Mirror, Mirror…

We’re all familiar with those “How’s My Driving?” decals that you find on the back of fleet vehicles. Similar signs have also been implemented on cars driven by learner drivers, teenagers and even seniors.

I’m always somewhat reassured when I see one of those on the road because it suggests that the driver of said vehicle is more accountable for his or her actions behind the wheel. Being under the scrutiny of your fellow road users who are at liberty to report on your driving should, at the very least, make you more mindful.

Although the campaign is designed to improve road safety standards and change driving behaviour culture for the better, I actually think the “How’s My Driving?” slogan could be appropriated as a metaphor for life and lifestyle – with each one of us in the proverbial driver’s seat of our existence, steering and navigating our way through the traffic that is humanity, with our fellow ‘motorists’ bearing witness. In fact, you could even argue that a person’s driving style is hugely indicative of his or her core personality traits. But that’s another story for another time…

If you were to be asked, how would you characterise your driving, metaphorically speaking? More revealingly, how would others?

Of course, it’s quite difficult to assess one’s own self objectively. It takes an unbiased view and a healthy measure of self–honesty (not to mention courage) to be able to do so. However, if you’re fortunate, you might find a ‘mirror’ in someone else – someone who ‘reflects’ you back to yourself – so that you may appreciate your true likeness. After all, we can’t really see ourselves, unless it’s through the eyes of others.

I find such interpersonal exchanges to be extremely invaluable. When someone listens intently and provides candid feedback, they offer you a perspective that would otherwise not be available through introspection and thought alone.

It’s critical that you find the right ‘reflector’ though. It would have to be someone who’s capable of being impartial and fair. If his or her perception of you is skewed by too much emotion and attachment, the mirror image can become distorted or clouded. In my view, an ideal sounding board would be someone:

  • Whose opinions you trust and value
  • With whom you share a rapport based on mutual respect
  • Who knows you well (or long) enough to render an informed verdict
  • Who isn’t enamoured of you (a nodding sycophant would be more prone to mimicry than mirroring)
  • Without prejudice or an agenda
  • With integrity

Additionally, their appraisal of you should deliberately steer clear of any references to your outward appearance – that’s just superficial window dressing and not a measure of your substance and character.

And now comes the challenging part…

You must be prepared to listen!

Just listen.

This is easier said than done – because, when you ask for honesty, you have to be prepared for whatever form it may take. As adults we’ve all developed sophisticated filters, defences and self-preservation techniques to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be an attack or a threat – but if you’re in safe company, allow yourself to lower your guard a little and surrender to the process. Chances are you will feel a bit exposed, vulnerable and perhaps even a bit bruised. That’s okay. Just remember…

All you have to do is listen…

And breathe.

You may feel the urge to rally to your own defense. Try not to. That’s just your ego protecting itself. In fact, try to resist the inclination to react or respond at all. Instead, channel that impulse into taking notes for later.

When you’re satisfied that you have heard all you need to, thank your companion for his or her honesty and then retire to a quiet, comfortable place to meditate upon what was said.

That’s all.

Just think about it.

Later, you can pore over it, extracting anything that rings true and discarding things that don’t. But be careful not to dismiss something just because it makes you uncomfortable. It’s been my experience that if something touches a nerve, there’s usually some truth at its core. Ask yourself plainly and honestly, “Is there any validity to this?” If the answer comes back affirmative, then consider making a mental note to unpack it later…

At this point, you may want to get a second (or even a third) opinion…

I say go for it! But if you want fresh feedback, don’t allude to what was mentioned by others previously – it can colour perceptions and steer input. In other words, avoid saying things like “So-and-so said I can be quite judgemental sometimes, do you agree?”

If all (or most of) the people you included in your ‘informal survey’ picked out the same marked characteristics or tendencies in your makeup, then that would be a good litmus test. If they happen to be mostly positive qualities, then rejoice! If they turn out to be less than noble traits, then perhaps you’ll want to examine those particular areas of concern a little more closely – all in your own time, of course.

If you’re daunted by the whole process or feeling unsure as to where to begin, try this little exercise…

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of questions that I have presented to key people in my life over the years. You’re welcome to borrow them if you like.

If you’re (understandably) not quite ready to invite comment from someone else, then why not start by (truthfully) answering these for yourself?

  • What are some of my strengths?
  • What are some of my shortcomings?
  • What can I do to improve?
  • When interacting with others I spend much more time talking than I do listening,

or

  • When interacting with others I spend much more time listening than I do talking.

And

  • Why do I/you suppose that is?
  • How would I/you characterise my behaviour towards people (strangers, in particular)?
  • Do I add value to the lives of the people I care about? How or in what ways?
  • Do I/you like who I am and who I’m becoming?
  • Do I/you feel I have a purpose (altruistically speaking)? And if so, what do I/you think it might be?
  • Am I living the life I want? If not, could I perhaps be living one that was prescribed to me? How can I go about remedying the latter?

The above exercise may perhaps seem complicated and indulgent, but I urge you to give it a try anyway. All it asks for is honesty. I think you’ll be fascinated by the outcome…

To return to the driving metaphor, think of it as a personal roadworthiness test. With you at the wheel, the open-ended “How’s My Driving” slogan could transform the vague and abstract into something more tangible – by inviting legitimate answers to simple yet complex questions…

Oh, and (to use another motoring metaphor) don’t be afraid to ask for directions…

Safe Journey!

Imraan Vagar

Author: Imraan Vagar

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Interesting read.

    I fully agree with having the right ‘reflector’ . Asking the correct question is key, but more so, it’s how we handle the opinion and what we do with the answers.

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  2. Avatar

    Intriguing articles. More please…

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  3. Avatar

    I love this article. You write beautifully Mr.V! A bit hectic what you’re recommending though…I might epic fail my ‘driving’ test I think 🙂

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  4. Avatar

    I envy you your ‘mirror’ as well as your willingness to self-examine. One would be hard pressed to find the right person who meets your criteria! But I did I try your experiment on my own and you’re right, I was fascinated by the outcome! Very interesting article…

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  5. Avatar

    The questions you pose are deceptive in their simplicity. I got a bit tangled up when I attempted to answer them! Not sure if I’m ready to pose them to anyone else – and even if I were, I don’t know anyone who I feel could reflect me back in an unbiased, honest way. What does that say about me and my relationships? You’re lucky to have people in your life who meet the criteria you mentioned. Anyway, although a bit on the ‘heavy’ side in some places, I must say that I found your blog thought provoking and intriguing. Thanks, John.

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