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Holten: The art of reflection

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Kevin Holten2 / 2

Do you think you could go through life without ever seeing yourself in a mirror? Noah probably did, and maybe even Adam and Eve.

Of course, each of them had the option of looking at their reflections in a quiet pond. Nevertheless, the angle more than likely left something to be desired and, for Eve, putting on makeup had to be harder than driving in fog without windshield wipers or seeing through tears.

"Eve," Adam might have said, "we're having dinner with my boss tonight and you've got lipstick on your chin and mascara on your cheek."

"Well, if you want me to look better, you should invent a mirror," Eve said.

"A what?" Adam asked.

"Nevermind," she said and rolled her eyes as she bit into another apple.

The truth is, vanity drove people to invent mirrors a lot earlier in man's evolutionary process than you might think. In fact, the men and women who lived in what is modern-day Turkey used pieces of polished obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, as a mirror as far back as 6000 BC.

The Babylonians and Egyptians crafted mirrors using copper beginning in 4000 to 3000 BC and people in China and India produced copper, bronze and speculum alloy mirrors way back in 2000 BC.

Mirrors using glass as a component were invented in modern-day Lebanon in the first century and around that same time, the Romans invented a method for creating crude mirrors by coating blown glass with molten lead.

Skipping ahead to the 16th century, Venice became the epicenter of mirror production by using a superior method of coating glass with a tin-mercury amalgam.

But the invention of the first modern mirror is credited to German chemist Justus von Liebig, who in 1835 perfected the technique of applying a layer of metallic silver to the back of a pane of glass through the chemical reduction of silver nature, and that's when modern-day vanity really took off.

But if you're like me, you've used a mirror a million times and, like a lot of things, you don't have a clue how it works.

Apparently what happens is that all light waves have a certain vibrational frequency and if they hit objects that have the same frequency, they are simply absorbed and become "part of the family." It's a little like when your daughter brings a dude home from college and you like him and invite him in, because he seems to fit in. The next thing you know he's the father of your grandson and drinking most of the beer in your fridge.

Reflected light waves, on the other hand, are the ones that hit a surface with a different vibrational frequency and the electrons of the atoms on that material's surface vibrate for short periods of time and then re-emit the energy as a reflected light wave. In other words, that's when you invite the same dude in for a few minutes and he says he never eats meat, loves sushi and soy products, plans to sleep with your daughter under your roof and has talked your daughter into never shaving her armpits. So you quickly blow your top and throw him out the front door quicker than Adrian Peterson runs the 40 or your wife spends your paycheck.

Of course, there's also another kind of reflection which is quickly becoming a lost art in contemporary America, and that is when you actually stop for a minute and think about what you're doing, which, come to think of it, Eve wasn't real good at either.

Because from quiet reflection comes more effective action.

Or as Confucius once said, "There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest."

But maybe Margaret J. Wheatley, the American author and management consultant put it best when she said, "Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful."

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at