Issue 38 / April - June 2002
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
I think that most people really do not understand childhood fairy tales until they are adults. But by then these stories often are not revisited. Joseph Campbell, vis A vis Carl Jung, said that myths, including childhood fairy tales, are best read as metaphors. These metaphors help map out our life quests.
In Snow White, the evil stepmother gushes: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest one of all? Most people think that she is vain, and therefore being vain is bad. But there is more to it than that, and if this is all we can impart to our children then we are robbing them of meaning. Actually, I do not think this is about our children at all, but rather about ourselves as adults. When we read these stories again to our children, its very telling about ourselves if we finally understand these stories or not, now that we have grown up.
If you are searching for wisdom in life, a child's library of fairy tales is a convenient place to begin. The imagery in fairy tales provides us with archetypes that we can use to organize the lessons that life teaches us.
The notion of the evil stepmother in Snow White talking to her mirror struck me when I was looking at myself in the mirror. We know that some mirrors do a better job for us then others. Mirrors that make us look horrendous put us off. Is it the lighting? Is this mirror warped or what? Do I actually look like that? What's going on with my hair? How come my pores are so big? But what I really mean is: Am I the fairest one of all?
I wish I had a mirror that did the job like the one Snow White's stepmother had. It was honest and reliable. But mirrors like that do not exist, at least not for our bathrooms. But we do carry such a mirror, and it is of great help if we know how to use it. To use it properly, we have to ask ourselves the proper questions. The evil stepmother asked the wrong question. She was not evil; she was unenlightened and lost in her own illusions.
Most of us ask the wrong questions but do not think of ourselves as evil. We ask if we are the fairest, the smartest, the happiest, the most contented. The stepmother was told that she was not the fairest in relation to Snow White. She was plenty gorgeous already though, the number two beauty in the land.
When we ask the wrong questions, we become as delusional as Snow White's stepmother. Unfortunately, many of us do not stop looking for a mirror that will tell us that we are the fairest.
Mirrors only show us who we are, not who we would rather be. We think that a new car would be a good mirror, but it is not. We think that a new, attractive mate would be a good mirror, but it is not. Neither is a high paying job or a lovely home. Such things have nothing to do with finding a mirror that works because this inner reflection, this mirror that we carry, never fails to work. Unfortunately, we simply fail to look, all the while asking the wrong questions to the wrong objects.
To be fair, it is difficult to look straight into our honest reflections. Not only must we contend with our previous illusions of trying to be the fairest, we must now contend with very real failings of character and personality. Guess what? I realized this weekend that I am not such a nice guy. Something like that can be down right depressing, but not if we realize that it is all part and parcel of seeing ourselves.
When we can SEE ourselves, we begin to see others; that is, we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. We also begin to question ourselves, not to doubt ourselves but to pose questions that require answers from us. That is, we make ourselves accountable. When we are accountable to ourselves, we are essentially free. We no longer look outside for the pre-digested answers so much as inward for both the questions and the answers.