The Painful Glass Shard in Your Eye
The Snow Queen, which inspired Disney's "Frozen", teaches us about perception
It’s all a matter of perspective, and perspective is often a matter of choice.
Have you ever read (or been read) The Snow Queen (1844)? It’s a classic children’s fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the storyteller behind The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess & The Pea, and The Ugly Ducking. Elements of this fairytale are used in Disney’s Frozen, which hit theaters 10 years ago today, as well as C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
In the tale, the Devil creates a mirror with the cursed ability to make the beholder see ugliness in beautiful things, and wickedness in what is good. It also accentuates the largess of negative things. Everything is worse.
In the mirror, “the loveliest landscapes look like boiled spinach and the best people appear ugly, or as if they are standing on their head — their faces distorted and unrecognizable. The smallest freckle spreads over one’s entire nose and mouth.”
Yeah, this seems like something a demon would do. Knowing just how susceptible people are to their reflection and to first impressions, this mirror could change the hearts of mankind and the attitude of the entire planet.
And it does. In a battle of sorts with God’s angels, the mirror is shattered into billions of pieces. The shards, some microscopic in size, fall to Earth and bore into the eyes and skin of unsuspecting people.
We know how easy this is in real life. Anyone who has ever been at the beach has experienced a gust of wind that kicks up the sand furthest from the waterline. It gets in your eyes all too easily.
Once the shard is in your eye, your perspective is changed, as if you see through the glass as a lens on life.
In this tale, negativity and a sour outlook on the world is foisted upon unsuspecting individuals. It’s not their choice. But the utility of the story is to consider how the Devil’s glass shard may play a role in your real life.
Someone said something to you that felt like an attack. Was it? Or are you just inclined to take it as such?
The movie you paid $50 to go see in theaters didn’t quite meet your expectations. Did you try judging the film separately from your lofty expectations? On its own merits instead of yours….
You’re caught in Thanksgiving traffic on the road home. A total standstill. Have you been inconvenienced or is this merely a fine opportunity to exit the car and stretch your legs? (Yes, this was our drive home last week from Nashville)
Epictetus put this struggle in simple terms,
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”
Marcus Aurelius would later write in Meditations,
“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.”
Within Stoicism is a long trail of clever comments and observations about perception. If the philosophy were to be boiled down 3 Pillars, that would be one of them. Just as your eyes can deceive you, your impressions can as well.
Question your inner monologue, that voice which is inclined toward cynicism and wicked intent.
Maybe that thing your spouse, boss, sibling, girlfriend, or boyfriend said was not meant to hurt you — maybe they just lack your skill with words, and perhaps they lack some self-awareness about the way their words sound.
This is a choice. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined love as “The choice to will the good of the other.”
Sometimes it will take an act of Will to see the best in a situation, a movie, a person, or their words. Remove the glass shard from your eye.
Flush it out this week. And when it returns, which it will — rinse and repeat.
This is the way.
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Two new videos to watch this week
First, Stephen Kent produced a dramatic reading of The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. Campbell is read by William Walker Smith, and Moyers by Stephen Kent. This short passage from 1988 is about urban violence, social unrest, and crime…and how a decline of myth in society has led to more of it in American cities.
Then to follow it up, Riley Blanton of Geeky Stoics did an analysis of the same passage in The Power of Myth. He goes a bit deeper on how this demythologized culture is impacting entertainment and our favorite film franchises.