Sunday, March 4, 2012

One- Way Mirrors for Looking at Others

 “I have a dream about building a giant, magic one-way mirror. Anyone who is upset about something small — their kid didn’t say please, or their house isn’t perfect — would look in the mirror and see a person like themselves whose life has been turned upside down due to illness or an accident. To make them see and appreciate how much they really have, and how things can change in an instant. If I had a dream, that would be it.” These are the words of Mr. Yitzy Haber,  the speaker who began our most recent unit in 7th Grade Advisory some five weeks ago.  Mr. Haber, Teaneck bred and familiar to the studets as a "Ruach maker" at Bar Mitzvahs, shared his insights on facing challenges. ( A link to an article about him is found the e-mail I sent you). According to Haber, mirrors are not for looking at oneself- they are for looking at others.  This reminds me of a tale I had heard as a child that explained that the difference between a mirror and a window is that a mirror is coated with "silver."  Oftentimes, it is the material aspects of life or unimportant aspects of life that prevent us from seeing the world around us, and force us to focus only on ourselves. The message of appreciating what one has by realizing that so many others have less than we,  is clearly one our students have gleaned these past weeks. 

Last year, I referred to the importance of the metaphor of looking in  a mirror for one's mental health. I had discussed how a significant aspect of this most recent unit "When Life Gives You Lemons" was to train our students to talk to themsleves. They learned about “self-talk” and “affirmations.” All of our inner dialogue, or messages we tell ourselves-whether while looking in the mirror or not, affect how we experience life. Some of our beliefs are dysfunctional and can sabotage us from success and happiness. Much of this self-talk is subconscious. Through positive affirmation exercises we utilize positive statements that challenge  and undermine negative beliefs and replace them with positive beliefs. What we tell ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves. Our students learned that it is good to remind ourselves each day about all the things that our good about ourselves. It is so easy to focus on what we are not good at. We need to focus on what makes us great. And, especially when faced with challenges, it is easy to allow the “negative affirmations” voice to win in our self-talk dialogue. As Henry Ford was quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can't you are right.” What better way is there to talk to yourself than looking yourself straight in the eye in a mirror?

This past week, our 7th graders utilized these skills as we closed our Unit in Advisory “When Life Gives You Lemons” stressing skills for resiliency and bouncing back from challenges in life. This week they decorated special pillowcases for cancer patients to use and to “snuggle up with.” But, first, they needed some training as to what to write on those pillows- all based on what they have learned these past five weeks in Advisory.

Mrs. Shifra Srolovitz, a Child Life Specialist from Hassenfeld Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at NYU Medical Center, addressed the students. Her job is to help the patients cope with the challenges they face in treatment and retain positive attitudes. She spoke to our students about how her patients face the “lemons” life has dealt them and the types of messages that would be encouraging for them as they decorate the pillows. The students then heard from our own 8th grader Dena Winchester about a place called the Inn at NIH in Maryland which houses children who are there for treatment. Dena highlighted how the patients focus on why they are lucky and not about the negative aspects of treatment. They also look forward to receiving little trinkets from the “Thoughtful Treasures” project. Dena will be spearheading an effort for our own students to collect trinkets to deliver to these children. (To learn more about this wonderful project see: The students then began decorating the pillows with pictures, jokes and “Affirmations” - positive coping statements. I was inspired as I watched the children consult with Mrs. Srolovitz and their Advisors to find the right words to send encouraging messages to the patients.  Our children learned that you do not even need Mr. Haber's magical one-way mirror to see others. Perhaps you only need to look out the window once in a while to notice those around you.

As the Holiday of Purim is around the corner, we think about the power of a positive attitude in saving the Jews. Esther pessimistically felt that she could not save the Jews. Mordechai challenged her and stated that if she did not go to Achashveirosh, salvation will come from another. And, so, Esther overcame the negative self- talk within her that was sending her messages that she would fail, and did save her people. That is the nature of the chag of Purim “V'nahafoch hu”- reverse it! When all seems negative, reverse your negative thinking and see the positive.

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