Mirror Images

I try to practice what I preach; I’m not always that good at it but I really do try. The other night, I was getting hard-hearted, closed-minded, and fundamentalist about somebody else, and I remembered this expression that you can never hate somebody if you stand in their shoes. I was angry at him because he was holding such a rigid view. In that instant I was able to put myself in his shoes and I realized, “I’m just as riled up, and self-righteous and closed-minded about this as he is. We’re in exactly the same place!” And I saw that the more I held on to my view, the more polarized we would become, and the more we’d be just mirror images of one another—two people with closed minds and hard hearts who both think they’re right, screaming at each other. It changed for me when I saw it from his side, and I was able to see my own aggression and ridiculousness.  –Pema Chodron


Years ago, I had a client who had just gotten out of prison.  He was gay and he was  from the Deep South and he seemed to be extremely racist.  It was “nigger” this and “nigger” that spoken in his thick Louisiana accent….and after awhile it got to me.  I could see that this man was in pain, but finally I told him that his racism was bothering me and keeping me from seeing him as he really was.  How could we deal with this, I asked.  I was a young therapist at that time, very idealistic, and I might not handle a situation like that now, but I handled it that way then, and it was pretty self-centered of me.

I honestly didn’t expect to see him again, and when he appeared at our meeting the next week, he admitted he didn’t want to come.  But he told me something I needed to know.  He told me that when he was in prison, he was raped by two black men.  He hadn’t been so racist before that, he said.  He cried, and I felt grateful he’d given me a second chance.  It was an excellent lesson for me, and I’d like to think I’ve been less stupid since.

One could remark that “just” having had a bad experience didn’t vindicate a racist attitude,but we are all on different levels of both spirituality and intelligence, and for me, acting in the capacity of healer, his pain had to be addressed first.

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