neat trick.

We walk away feeling confident that the world sees us as we see ourselves.

The world doesn’t see us that way.

This is not to say that we are hideous creatures who should wear masks to spare others from glimpsing our decaying selves. It’s simply a commentary on how suspect and malleable our powers of perception can be.

We may be okay with the way that we look – overall, but the sad truth is that we probably looked better yesterday than we do today. Tomorrow will likely be worse. And so it goes.

This reality is counter to our impulse to be better than we were before.

We try to reverse the process of aging, but all attempts are futile; temporary at best. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wishing that these transitory vessels of ours would hold up against the strain of living. Fortunately, our weather-beaten exteriors are only part of our story. We would all do well to focus more on improving our minds, souls, and spirits than on the outward representation of ourselves.

Tree branch after ice storm By J. Carmichael (Tevonic (talk) 00:04, 8 July 2009 (UTC)) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nature has its own rules.

This misconstruction of evidence continues when we interpret the world. Since we are looking outward, we are absent from this view. We are observers. Our placement in the world is of our own imagining. Only this skewed image of ourselves – contrived from our filtered reflection – occupies the world that we can see.

When I look out of my bedroom window, I don’t see homelessness. I don’t see hunger. I don’t see blight. I see trees stripped of their foliage, swaying in the wind, yearning for the end of winter. Some of the naked branches will succumb to the heavy ice that pulls them downward until they are snapped from the tree. Other, stronger branches withstand nature’s assaults, but are damaged to such a degree that they will never sprout leaves again. Those bare branches will look out of place come spring – awkwardly sticking out among their leaved equals.  Their bareness provides other living things with neither shelter nor nourishment.

They’re still part of the tree, but they are essentially dead. Only they did not have the courtesy to fall to the ground – their decaying remnants providing nutrients to the soil.

FEMA-38138-Volunteer feeds returning residents at the New Orleans train station By Barry Bahler (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

People are not trees.

The homeless, the hungry, and those who live in blight may not be in my field of view, but they are there – either on the next street, in the next town, or in a city across the river.

We ought not to leave to nature the things that we can address ourselves.

When people need help, they should receive it. When people are hungry, they should be fed. All factors that contribute to blight, like the dark side of capitalism, should be among the things that are discussed and addressed by our leaders and by us.

To fail to see what is happening is a choice – a cynical choice to garble what your eyes can plainly see. To offer as explanation that, “There will always be poor,” is to deny your own culpability. To endorse the politics of disenfranchisement is a contemptuous way to live. To claim that the U.S. cannot afford to do more for its citizens is to be telling a lie.

Hold up your mirror. Look past your reflection and see the world beyond yourself. People are hurting. If the Supreme Court can regard corporations as people, then I surely can’t be faulted for insisting that governments are people too – as in of, by, and for the people.

My government, if it were truly a reflection of me, would almost always choose butter over guns. What about yours?

How much suffering over the last twelve years (here and abroad) could have been averted if we were to have spent these amounts elsewhere?

Cost of War 2013-02-08 11:08 AM

Financial costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as of 2/8/2013 11:08 AM. [Click image for the current tally]

“No refunds allowed,” says Halliburton.

“No more money for killing,” say I.

Author Bio:

Ray Colon has written 167 posts on Ray's Blog.

He works with numbers for a living, but don't judge - boring accountants need love too. His blog has no niche (unless writing about things that are important to him is a niche). Some folks cringe when he gets “all political” on them, but he does it anyway when he's in that kind of mood. Sometimes, he writes something nice about someone, but you shouldn't get used to that. His first book, the one he hasn't written yet, is not available on Amazon. Subscribe to Ray's Blog via RSS  or Email.

Send Ray an Email if you have a question. He may even respond.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia February 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hi Ray. Brave post. I’ve been reading Nate Silver’s “Signal and the Noise: Why Predictions Fail,” which helps show why things that are so obvious (housing bubble about to burst, don’t invest in tranches!) in retrospect are so hard to see ahead of us.

Interestingly, since you bring up mirrors, two people in my family, my daughter and my husband, rarely look in mirrors. They are fairly linear thinking, and, dare I say this? More objective in their decision making. My son and I are always checking to make sure things are OK. We all function pretty well, but the self-reflecters are a little less productive and a little more responsive. It’s almost as if we need both sides to make things function all right.

I like what you say about suspect perception and malleability, and the world just being what it is, outside our views of it. Still, I think some of the passivity I see is kind of a wait-and-see attitude. Sometimes when I try to ‘do better’ I unintentionally make things worse. Things are changing so quickly! Anyway, thought provoking post. Best wishes.

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Ray Colon February 8, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Hi Julia,

Thanks! I haven’t read Silver’s book, but I can see how your synopsis of his premise occurs. My guess is that the problem with missing the obvious is that we simply don’t want to see it, for various reasons. During the housing bubble, financing homes and cashing in with home equity loans seemed so easy. No one wanted to close the spigot.

I’m like the two in your household who rarely look in the mirror. I’ll comb my hair when I get up and I’m good for the day. No checking or primping. My wife and especially my daughters each schedule a lot of mirror time. :)

“… self-reflecters are a little less productive and a little more responsive.” Okay, this is the type of thing that I like to write, so I’m going to have to steal it. M’kay? Seriously though, it’s true that a combination of approaches, used in conjunction, tends to yield the best results for most things in the long run.

Wait-and-see is okay. We don’t all have the same need to speak out. I’ve always been this way, but I’m still learning how to do it effectively. I’ve recently become engrossed with finding video of speakers who promote social justice — many from the civil rights movement. Many of the problems of the 60′s are still with us. Some things have gotten better and other areas have gotten worse. The ability to speak on such matters encourages others, much as those voices from the past have encouraged me.

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Jean February 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I’m not sure exactly all the reasons but I look at the mirrors less. Maybe partially because I don’t want to see how much more tired I look compared to 5 years ago.

I’ve had a lot of major life-changing events happen.
At this time, my health is more important than what I look at.

As for looking out for others and not let Nature do its thing, I agree. As for the war on other countries….have not most Americans figured out that one of the reasons why it is in big huge debt is that a lot of money is spent on U.S. defense? And for wars that the main reasons were never clear to most Americans. (I mean really bombing the heck out of Iraq or Afganistan served what….? Neither U.S. nor Canada even understood the internal history of each of those countries.) It is shocking..

I continue to be amazed to encounter the patronizing tone of some Americans on Internet forums, that they were in those countries to help protect the rest of the world. Including Canadians. Please spare us the pain of your fallen U.S. soldiers/navy/air force.

Canadians never asked for the protection of the U.S. Never. We never asked U.S. sacrifice Americans for us. Never. There is nothing in our home and foreign policy that states that at this time.

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Ray Colon February 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

Hi Jean,

Yes, health is more important, but the allure of the mirror is powerful and it’s always there.

I agree that many of my fellow citizens have come to that conclusion, but not as many as one would think. There are a lot of hold outs. It’s amazing to me that the pretense for the invasion of Iraq still rings true to many. Years ago, I remember reading a letter to President Clinton, written in 1998. It’s still posted on the Project for the New American Century website. In it, the case for removing Saddam Hussein is made. Scroll down to the end of it and see the list of the signatories. It’s like a roll call of the future Bush Administration. Amazing.

I understand why we went onto Afghanistan. We are attacked by al-Qaeda and the Taliban would not expel them. There’s no way that we would not retaliate for 9/11. I get that. I’m unhappy that we have stayed there for as long as we have and that we wasted lives by shifting our focus to the unjust war in Iraq.

I’m unfamiliar with the fallout of all this for a Canadian. If you’re exposed to a “patronizing tone” from some Americans, know that they don’t speak for us all.

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Keith
Twitter:
February 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Boy ole boy did that hit home with me. Great post Ray. I am turning 40 this weekend and I’m not looking forward to it.

I agree on the wars. Why couldn’t we spend that much on healing people and feeding the hungry instead of killing? I guess there is a reason I’m not a politician.
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Ray Colon February 12, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Hi Keith,

Turning 40, eh? That’s a big one. Happy birthday to you!

I’ll be 53 next month. Ouch!

There are some aspects of politics that I think that I would enjoy, but there are many more things about it that I know I would hate. Take tonight’s State of the Union for example. Federal minimum wage increases are always bitterly fought in Congress. That never made any sense to me. Many states agree, because they’ve raised theirs above the federal level. Yet, the same tired arguments against those increases always seem to win the day. Hopefully, tying the wage to inflation will fix that, but it’s taken years to get to this point. One has to have a high tolerance for inaction to be a politician.

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Beverly Diehl February 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

I think that most human beings are built so that we HAVE to filter out things, not be constantly aware of them, or we would go crazy. In fact, that may be part of the reason why autistic people often experience sensory overload. They see individual cows on a hillside, 22 of them, this brown one with this white pattern on her side, that white one with a brown pattern – whereas a “normal” person sees a herd of brown and white cows.

I know that I care deeply about the costs of war. I have two family members who are Vietnam vets, I know the toll it takes. I also care about global climate change and unfairness in the American justice system and a hundred other things, but I have chosen to focus the bulk of my efforts on fighting on 2-3 fronts, because I can’t do *everything* well.
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Ray Colon February 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

Hi Beverly,

That’s an interesting point about the filters. I can see how a lack of them could be a problem. Our filters do help us to manage the onslaught of information that we are exposed to. I suppose that my qualm is that those filters can be indiscriminate in what they distill — acting as blinders rather than filters.

We absolutely cannot spend all of our time taking up the banner of every injustice, so placing your focus on the causes that are most important to you makes perfect sense. Determining that none of the issues are valid, doesn’t. That’s where I was going with this post. I’ve spoken with people who are doing well and have decided that those who are not are flawed in some way. That lack of empathy or even understanding is saddening. There’s beauty in helping one another in whatever ways we are able to do so.

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Beverly Diehl February 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Oh, I got where you were going with your post, and it’s an excellent point. I was dealing with my own guilt over an “eyes too big for your stomach” problem when it comes to all the really important issues. I *want* to do all of the things, and feel guilty because I can’t, even though I know that’s unrealistic and impossible.
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Marry Me Knot February 14, 2013 at 11:11 am

“We probably looked better yesterday than we do today. Tomorrow will likely be worse. And so it goes.” Dr. Wayne Dyer once said we are given several different bodies in life, as though we shed our skin and are given a new one. This makes so much sense to me as my body continually changes and I remember what I once could do in the past, I can no longer do today. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say I looked better. There is beauty with wisdom. (Swinging by from Susie’s.)
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Ray Colon February 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

Hi Mary,

I wonder, can I exchange the last new body that I’ve been given for a better model? :)

Kidding, of course. I’m not familiar with Dr. Dyer, but I have seen that sentiment expressed in similar ways. If I were to review my own progression through the phases, it would go from gangly youth, to a runner’s body that was good for sports, to a fit but less muscular self, to the present got-to-get-to-a-gym phase. We can always improve ourselves physically, but only in degrees.

There is beauty in wisdom, but it’s not something that’s always apparent from a reflection in the mirror.

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susielindau February 14, 2013 at 11:40 am

This is so sadly true! We do try to cover the ugliness up and “conceal” the horror of suffering.
Great essay!

I have to say that I am only getting better with age! Hahaha! I threw out my super magnifying mirror… :)
Thanks for coming by with this link! Have fun!

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Ray Colon February 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

Hi Susie,

Tossing out the “super magnifying mirror” is a step that I’m surprised more people haven’t taken. The makeup mirrors that the women of the house use have lights and everything!

We can better better with age. I believe that. Perhaps not physically, (sorry) but in a host of other ways.

So if I’m counting correctly, that makes three people, so far, who have gotten better with age: you, Mary Me Knot, and of course, my wife. :)

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TheGuat February 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hey Ray … saw you at Susie’s party and thought I would stop by and check out your post and I’m sad to say that you’re right sometimes I do look worse the next day and concealer gets plopped on to hide all the lack of sleep :) But some days I look and think … man I’m pretty badass. I think it’s all about perception :)
But you’re right on looking beyond yourself and into your community that one needs no concealer.
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Ray Colon February 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Hi TheGuat,

It seems that our love/hate relationship with the mirror is inescapable.

I’m not immune to the mental concealer that I wrote so disparagingly about in this post. “I still got it,” has slipped though my lips many times — especially when I feel that I “need” to look good, like for an interview.

It’s times like those that I can talk myself into believing anything. :)

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Janice
Twitter:
February 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

All of my girls love to look in the mirror. They are young enough where changes of age mean very little. Me, I tend to avoid them because of the deep honestly they hold. Sometimes, I just do not want to see.

It is important, however, that we take a good look in our communities and take notice of what is going on, who is affected and understand why. The why offers the best way to develop solutions that can provide help. I spend less time with organizations and more time directly with people in my local community. We cannot solve all the issues in our country, but we can solve problems one issue and person at a time. I know that elephant is big, but imagine if everyone stood up and took a bite.
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Ray Colon February 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hi Janice,

The same goes for my girls. They’re too young for signs of aging to be a problem, but the appearance of a pimple completely destroys their lives — at least, that’s what they’d have me believe. When my oldest was a teen, she begged me to buy Proactive. I refused. Too expensive. She actually never did have a bad outbreak, but you couldn’t tell her that.

Individuals doing what they can should always be celebrated. There are many caring people in the world who give generously of themselves. Much is also done locally by community organizations to alleviate suffering. These efforts are not to be discounted, but as you say, the elephant is big. In order to address the larger problems of access, education, and opportunity in a meaningful way, I think that government should play a greater roll. If we as individuals see these things as worth doing, it follows that the government that represents us should reflect our impulse to do more and expand upon that idea when deciding how and where to spend our collective dollars.

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Bella
Twitter:
February 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Ray, this was such an interesting read! And it made me think. It made me think that you’re right about perception–sometimes we only see what we want to see. The way people perceive the cost of war, not just financially but also with the loss of human lives, is also varied. Some see it as a way to protect the world from terrorism and others see it as a senseless way to take control through force. War saddens me. I wish there were a way to resolve conflict without losing lives. As for the mirror, most days I look only when I’m not wearing my reading glasses. This allows for a blurrier view of any wrinkles that may be coming into existence. Lord, help me! hee hee! :)
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Ray Colon February 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Hi Bella,

Thank you! The suffering is more of a reason for my objection to the wars than the dollars — although there is a considerable economic cost. Since you are the first to bring it up, I can’t discount those who see it as a national security issue, because that is a real concern. I just have problems with how that concern is being addressed. Like everyone who has a view of our geopolitical entanglements, mine is skewed by my perception, which definitely leans toward non-military solutions being exhausted before we default to aggression.

“A blurrier view.” I like that. I’m near-sighted, so when I remove my glasses and lean forward my reflection remains blurred no matter how close I get to the mirror, so I can relate.

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