Tag Archives: self-reflection

Bird Brained

I returned from a difficult morning run and walked the neighborhood searching my brain for the department in charge of breathing.  Eventually, after the wheezing subsided, I heard a strange shuffle-pop sound on repeat, which turned out to be a little bird perched on the passenger side mirror of a neighbor’s car having a little showdown with itself.  It was a good fight, but my best estimate was that it was headed for a draw.

It cracked me up, the stupid little bird ignorant that the enemy in the stare-down was simply his/her/its own reflection.  I admired the courage, what with the sudden beak attacks that were magically matched beak-on-beak, but repeatedly charging face-first into a piece of glass was pretty funny.

Until, that is, it occurred to me that in a sense I am that stupid little bird.  The absolute biggest threat to my survival is that joker staring back at me in the mirror, and although (most days) I don’t slam my face repeatedly in the mirror, it is true that no one attacks me more than me.

An honest look in the mirror, sizing oneself up, noticing flaws and so on, seems not only healthy but also necessary to effect any real, lasting change.  Beating yourself up, on the other hand, makes about as much sense as that goofy bird repeatedly catapulting itself into a mirror.

Take a Look at Yourself

In November, my youngest daughter gave me a little book titled, “Experience Passport: 45 Ways to Broaden Your Horizons” because, in her words, it is my “kind of thing,” which is true. The back cover reads: “Where will today take you? This passport grants you access to life-enriching experiences. Break out of your routine, learn something new, and discover the world of inspiration around you.” Woo hoo! Let’s go!

It was a bumpy start. I asked my daughter to pick a number between one and forty-five to get me going, and she went with thirty-two, which read, “Draw a self-portrait every day for thirty consecutive days. At the end of that time, describe how your portraits evolved.”

Well, I completed that task yesterday, and let’s just say that I discovered the answer to a longstanding question of mine as to whether I could be any uglier. It turns out: Yes.

Most of the self-portraits were tight-lipped because the few times I tried drawing teeth looked like I was conducting electrical experiments inside of my mouth. One night, while watching the local news, an artist rendering of a robbery suspect made me question my whereabouts on December 6, at least according to that day’s self-portrait. My Christmas Day attempt at drawing a Santa hat on my bald head looked a little too much like the Grinch.

So what is so “life-enriching” about drawing terrible pictures of myself for thirty days? Is it that my nose improved (the drawing, that is; the real one remains pretty massive)? Is it that in a mere thirty days my self-portraits are slightly less terrible?

Not too inspiring, eh?

On reflection, however, I think that the exercise is worthwhile simply for the metaphor: Spend thirty days closely scrutinizing yourself, blemishes and all, and if you can handle it, you can more accurately determine how to be a better version of you. You know, Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror, and all that.

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one is apparently a great time for self-reflection, so I encourage you to take a long, hard look at yourself, warts and all, and set out to produce the very best rendition of you. I just spent thirty days trying to do it with a #2 pencil and a sketch pad.

IMG_2325My Best Attempt

Starting With Me

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

Of all its strong selling points, my initial attraction to Pepperdine University School of Law was its Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. I recently had the opportunity to be a student again and enroll in the Straus Institute’s twenty-eighth annual Professional Skills Program. It is always good to spend time around peacemakers.

It takes two thoughts to explain my passion in life: peace, and justice. If I just said peace, it might imply a desire to get along at the expense of addressing the injustice around us, but if I just said justice, it might imply that we make things “right” with no attention to reconciliation. The subtitle of my blog—inspiring positive change—imagines positive change as peace and justice working in concert.

This is why I love where I work. Pepperdine Law pursues justice, and its Straus Institute reminds us to simultaneously pursue peace.

This may also explain why I have no hair. How does one simultaneously pursue these two lofty goals that often seem diametrically opposed to one another?

The answer I believe lies in Gandhi’s observation, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him . . . . We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, if you prefer a negative framing, Tolstoy said, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

If I want the world to love and respect each other while making real progress—and I do—then instead of primarily focusing my energies on changing people who I may never influence, I should change myself toward this noble dream.

Soren Kierkegaard reportedly once told a parable about ducks. The ducks waddled to a duck church where they sat in duck pews, sang duck songs, prayed duck prayers, and heard a duck preacher say: “Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly.  Fly, ducks fly!” The ducks all quacked, “Amen!” and then got up and waddled home.

For all our blustery talk about the state of the world, things begin to look up when I change me.