When we pass a mirror with a dirty face, which do we try to clean, the mirror or our face?
While the obvious answer is our face, often times we are more likely to notice the dirt on the faces of those we encounter without realizing that their faces mirror our own. Our outer world mirrors our inner world; what we see in others is also in us.
When someone exhibits an annoying or offending trait, rarely do we look inside to explore how that trait manifests in us. Focusing on the dirty faces of others is a way to distract us from what needs to be seen on our own.
In a story of a woman with a husband who compulsively lies, she takes great offense to the deception in their relationship. Because she was such an honest woman, his behavior was particularly offensive. Really? If that which annoys us in others is, in reality, that which we are harboring inside ourselves, why does she look at her husband, the mirror, and try to clean his face?
Because the husband’s lies were so harmful, the wife’s little fibs were virtually unnoticeable. Understating the cost of her new shoes or saying “yes” when she meant “no” didn’t look like a lie at all. Yet a truly honest person might put the husband’s behavior in the context of his pain and feel compassion for him instead of judgment. As for the wife, his lies bothered her because they were also hers, but in disguise.
A thief may rob a bank while we take a pretty rock from a state park and our justification is that our actions are harmless. Again, really? Hard to admit that stealing is stealing. If you could take one thing that does not belong to you, you could take another. And lying is lying. If you could lie about one thing, you could lie about another. This is how our self-righteous, judgmental feathers get ruffled, believing that our own minor transgressions don’t count.
It’s comforting to pretend that we don’t have inside of us the potential for every behavior and characteristic. Even though none of them are all good or all bad all the time, all we need are the right circumstances to bring out those parts of us that we prefer to deny.
Putting actions or opinions on a coin – heads or tails, right or wrong, good or bad – feeds judgment. Instead, plotting the whole of life’s possibilities along a continuum gives opportunity to choose better or worse based on our present awareness of the circumstances. Every time we toss that coin it unfairly weights the odds to reinforce the judgments we have already made.
Judging ourselves is pointless, too. Give yourself a break! While we may see black as black and white as white, the shades of gray only appear once we grow beyond that experience. There is an innate tendency to lessen our judgments as we evolve. In knowing that we will evolve, we can make room now for broader perspectives to come.
Allowing a person to express their entire range of attributes, behaviors, and feelings demonstrates unconditional love in a way that intolerance for any particular trait does not. If God did not give out any extra parts, then everything that we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly – must be necessary at some point in our lives. Fear, lust, and rage, all come in handy, as do kindness, humor, and generosity.
Accepting others as they explore themselves in the world, and the world in them, is an expression of love and compassion that bears in return greater awareness and less need to judge. Instead of condemning others for their shortcomings, perhaps we should thank them for revealing to us our own dirty face.
Now, when we encounter those same faces we can see them differently, judge them less and love and accept them more.