Seeing Differently book from AmazonI recently read a helpful book, by Thomas Swanson, a collection of 40 parables, short stories each making a point to ponder, something to get us to think anew.

One such parable was “A Fable,” by Mark Twain. It begins, “Once upon a time an artist who had painted a small and very beautiful picture placed it so that he could see it in the mirror. He said, ‘This doubles the distance and softens it, and it is twice as lovely as it Mirrorwas before.’” Why he did not just do without the mirror and step back twice as far from the painting, we do not know.

Why he placed the painting and the mirror outdoors, we also do not know. Artists have their idiosyncrasies. Fables are, well, fable.

The neighborhood animals learned of this picture and wanted to see it. The first such viewer, the wily housecat, did it right, stood in the proper location, saw the reflected painting, and lauded its beauty to the other creatures. Not fully understanding the principle, the other animals placed themselves between the mirror and the painting; each looked into the mirror directly, and each saw himself instead.

One by one, the cow, the donkey, the bear, and the other animals approached the mirror, and no matter how close they got to it, saw only themselves. They criticized the cat for misleading them, although he had told the truth.

The wise cat concluded, “You can find in a text whatever you bring….”

We see life as we are, as though distorted by a fun-house mirror or colored by tinted glasses.

What to do about it? Suspect that our vision is imperfect. Question our assumptions. Seek more information and even contrary opinions.

Since “where you stand often depends on where you sit,” try to imagine sitting in someone else’s position. Change our prevailing attitude, accentuate the positive if we tend to be negative. Sail into the wind sometimes.

We want to be Twain’s wise housecat, not his foolish donkey.

Douglas Windslow Cooper



If you’re interested in reading Seeing Differently: Spark Creativity, Deepen Awareness, & Awaken Genius With 40 Forgotten Parables you can purchase it by clicking on the title link.

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One Comment:

  1. Nice! Thanks for both the book recommendation- I’ll have to check it out. And thanks for the little reminder to ‘suspect that our vision is imperfect’.

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