The Face in the Mirror

In our most recent Salon 360˚, I was periodically visiting the various breakout rooms. On entering one room, I heard someone — a gentleman I know, with whom I’ve since discussed this matter — say something that angered me instantly.

In response, I did four things: (1) I shut up. (2) I thought about why in the world what he said would anger me. (3) I thought about what my anger said about me. (4) I realized blaming him for my anger would constitute avoiding and choosing not to recognize something within me.

That incident came back to me when I read “Walking the Talk: Shift Starts Here”, Dennis Pitocco’s reflection on that very same Salon session. In the list of questions that arose from that session, Dennis listed question #5 as this: “When something that hits our core is expressed, what do we do at that moment?”

Some of the answers are easy and obvious: We can avoid or change the subject. We can get angry, maybe even angry enough to lash out. We can blame whomever or whatever it was that triggered us. We can abdicate the personal responsibility we have for our own expressions, actions, and reactions.

Some of the answers are not so easy and less obvious: We can do nothing. We can use the time in which we’re doing nothing to think about our reactions. We can ask ourselves what it is about our mindsets, our environments, our experiences, our biases, our preconceptions, or our ideologies that triggered us. How could triggering us be the fault of someone who doesn’t know us, unless that person was deliberately rude, disrespectful, or antagonistic? Do we assume the other person is less entitled to his stance or his expression than we are to our own? If so, why do we do that? Do we ever wonder?

In an otherwise completely hokey self-help book, I once read this story:

A businessman decided to take his five-year-old son on a trip with him. It was the boy’s first flight. The man settled in next to his son and began to study some materials with which he needed to be familiar with the meeting he was to attend when they reached their destination.

Shortly after takeoff, the boy started getting fidgety. Not wanting to be interrupted, the man leafed through a magazine and found a full-page image of the world. He tore out the page with the image on it, ripped it up into pieces like a puzzle, put the pieces on the boy’s tray table, and said, “Here. Put this picture of the world together.”

Two minutes later, the boy tapped his father on the shoulder and said, “I’m done.”

Looking at the boy’s tray table in disbelief, the father said, “How did you put that together so quickly?”

The boy said, “On the other side, there was a picture of a man. I put the man back together, and the world took care of itself.”

There it is. We’re all out to fix the world. And we all think we can do it without fixing ourselves. We can’t. That’s the simple truth.

Grandpa O’Brien loved to say, “Charity begins at home.” He was right. Patience and forgiveness also begin at home. It’s up to each of us to find those things in ourselves for the greater good of all of us.

If we don’t, this long strange trip will be even longer and stranger.

Editor’s Note: Join us at our next Salon 360°


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. “The boy said, ‘On the other side, there was a picture of a man. I put the man back together, and the world took care of itself.’ ”

    Got me with that one short part in a totally excellent article, Mark! Amazing in many ways, not the least of which is how fast you wrote it … you must have seen Dennis’ article way before I did!

    • Thank you, Susan. Oddly enough, we can only remain united in these here United States if we take responsibility for ourselves. Individual responsibility and thicker skin will enable us to take care of ourselves first, better enabling us to take care of each other. “Put your own mask on first.” That phrase becomes more poignant all the time, doesn’t it?

  2. Excellent article and message, Mark! I had Viktor Frankl’s quote on my fridge for quite a long time as I practiced pausing, reflecting, deconstructing myself from the inside, and then later responding. Now I say to my SO (significant other) or other people in my life-after pausing-who are open to my external processing of insights—this is what I learned about what was happening in my boat-inside of me-this is the limiting belief, point of view, core value, past emotional content I identified that needed thorough examination-and maybe some of it got throw over board-out into the ocean of salt water and sea creatures who can feast on that energy. Here’s his quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Frankl, Author of Man’s Search for Meaning and Holocaust Survivor I happy to say that I know track closely my internal world for all those inside sensations-the slow burn in the belly of anger-the hurt in the heart of what might be rejection-the tightened throat, clenched jaw, or frozen eyes. Staying inside my body, I can track and clip the wires that would in the past lead to nasty words exploding from my mouth and that consistently make situations worse and the fearshame monster inside grow even bigger. I called it the anger-shame cycle…it takes much courage (and sometimes support) to break free of that festering loop.

    • Amen to every word you wrote, Laura. And thank you for writing them.

      Most of us will never likely be tested to the same extent Viktor Frankl was. But we will all be tested. And our ability to pass that test necessarily comes from within. The way we judge others is always a reflection of the way we judge ourselves.

      The only bogeymen are the ones we permit.

    • Thank you, Frank. The corollary to what you’ve written here is that we can’t ask of others what we’re unwilling to do ourselves, including — especially — looking within.