“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” — Sydney J. Harris
It’s so easy to be reactive; to allow outside influences to determine our moods, our deeds and even our beliefs. Mirrors can reflect light, of course, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to return a likeness of what we see. But reflected daylight is never as true and bright as what streams through clear, clean glass windows.
If Harris is correct in stating that education strives to turn mirrors into windows, we must take care how we define “education.” When we, as students, simply reflect back what we hear our teachers saying, or more likely, what we think they want us to say, that’s just another sort of mirror. There is nothing inherently more sophisticated about taking all our cues from an academic as opposed to a celebrity, or a neighbor, or a friend. If anything, it’s riskier to think we can be impartial about the views of those who will grade our work.
Education can turn a mirror into a window only insofar as it removes anything that obscures truth. In that sense, education may be largely a subtractive effort; elimination that facilitates illumination. When windows bring light, they are not the source of the light, but conduits through which it can shine. It’s not about us, what we know, what we can do, or even what we choose to reflect. It’s the process of clearing away our delusions and distractions, and letting the light of truth shine through us.