The idea that we’re the main characters in our own stories is important. Our lives are unique. We also occupy a different role in everyone else’s story.

To some, you’re a one-dimensional footnote. To others, you might be the antagonist, or for someone else, you might even be one of the main characters or heroes. The sheer number of stories we can share transforms reality into a broken mirror—with each of us transforming into shards with a refracted or incomplete view of existence.

Shattered mirrors can never be put back together again, much like how combining our experiences into one collective ‘reality’ would present us with a near-endless amount of contradictions and alternative perspectives.

Even a full collection of all of our experienced realities wouldn’t represent objective truth, since our perspectives are all inherently subjective. Compounding this complexity is the idea that we’re not alone in the world (or, possibly, the universe). Sharing our living space with other species means that we share our perspectives with the animal kingdom and beyond—with species that don’t communicate in the same ways we do.

Reality is simultaneously a collective of all experiences and a rejection of all experiences, because each living thing holds such a different understanding of life—and by extension, each perspective is as important as the previous one. Complicating this further is our transition into adulthood. Our lives are often clouded by financial strains, mental illnesses, workloads and deadlines.

The silver lining in a struggle with depression

Brooding man standing by sea, under grey clouds - Broken mirrors still reflect lightIn my darkest periods, I’ve attached all-consuming negative connotations or emotions to certain aspects of my life; namely, finances and mental health. In these times of suffering, I’ve shaped my understanding of life into a cynical wasteland filled with negative intent, indifference and pessimism.

Subconsciously, these negative connotations have been projected onto my entire worldview. A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they told me that there was light at the end of my struggle with depression.

I know how pervasive these thoughts can become—they cannibalize your mind. However, if I could go back and change anything, I wouldn’t. My experiences, while unique to me, have helped me develop empathy, and they’ve also helped me build my capacity to help others.

Simply stated: I fully believe in the idea that these struggles have a silver lining. We might be an awkward combination of competing perspectives, ambitions and values, but this doesn’t need to lead to selfishness or egotism. We can use our suffering as a tool to empathize with others; to help them through adversity, or be a set of ears that will listen.

Sure, during my worst periods of living with depression, I’ve thought about the universe as something that’s indifferent to me and the people I care about. However, in a state of recovery, I’ve discovered that this kind of mentality doesn’t hold much water. It also disregards the simple, everyday value that helps most people derive pleasure from their day-to-day experiences.

My views might be unique to me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t share similar threads with many people. Yet, saying this doesn’t invalidate my own views, even with such a plurality of outlooks that might contradict mine.

Even if we were to take a nihilist’s stance and reject the concept of a “meaning” of life (and, more broadly, existence), we’d still have the capacity to help each other and make our lives worth living. Feelings of happiness, community and belonging are emotions that are too strong to dismiss as meaningless side effects of an indifferent universe. These positive emotions are intended for us to create, revel in and share.

You’re exactly where you’re meant to be

As my wife’s wise aunt who recently passed away has told me numerous times, “You are exactly where you’re meant to be.” If you experience joy, bask in it. If you experience pain or sorrow, learn from it. These are the lessons she taught me, and I take them with me every day.

It seems that even in times of great suffering or turmoil, people have this amazing ability to come together and support each other. Likewise, humanity has the ability to do the opposite—to alienate, subjugate and propagate negative stereotypes about people who are different.

In my opinion, all good and evil in the world is, in many ways, a direct result of individual or collective action, influenced by an individual or group’s worldview. Importantly, people have the capacity for choice, which is both empowering and at times scary, because it gives us the option to create or destroy. The degree to which someone can act upon this choice varies, based on a lot of factors such as affluence, level of freedom and mentality.

However, in most situations, there’s an innate opportunity for us to show others that we care about them, even with a simple, “Hi, how are you?” The question then becomes a matter of whether you’ll choose to act on your opportunities to be a good person, or decide to use this personal freedom to wreak havoc on others.

Shining light on others and the world

Food bank volunteers sorting food - Broken mirrors still reflect lightIn conclusion, although you might not occupy an active role in most people’s lives, there are always ways for you to help change the world for the better.

Being a hero in adulthood doesn’t mean you need to save the world from some explicit evil. Heroism can involve any deed or mentality that makes people happy.

We might be typecast into different roles, depending on whose worldview we look at. To a degree, however, we can choose what kind of character we are. Of course, there will be times when we’re labelled as villains, regardless of what we do, but simply being kind to others is a gratifying and fun way to be that hero in someone else’s life.

Being a hero in adulthood doesn’t mean you need to save the world from some explicit evil. Heroism can involve any deed or mentality that makes people happy. For example, holding the door for someone is a small deed that might cause a chain reaction of positivity in that person’s life, to the point at which they look back on the day and think, “Wow, I’m really happy to be alive.”

Human beings are social creatures, and have demonstrated the ability to do amazing things for each other. We’re a species that’s capable of charity, community and empathy. There might be some people who want to tear others down, but that doesn’t invalidate good deeds.

This is what has always amazed me about us, and it’s something that will forever prevent me from viewing existence as just a simple, meaningless concept. Existence is so much more than that.

Like broken mirrors, we aren’t perfect. Everyone has cracks, imperfections and different stories to tell. Still, we see good deeds every day, regardless of where we are, who we are or what our situations are. In this way, although our pieces don’t always align, we all have the ability to shine light on others.

A perfect mosaic isn’t one in which all pieces are the same: Each piece, no matter what colour, shape, size, or material, adds to the artwork in a unique way. As a unique piece in a universe-sized work of art, how will you shine your light on others?

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image 1: Tim Sheerman-Chase; image 2: Pixabay; image 3: