Hell in the Mirror

The laws of moral nature answer to those of matter as face to face in a glass.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I worked with a man who was bright, energetic and engaging but drove people crazy because he didn't listen.  Whenever he encountered opposition, he would talk faster and at great length, hoping to wear people down.  He was never belligerent, just irritatingly persistent.  He would rarely take no for an answer.  If he found his way blocked, he would simply back up and shift into a lower gear, hoping to bull his way through.  More often than not, he prevailed simply because most people would rather move on. 

I found myself increasingly annoyed by this man and wondered whether I would ever be able to find a way to work with him.  I was not alone in these feelings.   However, I usually try to get along with people and was surprised that I had allowed him to get under my skin.  Then it finally dawned on me that the things I found so annoying about him were precisely the things that my wife found objectionable about me.  She had complained for years that I didn't listen and insisted on getting my own way.  I might have taken this to heart, except I wasn't listening (a chronic deficiency among husbands, I am told). 

I discovered long ago that the circumstances of your life will always confront you with the limitations of your self.  When you get stuck, there is no sense in blaming others or railing against your fate.  If you fail to come to grips with a situation or try to worm your way out of it, you will succeed only in postponing the inevitable.  Sooner or later, you must bow to your circumstances and learn from them; otherwise, they will repeat themselves until you have mastered everything that life has to teach you. 

In Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, three damned souls are locked for eternity in an overheated drawing room with no windows or mirrors.  They eventually come to realize that hell has no need for medieval torture chambers when they have one another.  Or, as one of the room's occupants observes: "Hell is other people."  There is no need for a mirror in this place, because they have only to look upon another to see the defect of their own souls.  Other people merely provide them with a different angle on the true object of their enmity.   Take away this mirror and a terrible truth emerges: hell is yourself.

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