The Mirror Effect

One of Louis Armstrong’s last hits was a little tune called “What a Wonderful World.” While there is no doubt that Louis is the pinnacle king of Jazz, with a career that spanned decades, he also experienced the ugliness of the world through shady managers, Jim Crow style discrimination, and rejection by peers.  Yet Louis never lost his infectious grin and could believably sing – I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom, for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…. Louis seemed to see past the thorns of the world to enjoy its blossoms.

There is a basic human trait that we all share.  I’m sure that learned men have a name for it but I call it the Mirror Effect. The Mirror Effect is part of our default presumptions and affects how we react to the world and those around us. Our unspoken, and often unseen, assumption is that others are treating us in the same way that we would treat ourselves if the tables were turned. Let me lay out several examples.

  • A manipulator sees/thinks that others are trying to manipulate them. Thus every action by others is seen through the filter of manipulation. A corrective suggestion is not seen has truth spoken in love, but designed to manipulate and control.
  • My own is passive-aggressive rejection.  I tend to see silence and slowness as rejection.  Because silence and slowness are how I tend to convey my own displeasure and anger (although I’m working on that).  
  • A judger, one who picks apart and judges the motives of others, will assume that every corrective word is born out of the same judgment they have leveled against others. That every seemingly negative word or action is an attack on their character that must be defended against.
  • A justifier, one who is constantly excusing their own sin, sees the same in others. That any reasonable explanation for events or actions is simply an attempt to justify themselves and wiggle out of the wrong.  
  • A gossiper tends to fear that every whisper is about them.

The above is far from a complete listing. The problem is that we are often blind to our own Mirror Effect.  It’s far easier to read through the suggestions and see others than it is to see ourselves.

Jesus also taught about the Mirror Effect.  Consider this well-known passage, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NASB95) Oswald Chambers noted, “If I see the mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing that I see in you, God locates in me”. (My Utmost for His Highest, June 17th).

The good news is that we can overcome the Mirror Effect through the transforming work of Christ.  To do so is not automatic, Jesus will deal with us only so far as we give Him permission. The first obvious barrier is our blindness to ourselves. But this is where the Mirror Effect becomes a help instead of a hindrance. What we see in others, what we are judgemental about in others, is like a laser beam targeting our own sin. A second barrier is something that I call “One and Done”.  Simply put it’s a false notion that something only needs to be dealt with once instead of realizing that whatever our Mirror Effect is it is something very deep and embedded.  As such it calls for repeated refining which requires an honest and humble heart.

The Mirror Effect not only helps us to understand ourselves but also others. By observing how others react it is possible to gain an understanding of their struggles. For instance, In Luke 9:49-56 we see that James and John’s Mirror Effect had something to do with rejection.  In the first incident, they reject someone doing good.  In the second incident, they desired to punish the Samaritans for rejecting them.  Consider John’s primary message of loving one another which is found in all of his writings. I think that it can be easily said that John replaced his mirror of rejection with that of Christ’s love. That does not mean that rejection was simply glossed over but that it was responded to appropriately.  Consider this from one of John’s last letters,  “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 9–11, NASB95) Instead of calling down fire on Diotrephes head he basically says that he will deal with him face to face which (although unspoken) provides a means for Diotrephes’s reclamation.

What’s your Mirror Effect? We all have one or more. Have you given Christ permission to change you in that area? One final warning. It is easy to write this off as “that’s just the way I am.” Implying that you can’t or won’t change.  But that is not the promise of the Gospel. While you may not be able to change it on your own the healing power of Christ can and will if you will let Him. The end result is that the way we see our world changes.  We see blossoms instead of thorns, rainbows instead of storms, and the hand of God at every turn.

Dale Heinold
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