Case for the examined life

outloud title bar[notice]A monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants
His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]

eyeDuring the past few weeks, the topic of ‘self awareness’ (also sometimes referred to as ‘introspection’ or ‘self knowledge’) has arisen in several conversations I have had with colleagues and friends. It came up again in a workshop that I attended just this week.

Self awareness is about understanding our own needs, desires, strengths and weaknesses and what makes us “tick”. However, self knowledge involves more than just an intellectual self-examination – it requires that we ‘dig deep’ into our feelings as well. The habit of self-examination reveals established patterns of behaviour, and when we take the time to contemplate our own behaviour, we are better able to understand why we do what we do and hopefully, avoid unconscious repetition of destructive behaviours. This is not navel gazing or self absorption; it is purposeful introspection so that we can enjoy healthy relationships with others and lead more fulfilling lives. Socrates made the following statement: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In other words, his claim was that it is only in striving to come to know ourselves and to better understand ourselves that our lives can have meaning and value.

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Unfortunately, however, we all have our “blind spots”. Sometimes, the way others see us is different from the way we see ourselves and this is where dialoguing with someone, whether it be a spouse, counsellor, coach or friend, can help reveal areas (where we need to change, improve or grow) that we are unable to objectively see by ourselves. Even David asked the Lord to search his heart to see if there was any wickedness harboured there, and then to lead him in the way ‘everlasting’.

Given the events in South Africa’s more recent past, there have been many opportunities for (almost daily) review of the decisions and actions of, in particular, public figures across the political landscape. But I have to wonder if we as South Africans have become so accustomed to interrogating the behaviour and motivation of others that we neglect (whether through lack of time or intent) to do the same of ourselves. I know that I am guilty in this regard, whether I like to admit it or not. One of the reasons for this is that self examination can be uncomfortable, even painful at times. But self awareness is not only essential in developing healthy relationships at home and at work; it is critical if we are to bridge the divide that exists across people and race groups in South Africa. For in the words of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

There are, however, (at least) six ways in which we can help ourselves and others develop self awareness:

1. Psychometric tests
Psychometric tests are useful in categorising our behaviour in relation to others according to personality traits or preferences. An example of this is the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which considers our preferences for interacting with others, how we like to receive information, and how we make decisions.

2. New experiences
We often discover previously untapped strengths and abilities or even unrecognised fears when we find ourselves in unfamiliar or challenging situations. We can also do this proactively by taking different types of vacations or by exploring new hobbies. The key, however, is to analyse the experience and to ensure that any learnings translate to day-to-day life.

3. Telling our life story
When we talk about our lives, we and others not only gain insight into who we are but also understanding about the impact of our past experiences on our current realities.

4. Daily writing
When we write down our thoughts and feelings on a regular basis, we build what is referred to as ‘emotional fluency’, which, in turn, builds our self awareness. It is also a useful tool when reviewing at a later date, in order to better understand the range of emotions that we have experienced and how we have dealt with them.

5. Defining our role
Each of us plays a number of roles in our daily lives, for example as colleagues, family members and friends. When we are able to identify and describe each role we play, we build a picture of how we see ourselves in relation to others, which, in turn, helps us understand our underlying motivation for accomplishing tasks and achieving goals.

6. Giving others permission to be a mirror in our lives
When we surround ourselves with people we trust, who have the freedom to speak openly and honestly (but, of course, in love) into our lives, we are better able to see ourselves as we truly are.

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