Being Mirrors

17 December 2018 Comments Off on Being Mirrors


This will be the last column I write for Bilkent News.

And I want to start with a story in this last column.

There once lived a bird. Like other birds, she ate worms with relish and avoided grinning cats. She had a family of birds she loved and other birds she was friends with. She liked flying with the others, especially when they all went soaring in a V-shape at sunset to admire how the last rays made the land below shine like gold or glow burnt orange.

She had one characteristic that made her different from other birds: she was full of rage. For a long time she believed that her rage made her stronger; propelled by her rage, she could do things that other birds would shrink from. For instance, she once woke up in anger and brandished knives at another little bird who was mischievously twittering before dawn came, just to disturb everyone’s sleep. The resulting ruckus woke up every bird in the colony. At the end of it, she caught a glimpse of the little bird at whom she had brandished knives. This little bird was close to her, and she should have loved it more. On its face was an expression that should have melted her heart. But she was full of rage, and her heart was hard as stone. Looking around, she saw that everyone was afraid of her because of her rage. This pleased her and she went back to sleep with her head under her feathers. A long time passed and she rarely looked back on the incident, except with a spark of rage at that little bird.

The passage of time left this bird old and tired. Once, while being pestered for a story by the chirruping young ones in the colony, she spoke of this incident. Alongside the young ones, a bird even older than her was listening in to the story. After the story was done and the young ones had gone off to hunt for worms, the older bird asked her why she had such rage inside her. For the first time, she questioned her rage. It had never occurred to her to think of her anger, which drove her to pick up the knives, as a problem. She realized how lucky she had been to have other birds around her who had forcibly held her back from using the knives. For the first time, she asked herself what would have happened that time if no one had been around to restrain her. What would she have done? Would her rage have driven her to kill? With a terrible sinking sensation in her heart, she realized that the answer was yes.

And it astounded her to think that she had not seen this danger in her rage before. It was so obvious! How could she have missed it? How was it possible to miss such a huge knife hanging around her head, threatening to tear her apart while she tore another bird apart?

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

You cannot see all of your physical body without a mirror reflecting it back at you. The mirror is impartial: light bouncing off your body shines on the mirror, and the mirror dutifully reflects the light back into your eyes. The same is true of your emotional self. You cannot completely sense what you are feeling within yourself if there are no mirrors to reflect your emotions back at you. The mirrors for your emotional self are the people around you. Just as the mirror has the ability to reflect the light coming off you, people who listen to you with patience and intent have the ability to reflect the emotions coming off you. And they can ask the questions you should be asking yourself before you are aware that you need to ask such questions. By yourself you might not realize, even as years go by, that you have a question that needs an answer, a problem that needs a solution. But from the perspective of being outside you, other people can sometimes see some of the questions about you that need asking before you can find answers to them.

In the stories you have heard, you might have come across characters that you knew immediately were doing something wrong. It is effortless for us, as viewers, to judge which characters are in the wrong. And why. And how they could change their behavior to change the situations they are in, and by doing so lead happier lives.

In “Naruto,” the main character had a mysterious ability: he could talk to anybody he met and change their perspective on life. It got to the point where he could even talk to his enemies and change their minds so that they chose a more favorable course of action. For instance, in one scene, Naruto interacts with an enemy character and convinces him that he ought not to destroy a people that he is hell-bent on destroying. (The people in question are people Naruto cares about). I thought at first that it was just an easy way for the writer to change the course of the plot. I remember laughing about the crudeness of this plot device while discussing “Naruto” with other people. But I have since realized it is not just a trick made up to serve the plot. Naruto’s mysterious ability is the ability to be an impartial mirror for other people’s emotional selves. By listening to and attempting to understand other people’s emotions, he can immediately pinpoint the question that is bothering them. And once the question takes shape, the answer is relatively easy to find.

But when you are in the story yourself, it is not so easy to see what needs changing. Each of us is in a story, and if someone were viewing our life from the outside, what would they discover about us that they would immediately point to and say, “This is what ought to change to make this story a happier one”? Maybe you are unnecessarily cruel to your loved ones. Maybe you need to explain how you are feeling a little more. Maybe you need to listen to what others are saying and try to understand what they are fighting.

It is easy to think we see. It is easy to think we know. But lately, I have the feeling that there are big knives and elephants all around us. Wherever we go, whatever we do, they hang around. We bump our head against them, cross the street to avoid walking into them, but we never really see them. We never realize they are there, hanging around, nudging at us and nudging at other people. It is not easy to see; we cannot really see, except with the mind. The eyes just make life tolerable by distracting us with color and light. We cannot really know, except with the mind. Experience just provides the data to do so.

Just as you cannot see yourself without a good mirror reflecting your image back at you, you cannot see other people without being an impartial mirror. You cannot help other people if you cannot listen without having the ability to reflect back just what is thrown at you without twisting the light coming at you according to your own perceptions of that light.

I have so many new ideas I want to write about, so many little experiences I want to share. But this is the end. I want to thank my editors Hande and Diane for their incredible patience and support. I am not sure I would have been able to deal with someone who was as chronically late for every deadline as me.