Consider the idea that our world is reflecting back to us the very parts of ourselves that need acknowledgment and compassion.
We all know the famous line from Disney’s Snow White fairytale:
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?”
The Evil Stepmother of Snow White is looking for validation in her magic glass. She is hungry to dispel a nagging fear that she is no longer aesthetically the most desirable.
When we step away from the well-known fairytale villain, we can see the mini, modern day magic mirrors popping up all over social media. No, we aren’t “Evil Stepmothers,” vying to be
“the fairest of them all.” But our need to be seen in a certain light, what we perceive to be a flattering light, is there for most, if not all of us. And we don’t need an Instagram account to possess a magic mirror: we can look in physical or spiritual mirrors, comparing ourselves to others, wanting everything from our words to our appearance to be portrayed in a way that makes us likeable.
Of course, we want to be liked! We are social creatures; the desire to belong is a human need. Yet somehow, our universal need to be liked, like other universal human traits and experiences, is forgotten. We start to see ourselves separate from others. Our often divisively perceived modern world is a mirror, reflecting back to us the parts of us that need acknowledgment and compassion. We may be able to look at ourselves with compassion, but we forget there’s another side to that mirror: the world reflecting back to us, starving for that same compassion.
Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun and author who shares an ingenious exercise for fostering compassion and simultaneously, dispel divisiveness in her latest book, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World. The exercise is called “Just Like Me.”
The Just Like Me offers a quick and effective tool to remind ourselves of our connection to others. The exercise fosters compassion for both ourselves and others, offering us a mental mirror to see ourselves in others.
The “Just Like Me” exercise is particularly helpful when we are in a potentially frustrating situation. Let’s say you are in an airport and your plane is indefinitely delayed. You could start getting all worked up about it (which never gets us anywhere), or you could look around at the other people in the airport waiting with you, “seeing the humanity of all the people” in the waiting area. Holding up that mental mirror to the people you see, knowing they—just like you—were on their way somewhere.
When we hold up the mental mirror of “Just Like Me” we are reminded that our humanity connects us:
“Just like me, that person really wants to be loved.”
“Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer.”
“Just like me, that person doesn’t want physical pain.”
“Just like me, that person doesn’t want hatred coming towards them.”
There’s another benefit to the “Just Like Me” exercise: self-compassion. When we hold up a mirror to humanity, we can see our own fears and hopes. Our kindness for others can be reflected back to ourselves. And when we are more compassionate to ourselves, we are more easily able to feel compassion towards others—a beautiful cycle.