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The Wise Little Girl

 

In 1976, I was working on a graduate degree in education. My fellow scholars and I were required by a professor to observe a class of “educable mentally retarded” (as we called them then) elementary school children. Five of us settled in for an hour in a small darkened observation room behind a one-way mirror, chatting idly while we watched the teacher set the children to their little tasks. My colleague Leticia lit a cigarette (things were different then), and for a moment the flame of the lighter illuminated her face, defeating the one-way mirror. A pretty little eight year old happened to be looking at the mirror and saw Leticia’s face for the moment that it took to light the cigarette. The little girl’s angelic face registered shock then a dawning realization. For the first time, she realized that people were behind the mirror! Perhaps they had always been behind the mirror! Watching! Watching her!girl_in_mirror

She purposefully marched over to a group of her little friends and we saw her announce (we could not hear her) that people were watching them from behind the mirror. News of this discovery spread like wildfire, and soon nine little faces were pressed to the mirror, trying to see us. Unsure of ourselves, we kept quiet and kept the room dark. They were unable to see us. After a minute, the others became bored with trying to see people who were not there. They teased the discoverer of the secret behind the mirror, expressing disbelief. Then they ran back to their coloring books. She tried to pull them back to the mirror. She wanted to prove to them that she was right! They were being spied upon! But the others remained adamant. She was lying, they clearly said.

With great agitation, she grabbed a sheet of paper, quickly drew a stick figure, marched to a position opposite the mirror, and held the drawing up for us to see. Her message was clear. “I know you are there!” she was saying to us. “ I will not be swayed by the teasing of the others! I will not pretend that the truth is other than I know it to be!” She then placed the drawing on the floor in front of the mirror - leaving it where we could see it - and she marched off to a corner of the room where we could not see her! I never saw her again.woman_lights_cigarette02

My classmates admired her for her adherence to the truth she knew despite the doubts of others, but I had the nagging feeling that she had taught me an even more profound lesson. I thought about the incident for days before realizing the lesson to be learned. It was this: the only person in the room who knew the truth was also the only person in distress. Those who were deluded felt just fine about themselves and their classroom. It was only the little girl who knew the truth who was disturbed. 

I realized that self-delusion is a mechanism for preserving the tranquility of one’s mind. Those who are deluded are calm. Deluded individuals taunt those who see a different version of the truth and reinforce each other’s delusional mindset. Those who see an uncomfortable truth are often in distress, and their distress is made more acute by the denial of those around them that a problem even exists.

The Machiavellian perspective compels us to look straight and hard at ugly truth, examining and understanding. Consider a Machiavellian proverb: “It is what it is.” We compel ourselves to face ugly realities not because we like pain - we do not - but because we want to maximize our own satisfaction with our lives. Delusion is to be avoided at all costs, no matter what has to be faced. We probably can’t get what we want if we pretend to ourselves that things are not as they are.

I have reviewed the memory of my encounter with the little girl on the other side of the mirror many times over the years. Recently, I became aware of yet another lesson taught to me by that wise child. I have come to realize, like she did, that we - all of us - are being observed, manipulated, and exploited by powerful groups in our culture. Hidden behind technologies we do not understand, they meter and control us more and more as time goes by. Their activities are done in the dark, their motives unknown, their purposes unrevealed. Am I paranoid? Perhaps you think so. The little girl’s playmates certainly thought she was paranoid. As they all knew, there were no people watching from behind the mirror, were there? She must have been crazy or retarded to think so. Read a couple of the columns below and let me know if you still think I’m the one who’s delusional.

The opinions you see on this page or linked to it discuss a few political and cultural delusions cherished by many of our fellow citizens and perhaps by you too. -- Midas Jones

Read Midas Jones’ Opinions On:
 
The Demise of Liberalism, The Conservative Ocean, Middle Class Machiavellianism,

The Gospel Truth

 

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The Modern Prince:

Better Living Through Machiavellianism

 

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