The ‘Look Yourself in the Mirror’ Test

Jun 14, 2024 | Lifestyle

By: Brian Harris

I don’t know what your relationship with mirrors is, but mine is becoming a little hostile.

Ageing is not flattering and the image my bathroom mirror reflects back is somewhat disappointing. For all that, mirrors can do some wonderful things. They aren’t always of the visual variety.

I’ve recently had some auditory mirrors played back to me. In preparation for the release of my latest book (Stirrers and Saints – the hard cover copy is now available for pre-order) I’m part of a podcast: Stirrers and Saints- The Podcast. It has been the most enormous fun getting it off the ground and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how wise Jen Argue, Jon Bergmann, Aaron Chidgzey and I sound as we talk all things spiritual formation and leadership.

However, in listening to myself I’ve realised a few things I’d not noted before. I say “like” an awful lot. It’s a filler word for me as I gather my thoughts to answer a curly question. “So” follows a short way behind. And then there is a mild stammer I was unaware of. I’ve also got “my humorous voice” which sounds different to what I thought (don’t really like it) and… well, as you’ll gather, listening back to yourself provides feedback you don’t necessarily want to hear.

This is Not Self Flagellation

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an exercise in self flagellation. I’m actually really pleased with the podcast – delighted is a better descriptor. It’s more than worthy of a five star rating (a little hint there). But it has left me with work to do… I do say “like” and “so” too often. And I can work on smoother flow. And I’ve got to do something about that humorous voice.

This is a slightly meandering way to come to a comment from the podcast. We’re talking about the difficult decisions leaders often have to make, how easily they are misunderstood and how you might have to manage unfair criticism – and sometimes part of the unfairness is that because of confidentiality (which often binds you, but not the other party) you can’t say anything at all (it’s called “the injustice of silence”). In the middle of the conversation (and yes, after a “like” and a “so”) I suggest the “face in the mirror” test – which is one I often use.

The ‘Face in the Mirror’ Test

What’s the test?

After a difficult situation or decision you stand in front of the mirror and look yourself directly in the eye. “Hey you,” you say. “Perhaps you can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself and you can’t fool God. So that was pretty rough. But did you do the right thing? Was it fair, was it just, was it honest, was it true? Did you do it as kindly as you could?” I try not to rush through the questions. I argue back. And always I look myself directly in the eye. No BS allowed.

Sometimes the result is disappointing – really disappointing, and I know I have to go back and make amends. But often it isn’t. As I replay the script, and I go over all the options and complications, I come to a liberating realisation. I did the right thing. Then I say to the face in the mirror, “Well done you. That was pretty tough – but you did the right thing, and you did it as well as you could. You didn’t let yourself down. So well done you – now let it go, and carry on.” In letting it go I often pray a prayer of release: “Lord this is beyond me. I’ve done the best I could, but people are still hurt. I leave this in Your hands – knowing Your hands are the safest of all.”

The face in the mirror test. If I can’t be comfortable with what I see (and its nothing to do with the latest wrinkle), something needs to change.

Called to a Higher Road

It’s not the only test. In the lead up to Anzac day Rosemary and I went to see a hauntingly moving play, 21 Hearts. It tells the story of Vivian Bullwinkel and the 65 Australian nurses who boarded the Vyner Brook to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore. Bullwinkel survived the ships sinking after it was bombed by Japanese planes, and she and other survivors found their way to Radji Beach on Banka Island where they surrendered. In a horrifying war crime, she and 21 other nurses were rounded up and told to walk into the ocean without looking back. As they walked in, their captors opened fire and all were gunned down. Bullwinkel, though wounded, was the sole survivor – the other 21 hearts forever stilled.

Bullwinkel went on to endure horrendous deprivations in a prisoner of war camp, and in a moving conversation remembered by another prisoner, talked about revenge and hate. Rejecting both, she firmly insisted that she would not allow the behaviour of her captors to shape hers, noting that this was the only way she could remain free.

It’s a profound insight. In its own way it’s another version of the “face in the mirror” test. If we simply mimic the actions of others, we have allowed them to set the agenda. We are called to more. We are called to look at our own face in the mirror, and to answer its probing question, “Hey you, did you do the right thing? Was it fair, was it just, was it honest, was it true? Did you do it as kindly as you could?”