Many years ago, I heard an expression, “looking through a glass (or mirror) darkly.” It comes from the Bible, and it always confused me. The language was cryptic, and it didn’t make sense to me. Life taught me a lesson this week that made me realize how much sense it really makes.
We all know someone who gets on our nerves in one way or another. Their habits, their mannerisms, their passive-aggressive behavior, their excessive niceness, or any of a million other characteristics can trigger a nerve within us, sometimes unexpectedly. I have noted this experience in dealing with a number of people over the years. Normally I get along with people pretty well, but occasionally, there is someone who just rubs me the wrong way. In some cases, after I got to know them better, we ended up being good friends. In other cases, well, they just kept annoying me. It isn’t nice to say, but it is true.
I think we all go through this at some time or another, some of us more than others. Perhaps it is a natural defense mechanism in us that is meant to help protect us from potential harm – that “red flag” that goes up when something isn’t quite right, and we need to be aware. The tricky part sometimes, is figuring out what we need to be aware of.
Lately, I have been observing some struggles in a community of folks that I know, where one person’s wishes and desires, expressed out of enthusiasm, or at least good intentions, has had an adverse affect on others around them. Because this involves a group of people, it’s interesting to see the same dynamic happening in multiple directions. The people involved have good ideas, and may be looking toward the same goal, but the differences in the path that each one wants to take causes resistance in the others. In the end, it ends up being a battle of right and wrong, when in fact, it was neither. It was just different ways of achieving the same thing.
We all have an ego. It’s part of what makes us unique individuals. It’s perfectly ordinary and natural, until we try to impose that ego on others. We can’t make other people behave or act the way we want them to. We all have responsbility for our own path. In this case, the two paths were nearly identical, but each journey had enough ego worked into it to cause people to dislike the other’s methods. It’s sort of sad. And sadly, they have a lot of working out to get things where they need to be.
What is even sadder, is that in observing this, I have noticed some of the same things in myself in my dealings with other people. It’s easy to focus on what I want, even if I am choosing to see it as being for the greater good of all. On a recent occasion, someone pointed out their observations to me, indicating that I have done this, and how it affected their perception of a situation I was involved in. What I want is not necessarily what is what someone else wants or needs. Maybe that’s why it’s so annoying when I see other people doing the same thing. I see elements of them in myself. Why am I annoyed? Because I’m taking the other person’s actions personally.
I think that’s what they meant by seeing through a glass darkly. When we observe a situation, our perspective is clouded by our own ego, our own expectations, our own values and opinions. We aren’t really seeing what is true, we are seeing a reality we have created for ourselves. Think about when you look out a window, especially in the evening when it’s getting dark. You can see through the glass, but the glass also acts like a mirror. Not only are we seeing what is on the other side of the glass, we are also seeing a reflection of ourselves superimposed on what we are looking at. We have trained our eyes to ignore the reflection and focus on what’s on the other side, but the reflection is still there, and our minds still see it.
Have you ever tried to take a photograph of something framed in glass? We see the picture or artwork clearly, but when you look at the photograph you took, you can see a reflection of yourself taking the picture, or other objects that were around you at the time the picture was taken. You didn’t see it when you were taking the picture, but it’s plain as day when you look at the photo when it’s printed out.
This is how we look at life. And the way life looks at us. Our attention is so focused on what we think we are looking at, we aren’t noticing the part of ourselves that we are superimposing on the situation. Sometimes we are looking with such intent at what we are looking that we completely miss the fact that life is trying to teach us what not to do. We don’t tend to see our own faults. Sometimes it takes another person’s situation or observation to make us recognize the things that we do the same way. Only then can we be aware enough to change them.
So if you find someone annoying you, think about what it is they are doing that is getting on your nerves. Are they being pushy? Think about what ways you may have acted that that is causing such a vivid reaction to their actions. Maybe they are that way because they have let others push them around in the past. Maybe you did too. Are they being passive-aggressive? In what ways might you be passive-aggressive, or appear that way to others?
These are just examples. It can be a real smack in the face when we realize the unexpected and far-reaching impact of our actions. It may not always be that we actually acted that way, but it might be something we are doing that causes people to see us that way. Or maybe we really act that way, and we just don’t realize what other people are seeing in us. Either way, our sub-conscious mind is sensitive to it – sensitive enough to trigger a reaction in us. Our objective mind can see things more clearly than our subjective thoughts, and it’s trying to get our attention.
Life has a way of showing and teaching us what we need to know, and sometimes it comes to us in unexpected ways. It’s up to us to pay attention and learn from these things. So pay attention! More importantly, don’t take things personally. Each of our actions is our own responsibility, and when we take on responsibility for others’ actions by getting angry, worried or upset, we are only causing harm to ourselves. It isn’t the other person’s fault that we react the way we do. It is our choice to react that way, and we can choose to react differently.
When you see something you don’t like in others, recognize that reflection of yourself in the situation. Take the time to understand why you are choosing to feel the way you do, then react with love, and thank them for the valuable lessons they have taught you! Use the situation to make positive changes in your experience, and the experiences of those around you.
For now we see through a mirror darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known (I Corinthians 13:12).