Masks and Mirrors

They say that if you give a man a mask he will show you his true face…


oscar wilde - mask


what happens if you give a man a mirror?

We know what happened to Narcissus,

he fell in love with his reflection and it eventually killed him.

We’ve been afraid of mirrors ever since then.


“I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne


It seems that one of the worst crimes of the psyche which you can commit is liking your own image…

but you’re not allowed to not like your image either.

Either way you’re doing something which will annoy someone else, and they’ll want you to stop it so they can stop being annoyed by whatever it is they see in you which they don’t find pleasing.

In some ways that was Narcissus’ problem.

He was cursed by someone who was angry with him, with the way that he was, they didn’t like his attitude and decided he should pay a high price for being a jerk (in their eyes), and so in some ways what happened to him was an extreme version of a scenario which happens to all of us at some point in our lives.

We all have at least one Nemesis

a spirit of divine retribution,

who decides to teach us a lesson…

a person who hides behind a mask of some self-righteous cause,

which they have justified to themselves down to the slightest detail.


“Minor magicians take pains to fit this traditional wizardly bill. By contrast, the really powerful magicians take pleasure in looking like accountants.”
― Jonathan Stroud


It’s not some personal petty vengeance, they’re doing this for the greater good.

Maybe it is exactly what they say it is… maybe it isn’t… really depends on whether you benefit from it or suffer for it.

Then there’s good old Medusa who was given a mirror by Perseus…

okay, he didn’t actually give it to her as a gift, he used it see her without being turned to stone,

that’s how ugly she was and she was proud of it… how dare she be so proud of being so ugly!

Why did he need to see her… to kill her!

He cut her head off and we all cheered him for it… and we turned him into stone for it (or at least we made statues of him out of stone, often holding Medusa’s head in his hand).

I’m sure he tried talking to her before he went for the sword option, but she just wouldn’t listen!


“What I wanted to say is it’s strange that those who ascribe reality only to things and not to our ideas move about so unquestioningly in the world as idea and never long to escape from it.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein


We really don’t like it when people don’t listen to us…

but we sometimes don’t like listening to others…

It’s not the same thing!

Of course not!


“I am provoked to compare, contrast, and contradict. It is a most healthy exercise, and one altogether fruitful.”
― T.S. Eliot


What would happen if I gave you a mask?

Assuming you liked it and we didn’t get caught up discussing the aesthetics of the object and your objections to it, digressing into your disappointment in my choice of mask for you…

Look. I bought the cheapest one in the shop. The only one they had. The one which was one size fits all. The one which had airholes so you wouldn’t suffocate while wearing it. Okay. Okay. Okay. I bought the wrong mask, it’s not okay, can we please move on…

Assuming you were up for an experiment to see if wearing the mask made you less inhibited about telling the truth or showing the face which hides behind your face…

Fine. I’ll go take it back to the shop, return this unwelcome gift, and you can come with me, we’ll chose one you’d rather wear…

(at this point I’m hoping it’s the one without airholes…)


“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.”
― Margaret Mead


What would happen if I gave you a mirror?

What would you see?

Am I in the reflection with you, beside you…

am I behind the mirror, playing the part of a temporary wall…

am I not there at all…

is this just a moment between you and your reflection, yourself…

not something to be shared for reasons of not wanting that privacy to be disturbed?


Ernest Holmes - mirror