Life with a view…

I had an argument with one of my sons this weekend. He had been playing with his brother and inadvertently hurt him. The other boy, sobbing, choked out his brother’s name and told him, “That really hurt.” Fighting my instinct to jump to my injured child’s defence, I waited, expecting the other boy to at least apologise to his brother. Instead I he watched his brother hunched up on the floor and crying. It took great restraint to merely prompt a more appropriate response from the uninjured child. It took some persuading and the apology was given begrudgingly.

We spent the following five minutes in heated debate about the event. His steady argument and the eight words that have given me indigestion: I don’t see how that could have hurt.

A more appropriate apology followed and the two boys made peace with one-another quickly-it is one of the things I admire most about them-but the attitude behind those eight words plagued me all day. They lingered there just below the surface, irritating and infuriating me through the day (the attitude behind the words, not the boy), mocking and itching in the corner of my mind until the most amazing thing happened, a picture floated into my mind, a picture that might just be one of the keys to a healthy and happy life:

Imagine you are standing face to face with your best friend/partner/loved one. Imagine a mirror rising up between you . The mirror is facing you and hides the person opposite you. You are now looking at a life-sized reflection of yourself from the waist up. Now imagine that someone extends your hand behind the mirror and puts something in it. You cannot see what it is because the mirror is obscuring your view, but you can feel that  it has a comfortable, ergonomic handle and that it is lightweight. You swing it around a little to get a feel for what might project from the handle. It feels light and firm. It hits something. All you feel is a light vibration in the handle and the resistance of whatever it scraped against, but it does not hurt. Your loved one says your name and there is the hint of something in their voice that reeks of disapproval or shock maybe? You swing the object in your hand more confidently and this time there is next to no resistance and the third time, none at all. You have felt no discomfort and  little or no resistance, experienced no negative impact and, apart from the odd unusual sound from behind the mirror, there is nothing to concern you… Until you withdraw your hand and see that you have been wielding a small but sharp dagger, it’s point tipped with blood. When you peer behind the mirror, your loved one (if you are lucky) is nursing a wound somewhere out of reach or (if you are not) has disappeared.

Lesson one: When you cannot see anyone but yourself, you cannot see the damage you are doing, the wounds you are inflicting and the people  you are alienating. You cannot depend only on what you feel, on the feedback your own reflection gives you or the assumptions you make. This is true REGARDLESS OF YOUR INTENTION. We rarely hurt those we love intentionally, but we cannot judge the impact of our actions on intentionality but on outcome. This does not say anything about the kind of person you are, it merely acknowledges the success (or otherwise) of your actions. How many times have I unwittingly blurted out my opinions and preferences and even good news without considering the impact it might have on those closest to me. I have assumed that my loved ones will be happy for my success, convinced by my convictions and grateful for my advice looking only at my own feelings and my own reflection (responses) for confirmation that I have acted correctly. Sure, trust yourself and your instincts, but temper them and refine them in the context of the impact you are having on those around you!

Imagine now that you have dropped the weapon and have learned lesson one; you will never again act before you are sure of what is in your hand. But there are still so many dangers there.

Our children look to us to show them their worth, to praise their strengths, to show them who they are. They look into our faces and see themselves reflected there. They have no self-insight, they rely on ours. How much damage will I do if I see only me reflection, when my responses are tainted by the things I see in myself (both good and bad)? Am I handing down my limitations and insecurities? Am I reflecting their worth or my low self-worth? Am I praising their strengths or overlooking them because they are not my own? How many times have I rolled my eyes because my son is not as tidy as I am or because my husband takes twice as long as me to do the chores? What reflection do they see of their worth when I do that? What am I communicating when my three year old asks if I can play play dough with him and I tell him that I am too busy writing this to sit with him? Isn’t he more important than the screen I am looking at? [I did stop, by the way, and show him how precious he is to me. I hope you didn’t mind the wait too much! But if I want him to be my friend when he is 35, I need to build a friendship with him today, while he is 3, so that we have a history of being friends as well as family. LAst time I checked, just accepting a friend request from a person-parent or otherwise-does not build an actual friendship. Only time and play dough do that : )…]

When we look only at our own reflection, we can only see that which is before us. We are blind to the possibilities that lie ahead, the friendships that await, the beauty that lies within us. All we can see is a limited, one-dimensional, back-to-front image of ourselves. Anyone who has spent more than a few seconds in front of the mirror will know that the longer you look at yourself, the bigger your flaws become. The harder you study yourself, the more freckles and blemishes you see, the more hairs look out of place, the more you see that you want to change. I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution is to lose the intimate relationship with my own reflection and build one with my inner self, but not a relationship that excludes the feedback and impact of those around me, but that is tempered and moderated by them. My friends see fewer of my flaws than I do but also more of my strengths. My children value me more than I value myself and loving them has made me a better person. I wonder how many times I have missed the path at my feet because I was looking at myself in that mirror instead of at the path at my feet? How many job opportunities have slipped by because I didn’t thinkI was capable? How many opportunities because I couldn’t imagine them? Too many.

I want to live a life with a view. I am not a view. I need to look somewhere else!

There are an excessive number of question marks in this blog because I have an excessive number of questions that remain unanswered. I think there will be many more hours spent thinking about this amazing analogy. I hope some of them will be yours too!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kate Swaffer
    Sep 04, 2011 @ 09:39:57

    Such lovely words Arianne, these words are a reflection of some of my thoughts when my boys were muh younger… I hope I have lived up to them! I feel sure you will. Live, love, enjoy. x

    Like

    Reply

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