Seeing The Self

//Seeing The Self

Seeing The Self

“In understanding oneself, we understand others; in feeling compassion for oneself, we feel compassion for others.”
Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

It seems simple enough. I mean, you spend 24/7 with yourself. Therefore, you should be an expert on you, right?

Well, yes . . . and no. According to psychological studies, it turns out we’re super good at gauging our emotional stability. But with observable traits, like appearance, or things like introverted/extroverted-ness? Others can clearly see those with their own eyes. And with evaluative traits, like intelligence, creativity? According to Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic article “People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well”, “you just can’t be trusted”.

Why? Because most of us want desired qualities, like intelligence and creativity. And most of us want to be seen as unbiased too. But, because we’re so damn close to the action? Our perspective is distorted.

Writes Steve Ayan for in “10 Things You Don’t Know About Yourself”, “(Princeton University psychologist Emily) Pronin argues that we are primed to mask our own biases. As a result, our self-image has little to do with our actions. For example, we may be absolutely convinced that we are empathetic and generous, but still walk past a homeless person on a cold day.”

While I agree it’s challenging to see our own biases, I’m not sure this is the best example. Perhaps you’re running late and truly have no change/cash? Or you gave to this person earlier in the day? Or, like what happened to one of my friends, you bought him a sweet (and expensive) pair of gloves for his red, raw hands a week ago and he threw them back at you, said, “I don’t want these!” Perhaps the gloves would’ve made him a less sympathetic character on the cold city street? Or he just wanted cashola for drugs?

And so, for generosity, I say pick meaningful causes to you and contribute what you can. For many, philanthropy is something that comes at a later stage in life, when finances are fairly stable and one understands the responsibility of giving back, the potential lifting of the heart it can provide. I have a friend in fundraising who shared a story about a wealthy donor who she worked with over the years, eventually tailoring his giving to his personality and lifestyle, and how much he blossomed through this process.

Quite likely, she saw things in him he could not see in himself. Getting back to Grant in The Atlantic piece, he points out, “Chances are, your coworkers are better at rating some parts of your personality than you are.”

Grant goes on to say that “sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work” back this up. “As a social scientist,” he says, “if I want to get a read on your personality, I could ask you to fill out a survey on how stable, dependable, friendly, outgoing, and curious you are. But I would be much better off asking your coworkers to rate you on those same traits: They’re often more than twice as accurate. They can see things that you can’t or won’t.”

“(M)ore than twice as accurate”? Wow. What a bunch of liars we are!

What to do about this? Well, if you have coworkers? You could give them a survey? And then grow some really thick skin if you agree to accept honesty?

I think it’s just good to know, don’t you? That we kid ourselves from time to time? So, why waste energy on defensiveness? Maybe it helps explain why others say daft things about themselves, like, “I’m a stable genius.” Activities like mindfulness meditation and journaling can help, as thoughts can be observed with some distance and without judgment. Accepting oneself as a malleable being is helpful too, as that’s what we’re all here for, right? To adapt, change, learn, grow?

I recently read a great observation by Keith Boag, writing for the CBC on Trump in “The Great Divider”, about “the human temptation to believe what’s most convenient”. I regard it as a warning, a reason to stay diligent about the self, to stay curious, to keep digging.

“No one understands that foible, or uses it more effectively, than Trump. Essential to his exploitation of racial tension is his understanding that people will believe what they want to believe about others so that they can believe what they want to believe about themselves.”

Don’t assume (recall the last blog, Road To Hell– “ass” “u” “me”) you’re not biased. Educate yourself on the history and experiences of minorities in your community, country and throughout the world. Ask questions when you can and listen to the answers. Observe your thoughts.

Jennifer Eberhardt, who specializes in bias training, writes in Biased, “The promise of bias training is not to magically wipe out prejudice but to make us aware of how our minds work and how knee-jerk choices can be driven by stereotypes that cloud what we see and perceive.”

Reject the us vs them trap. We are all one. Human. We need each other. To fight a pandemic, a major climate crisis. Not each other.





  1. Hilary September 21, 2020 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Clearly thought out! :).. We just met a girl who opened up some ideas in me that coincide with this commentary! Very cool kid! 🙂

    • Rita Hartley September 22, 2020 at 6:58 am - Reply

      Interesting (and helpful) that we see what we want (and can) see about ourselves when others – sometimes those we’ve just met – see us plain as day!

Leave A Comment