Comparison – Is it the pot calling the kettle black?

Why do we only see everything we are not when someone is showing us everything they are? Does our alpha male attitude assist us in doing this?

Comparison – Is it the pot calling the kettle black?

We have in society, well-worn sayings and phrases that we regularly repeat; ‘the cat that got the cream’, ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’, ‘the early bird catches the worm’, and ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. They are a shorthand of sorts; we assume we all understand and share the meaning that these phrases intend to convey. But do we actually?

The other day I found myself considering one of these sayings in particular; ‘the pot calling the kettle black’. I’ve used this phrase myself and heard it often repeated in newspapers and media, but never stopped to think about what it actually represents. I had a vague idea that it was about falsely blaming someone else – and whilst that’s true it seemed to me there’s a bit more to this phrase we could explore...

Picture a dark and tarnished cooking pot sitting there on the stove, scarred, and charred by years of intense boiling, sautéing and frying. The once shiny appearance the pot displayed when new has long since been replaced by stains and residue from much hastily cooked food, giving it a much darker hue.

On the stove top next to it sits a bright and shiny kettle, sparkling stainless steel – so reflective you can look directly into it, and do your make-up in it or see your smile beaming back at you. Only the rarest fingerprint obscures its pristine gleam.

If we imagine for a moment these objects could speak and have a chat (a concept I’ve often entertained when waiting for a cup of tea late at night), what might they say?

What if the pot, generally depressed by its stained and blemished life experience, looked out that day and glanced around at its companion the kettle, only to see a horrible grimy blackness reflected back. “Urgghh kettle you are gross! What a disgrace, you need to get yourself cleaned up, you’ve really got some issues going on!

But what was the pot reacting to? Not the kettle at all, but the sight it got to see mirrored back in the kettle’s shiny steel.

It seemed to me considering that this idiom had so much to say about how we relate to truth and others in our world today.

Some of us have made choices to honour and look after ourselves and lead a life that has maximised our shine and our brightness like the kettle; we may be old in age and have served our purpose well, but our gleam remains bright and intact.

Others of us have made different choices along the way which have led to wounds and hurts, taking on emotions and beliefs that have stuck and become engrained, built up like a patina or outer crust, obscuring who we truly are underneath.

When we see a ‘shiny’ person like the kettle, what is our response? Do we honour their absoluteness and applaud their care and integrity? Do we take them as a model of how we could be and salute them for honouring their truth? Or do we, like the charred pot, observe their shiny reflection, yet only see our own faults, mistakes and indulgences and then react to them for what we see?

Especially as a man, we are brought up to ‘be the best’, to thrive on competition, to out gun others and be the ‘fastest in the West’. In this alpha male attitude, there is no sense of brotherhood, togetherness and unity. Certainly, no true care for our bodies and the deeper sense of who we are in essence.

I know for myself I have at times had the feeling of being unloved, lacking in something and ignored by others. Recently I’ve struggled in this way with the love and attention my new baby son gets from people around me. But when I stop and consider it, are those emotional grievances really true or simply the end result of me feeling my own choices?

After all a baby comes along untarnished by cynicism and intellectualism, just totally self-content in themselves, and their connection with love and truth. They read the energy of people around them effortlessly and embrace what they sense without a single doubt. They unconditionally love and let other people in without judgement, suspicion or critique. They reflect back to us that we were once like that too but have let that shine become tarnished and blemished by the experience of life.

Deep down we all crave love and truth, yet like the pot when we receive the reflection of these bright shining beacons (or kettles if you will) – and faced with the reality of our own grimy choices – we often decide the simpler thing to do is to diminish, obscure or completely remove the light reflecting our waywardness.

Does this not explain the fury and rage in this world that is often directed at those who epitomise the very values we all say are sacred? Consider human history and we can see, time after time, how world teachers have turned up in our lands and presented simple and essential facts, only to be attacked vilified, marginalised and often literally assassinated.

Our history books detail our wars over Holy lands, affluent capitals and empires. But what if the truly substantial battle across all our lifetimes has never been about property, but light, truth and reflection?

What if we have in fact created a way of living specifically designed to diminish our light, to be ‘the same’ to avoid others’ jealousy?

And what different world could it be if we lived consciously aware of this devastating war of anger and comparison? And what if we knew that our crucial part was to lift, shine and polish ourselves up via our choices and self-care, to reflect back to every person in this world that we each have this brilliant gleam underneath?

Perhaps then we might finally see that the world teachers in this life are not inconvenient bringers of pain or harbingers of doom but are instead offering us a chance to change and return to responsibility and our true light. said the kettle back to the pot, by way of reply.

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  • By Joseph Barker

    To sketch, paint and question life. To cook, laugh and wonder why. To hug, hum and appreciate the sky, to look into another's eyes. These are some of the reasons Joseph loves life and is inspired to contribute to this amazing site.

  • Photography: Steve Matson, Electrical Engineer, Chef, Photographer, Forklift operator and student of life.

    I am someone that looks at something that is complicated and sees the simplicity behind it. Life needs to be fun and lived. Making mistakes is an important part of this process.