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The Mirror Effect

Do you ever wonder how to deal with someone else’s opinion of you – especially if it’s negative?  Not how to handle a negative or even rude opinion; early on you should have learned that politeness is how we handle almost any situation.  No, I’m asking if you have a mechanism or coping skill for those times when you discover what someone else thinks about you and it’s painful in some way?  This is not an uncommon experience and might be especially common for real estate agents!  (I’ll leave you to find your own context on that one.)  Personally, I’ve heard a number of answers to this question and they are usually similar to the one found in The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  While not completely representative of everyone’s answer, it’s close enough. This solution seems to lie in finding ways to ignore, become indifferent to, or otherwise devalue the offending expression.  (Mr. Ruiz, for example, points out that when someone says something about us, we should remember they are limited by their own view of the world – their own prism – and realize what they say, says a lot more about them, than us.)  This is both obvious and oblivious.  May I suggest something a little different?

The Mirror Effect
Of course other people see things through their own prism; so what?  Their opinions can not – and do not – hurt me in the least. How could they?  They are only words and, depending on your philosophical bent, the person saying them may or may not even exist!  If I feel hurt or pain (or happiness for that matter), you can be sure I am the sole cause.  I hear the words, I interpret them (through my own prism Mr. Ruiz) and I create feelings in reaction to my interpretation.  I create…  That’s where the wonderful opportunity lies.  The negative or painful (or happy) feelings are created from within.  That’s not just a difference regarding who is in control (per Mr. Ruiz and the rest, I am to develop some ability that will counter the hurt caused by the words or expressions of others – thus giving them the control and me the dependent action).  It’s more than that.  It is how we evolve and become happier and more peaceful; how we become more succesful possibly, and more free definitely.

Suppose someone says to me: “Sean, you are not much of an athlete.”  I would not be stirred by this.  I know my athletic accomplishments.  I know my athletic abilities.  I am comfortable with who I am as an athlete.  I may believe this person to be mistaken or misinformed or ignorant, but I do not take their expression personally – I am not hurt by it. They could have also said: “You are not as good an athlete as Michael Jordan.”  Again, I would not be stirred by this.  Just as I know who I am as an athlete, I know who I am not and my self worth is not dimished by this comparison.  If, however, ten minutes later this exact same person said to me: “Sean, you are a bad father,” I may indeed walk away in pain.  I am divorced and a single dad; I have doubts about whether or not I am being everything my boys deserve.  So when I hear this I may feel angry or hurt; maybe I’ll want to argue and “convince” this person how wrong he is.  Why is that?  Why didn’t I want to convince him of how wrong he was ten minutes ago when he brought up my athleticism?   This is the same person after all, yet what he thought of me as an athlete had no affect and what he thought of me as a father did.  What changed?  Obviously, what changed was my interpretation; my reaction; my feelings on the subject at hand.  The problem does not lie with other people’s opinions, otherwise I would have been hurt both times.  No, the diffence in those two scenarios is… me.

When confronted by an opinion I knew to be false (or at least believed to be false), I was not bothered.  My vision of myself, athletically speaking, was in alignment with my day-to-day experience.  But that last opinion, the one about my being a bad father, that bothered me a great deal.  Why?  Because there is a truth to it – or at the very least I fear there is a truth to it – that I do not wish to face.  This is, in effect, a mirror held up to me – and I don’t like what I see.  That’s why we can’t cultivate an indifference; the indifference would be to ourselves.  That’s why Mr. Ruiz’s answer is so off track too: how do I devalue the prism when it is my own?  I cannot.  Even if I could… what an opportunity I would miss.  What a blessing upon myself I would be throwing away.

The Opportunity!
The next time someone lets you know what they think about you and it hurts, don’t argue with them or run away from the pain or try to devalue what was said.  What’s needed isn’t a coping method.  Instead, thank them!  Thank them and mean it.  (After all, they were merely the person holding the mirror and nothing more.   Besides, this has the added benefit of messing with their heads.)  Then walk away and realize you’ve just been blessed with an intimate look at yourself.  A look we don’t like, no question; we’re face to face with how badly our internal vision of ourselves does not match our external expression of ourselves.  But if we’re honest about it, that look is also a revelation – and a roadmap to greater happiness and success.

Live a Life that POPs

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  • 10 comments

    10 Comments so far

    1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

    2. Scott Gaertner June 21st, 2010 8:26 am

      As a father of five, I can tell you that boys raised by a father who can write a piece that thoughtful, honest, and inciteful are in great hands indeed. Worry not about that area of your life. Thanks for your thoughts Sean.

    3. Bill June 21st, 2010 2:03 pm

      Well written post and you hit on some interesting points on looking into the “mirror”

    4. Greg Swann June 21st, 2010 3:53 pm

      Oh, man, I loved this post.

      I’ve not talked about this much here, but this is all a part of my basic ontology-of-teleology schtick. My argument would be that no one can either cause or prevent your emotional reactions. In that respect, the involvement of the other party is a matter of secondary importance. Any emotional response will have been entirely internally motivated, even if it might be influenced by your respect for that person — or lack of it — or by the relative accuracy or inaccuracy of the insult — or praise, for that matter.

      I think my own reputed imperviousness to criticism is a matter of interest for some folks who visit us here. For wannabe-dictators-by-sneerpower, my refusal to be moved — or even fazed — is a source of frustration. For other folks, I expect I provide a good example of how to keep one’s own counsel even in the face of a hurricane of howling outrage. In the latter case, especially, I hope I am doing a good job.

      But, I hope not surprisingly, I am not indifferent to criticism. I will listen very carefully to anything Jim Klein says to me, and I owe endless debt to Richard Riccelli, who taught me more about marketing with one withering critique — “Where’s my added value?!” — than anyone I’ve ever known. And, of course, I will always take Cathleen’s advice into account — even if I ultimately go against it. But, as a matter of general policy, before I give any thought to what you think, I am eager to discover that you think. Virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong about virtually everything, but the reasons for that normally have very little to do with my actually being in error.

      But: Criticism is no-cost market research. If you’re right and you can prove it, so much the better. But if you have been wrong, someone just saved you a ton of money by pointing it out. If you learn from your mistakes and do better going forward, that little bit of criticism may be worth a fortune to you. I can’t think of any circumstance where feeling sorry for oneself might have any actual value in the pursuit of splendor. But learning from your mistakes, however you might have discovered them, is the only route to perfection.

      More from me here.

    5. Don Reedy June 21st, 2010 7:59 pm

      Sean and Greg,

      A very dear saying I often quote, and certainly use in my own life, is this:

      A single raindrop seldom thinks itself to be the cause of the flood.

      Sean, your post meant a lot to me, and then it started to rain soup when Greg chimed in. I have learned so much from both of you.

      So I say simply, thanks to you Sean, for misting on me and the reading universe; and thanks to you Greg, for opening up a revered post from the past.

    6. Sean Purcell June 22nd, 2010 9:20 am

      Scott – thank you sir. That means a lot to me.

    7. Brian Brady June 22nd, 2010 10:03 am

      I remember when you told me this a few years ago. A few thoughts:

      1- You ain’t the athlete you was 25 years ago; I didn’t see you in action back then, though.
      2- You’re a helluva dad; I watch that one in action today.
      3-More importantly, the mirror effect is very useful for 9-year old girls.

    8. Sean Purcell June 22nd, 2010 8:14 pm

      Greg, I have to echo Don’s comment: thank you for sharing your earlier post. It is a thing of beauty to read.

      Criticism is no-cost market research. I love this.

    9. Sean Purcell June 22nd, 2010 8:25 pm

      Thank you Brian. (I think!)

      Seriously, thank you for your thoughtful compliment, and I’m glad Maggie likes this too.

      I use the Mirror Effect often with my own boys. When they come to me complaining about something someone else said, I simply ask them one question: “Were you bothered by their comment?” If not, it really doesn’t matter, e.g. I know I’m a great athlete, even if I don’t perform as often now days, so other’s comments do not stir me. :) On the other hand, if it does bother them, they’ve obviously just looked into a mirror and found something they didn’t like about themselves. Quite an opportunity, yes?

    10. Jason Improta June 25th, 2010 7:38 am

      Such a good point. It controls so much of what most people do everyday and as aware as I am of the concept, I have to remind myself. The power behind this concept is immense!