I have a betta fish named Bonaparte. He is small, red, and perpetually in a bad mood.
He glares at me while I work in my office. In fact, he’s glaring at me as I write this.
I was at the pet store the other day when I saw a betta fish “toy.” It’s pretty simple … a mirror attached to the base of an air-filled bobber. The packaging promised entertainment and exercise.
I was curious, so I bought it and placed it in Bonaparte’s tank when I got home.
He eyed it suspiciously from behind an aquatic plant for a few minutes. Then he went ham on it.
He flared his gills, charged at the mirror, and attempted to bite its edges. I pushed the bobber around the tank and he chased it from one end to the other, thrashing wildly and fuming mad.
Bonaparte was enraged by the small, red, fish in a bad mood who dared to invade his territory.
It was about that time that I noticed the small “5 Min. Max” label in the corner of the mirror. I took the toy out of the tank and did some Googling.
As it turns out, it’s dangerous to leave a mirrored surface around a betta indefinitely because it will cause him to enter a state of constant stress and aggression. This makes him susceptible to disease.
For a moment I was amused at how Bonaparte would get so worked up about his own reflection.
I imagined myself in his predicament: headbutting a store window because I didn’t like the look I gave myself or punching the bathroom mirror to smithereens every morning.
But the more I thought about it, the more I sympathized.
It dawned on me that Bonaparte has no idea what he looks like.
I know firsthand that if you don’t know yourself, you can spend a dangerous amount of time fighting your reflection.
For a long time, I felt threatened when I encountered aspects of my personality that I’d previously ignored or suppressed.
I’d get defensive, enraged at the guy who dared to invade my life. In this state of stress I would make poor decisions and end up thrashing wildly, fuming mad.
These days, I know what I look like. So it is rare for me to get taken by surprise.
I can see myself without wanting to fight my reflection.