The Problem of Mirrors

Last week, I got the honor of seeing one of my all time favorite bands play an extended 17 song-long jam through highlights of their three albums. As Cities Burn isn't really a band anymore, but they are playing the reunion tour for Underoath, so they've spent some time re-establishing their set. They even brought in their original vocalist to power through their first album. I had chills all night long, but this is not a concert review, merely words serving as some sort of sloppy introduction.

Some of the lyrics to their song "Made Too Pretty":

We bear your name
And you let us say
You're something that you're not
As if you were made
After we saw our own faces
And knew we were gods enough.

I think we were made too pretty.

It weighs heavily on my heart because it strikes close to home, and I wanted to spread the burden around a bit. You're welcome.

State of Affairs

Evolutionary Biologists will tell you that humans were developed from pack animals, because we have an inherent need for community; non-evolutionists will say it is because we were created for Divine fellowship, but the fact of the matter is that even though we disagree on the origins, the need is present all the same. We do not exist in solidarity like some spiders and jaguars and rhinoceros, rather we have a pre-existing dependence on other people in some capacity after the initial birthing and nursing stages. It is true even of the most reclusive that company (in one capacity or another) is not just valuable but a necessity (though it looks different from person to person. Topic for another day).

How it came about notwithstanding (be it through naval-gazing early humanoids or Divinely breathed characteristics), humans tend to possess this thing that is different than the majority of the animal kingdom, and certainly to a terrifyingly larger degree, and that is the realization and acknowledgment of what Jung and Kohut and Freud and a myriad of philosophers and psychologists before and after them would call the self. It is the idea that there is a certain I who thinks and an I who has concepts of finality and eternity and an I who gauges reactions and feelings of both myself and the other selves around me. It's kind of a remarkable thing: the realization that you are separate from the warm masses of meat around you.

Self was also dangerous, because once selves started realizing that they were capable of independent and original thought, lucrative ideas like slavery and oppression became appalling. Seeing other people not as means to an end but as ends in themselves spawned entire systems of ethics. I is revolutionary.

Trouble

But I is rampant. Where it once had been disregarded, it now has been reinforced (Nowhere do you hear people imploring men to be "strong, confident, and independent"). Indeed, if we at some point were unenlightened, un-self conscious prehumans, we have swung quite to the other side into sick, self-obsessed posthumans. The company we've been built to require has turned into company we require in order to validate ourselves.

What is even more problematic is that around every turn are measures intended to reinforce this obsession with self. We're rewarded for promoting ourselves, be it through resumes or online profiles; through wordy blogs or conversations that start, "yeah, well I...". We have recognized that we're remarkable creatures capable of incredible good, yet rather than give credit to where it is due because of the beauty with which we were created, we are locked in a stare with our own reflections.

Perhaps fittingly, the more we stare, the more we find things we don't like, because that's what happens when we make this about us. Underneath the potential, we are still merely human and what could be amazing good will be turned into crippling bad the second we put our grubby hands on it. We start comparing ourselves to the other people locked behind mirrored glass and we wish we had what they had: their careers or their perfect complexions or their relationships or their supposed self confidence or what probably they spend an equal amount of time critiquing.

In a time when people spend more time and energy on "enhancing" physical attractiveness, we are the least satisfied with how we look. In a day where we focus our efforts on "finding ourselves," we are increasingly lost.

Solution

Indeed, when what we do becomes about us, the only sure outcome is disappointment. When we stare at ourselves in the mirror, we do less marveling about who we've been created to become and more nitpicking about things we don't like - not for the purpose of self-improvement and becoming better today than we were yesterday, but for the purpose of trying to be like the person next to us, who may be even more unhappy than we are.

The problem with mirrors is not that they reflect what is shown, it's that the eyes we use to see that reflection are flawed. Their motives are skewed.

I, like Cody, think that we were made too pretty. We were given too much potential. We were entrusted with too much power - for the things that we have that are beautiful are of God, but we've made them about us, which instantly tarnished them. We were given reason and we've turned it to arrogance. We were given bodies and we turned them into vanity. We were given selves and we kept them there.

It's one of the most majestic things that I've found about Jesus (and I promise I'm wrapping this up): because he was given each of these things too, yet he didn't corrupt them. His Reason he used to point to his Father, his body he gave up to torture, his self he commended to his Father's hands. He improved himself through learning, through testing, and through desert rather than through mirror-staring, and he didn't do it to compare himself to the people around him, he did it so that he could come up from the water and hear "Well done" from the one that was bigger than He, and the only one worth pleasing.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.