I recently came across the phrase “hall of mirrors”, used as a metaphor to represent our “whimsical culture”, our “fragile and rapidly changing identities” and “needing a lot of affirmation”1. I took the point and could see from the mental picture that had formed in my mind, how this analogy could work.
But it surprised me. Because this is not at all how I feel about a hall of mirrors.
To me such a hall is a promise of wonder, possibility, and exciting, mysterious opportunity. I ended a piece of writing for the TasWeekend Magazine at the time of Tasmania’s 2021 election, with these words:
“like a tunnel of mirrors [positive] qualities are effortlessly doubled and redoubled and returned to us… Offering us all a silvery, shining passage to the shared future around the bend.”
When I was a child, my grandmother had a bathroom that was magically pink with a fancy, curling, golden-trimmed vanity unit on elegant legs and an enormous mirror atop. The mirror had gentle lights down the sides and hinged mirrored wings. When I faced the central mirror and turned on the lights, I could move the wings to oppose each other, then lean in and see a never ending corridor of golden-lit possibility, caressing itself with careful excitement in its ever-building, ever-calling opportunity of entwined reality and dreams.
No doubt the cupboard of fairytale pink and my hours of wondering in front of it, shaped my associations of a hall of mirrors forever. A “fragile identities” interpretation was not planted in me. So when I encountered this analogy in my book, it jarred enough to send me back to remind myself how I had used the mirror metaphor in May 2021.
And then I thought I might reprise the piece, because of course it’s election time again. Federal this time.
Moreover, I’ve got a few courageous friends, who are trying their hand at the Senate. They are clear in their identities (not fragile). And they are clear in their leadership responsibilities. The burgeoning of positive qualities and joint decisions reflected back and forth between citizens and leaders form the platform on which they stand.
So a shout-out to the Local Party. To Anna Bateman, Leanne Minshull, and Scott Rankin. I hope their dreams for our community come true.
They are heading into a world that will be simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. For one thing, there will be lots of champagne parties to attend.
Now I really love a good champagne party. In 2017, as that year’s Tasmanian of the Year, I had opportunity for lots of them. But by the end of 2017, I noticed that I was getting tired of gatherings around bubbles. The tight whirl did not permit the same quiet reflection time I was more used to. I missed it.
The busyness of the agenda also put my mind into a bit of a whirl. I noticed that it was harder to straighten out some thoughts without others interfering. It was harder to muster deep focus. I had to be quite intentional about these things. There was a lot going on in there. Some of it was clattering around, some of it inching along, some shouting rampantly, and some waiting patiently for the right moment.
I also had opportunity to see who else was at the many community parties. I met our political and public service leaders. Then I met them again at the next event. And again, at the next. I saw those who were at everything. It gave me a sneak-peek on the work and life of public leaders. Their presence at local events gave communities the important knowledge that the work and the individuals of those communities were seen and valued. We need our leaders to help our courage in this way. It is one of the important faces of public service.
Seeing all this, I moved past cynicism about ‘photo-ops’ (most often there weren’t such ‘ops’). I saw determination and care, jumbled with crazy schedules and busy minds pulled in every direction. I wondered about the ultimate shaping effect of this combination of forces.
By the end of 2017, in my state of champagne-party-exhaustion, I found myself thinking about how my experience lasted for a year – but these leaders were doing this year in, year out, often over many years.
Reflecting on the more scrambled state of my mind in the 2017 busyness, I really wondered how we can expect our leaders to make good decisions while living like this. But they must make good decisions. For they steward power that extends over so many lives and the future of our incredible planet.
At the end of 2017, I handed over to Scott Rankin and went back to a normal(ish) life. But when do our leaders get opportunity for ‘normal’? And for deep reflection?
Then I got to wondering about how responsible it is that our nation, state, and communities are run this way. By people, so many of whom have schedules that demand that they get little, if any, spacious steadiness. People who fly along on the fly with good intentions and desire, but perhaps without the most supportive opportunities for the circumspect reflective practice that humans need to function optimally and with wisdom. They’re thrust into a machine of fierce contradiction and paradox. There is much to do, and yet it can’t be done well without some pause.
Reflection cultivates our better selves. Without overwhelming us with insights we cannot handle, it gently unwraps new views of our strengths and weaknesses. It grows our courage to own them both. It helps us see what to do to make progress. And to make repair when we err. It nurtures our mindedness of others. And of ourselves. It helps us forgive. Others and ourselves. It steadies us when there is much to weigh and balance; when there are many variables to hold. It helps us clear a careful path when we traverse untrodden scapes. It helps us apprehend wisdom.
These are qualities I would wish for those who lead us. For their wellbeing… redounding to ours.
We’re coming again, into election-day shuffling of our political leaders. Regardless of how this shuffling finally settles, I wish for them all, the space in their lives to regularly find quiet. To breathe deeply and let their minds untighten. To allow themselves to gently feel their unique creativity and the colours it can harmoniously contribute to the canvas of our nation. To move from the centre of their truthfulness. And within their daily doings, to connect to all that is. To do no harm. To remember, each day, who they are and why they serve. To respond generously rather than to react. To be grateful. And kind. And calm. To live lives in which their humanity is seen.
And I would wish that as community, we reflect all this back to them. So that like a tunnel of mirrors these qualities are effortlessly doubled and redoubled and returned to us who elected them. Offering us all a silvery, shining passage to the shared future around the bend.
We ask a lot of our leaders. I wonder how it might be for us all, to consider that care for everyone within our community, includes our mindful care of them.
A version of this article was first published in the TasWeekend Magazine of Hobart’s The Mercury Newspaper in May 2021.
1. Rohr, R. (2009), The Naked Now: Learning to see as the mystics see, Crossroads Publishing Company, p19.