Looking within increases understanding and compassion

Developing our self-awareness also increases our understanding of our strengths and talents....
Developing our self-awareness also increases our understanding of our strengths and talents. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Self-awareness is the key to developing relationships, writes  Lesley Gill.

I recall a conversation where I was asked what I did. I explained that one part of my work involved training professionals in developing their emotional intelligence abilities such as self-awareness.

They responded: “You can’t develop people’s self-awareness”. I replied: “So what is it like being on the receiving end of you?” There was a long pause.

In essence, this question helps us to look at ourselves from another’s viewpoint, which can increase our insight about the influence of our words and actions on others.

Interestingly, we tend to judge others on their behaviours, but adjudge ourselves on our motives — even when our words and actions do not align with those motives.

Self-awareness refers to a person’s ability to assess others’ evaluations of them and to incorporate these perspectives into their own self-evaluation. Seeing through our own eyes is not always particularly accurate. Seeing through others’ eyes can create ‘‘a-ha’’ moments that help us see what we need to change in ourselves.

Developing our self-awareness also increases our understanding of our strengths and talents. Take a moment to appreciate times you have shown kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness towards yourself and towards others ... and perhaps times when you have not. New insights will likely generate a realisation that there are things we need to work on, things that might be uncomfortable, even painful but that might be hurting us and others.

Many of us are not used to looking for, or facing up to, new insights about ourselves.

These new realisations can be a ‘‘bitter pill to swallow’’, or we can feel embarrassed or ashamed by our lack of awareness and empathy. In the past, we might have blamed other people, or circumstances, become defensive, or angry. Perhaps we got louder and more argumentative in justifying ourselves. Other times we might have become more autocratic, verbalising a ‘‘my way or the highway!’’ attitude. Or conversely, we hide, deny, or beat up on ourselves. Sometimes we become un-present: we disengage or isolate ourselves, or even seek retribution.

Interestingly, we all think we are “right” in our own eyes.

Listening to one perspective of say, a disagreement, always sounds right, until we hear the other person’s perspective. Humility is needed so that we do not think more highly of ourselves or think too little of others and consider there are other perspectives of a situation.

We need to check our motives so that we act out of humility and not self-promotion, rivalry, or conceit. How often do we put others before ourselves, serve their vision, and support them and their needs? Are we even aware of what their needs are?

In linking faith and reason, Matthew 7:12 outlines the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. In other words, we need to be aware of how we treat other people, so as to treat them the way we would like to be treated. Let’s reflect on what that looks like in different environments: at the dentist, or the supermarket, in traffic, or at home?

Let’s consider other areas of our lives where having more self-awareness would be useful, such as spiritual awareness and well-being. Examples might include recognition of God and godly attributes in our lives such as love, joy, peace, hope, honesty, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, to name a few. Our enacted faith is very important to our overall wellbeing and “standing” with God. It seems that some people have acute self-awareness of their own shortcomings and need of a redemptive Saviour, while others have little or no self-awareness of their need of Him at all. A vibrant living relationship with God begins with our self-awareness that we need God in our lives.

We can ask ourselves, “What is our self-awareness when it comes to our relationship with God?” We have all mucked up (a.k.a., fall short of God’s glory and holiness). And yet God offers us his grace and forgiveness on an ongoing basis as we confess our sins (wrong things we have done), ask his forgiveness and accept his Lordship in our life. Such a prayer puts us in right-standing and right relationship with God. It is that simple. Romans 3: 22-24 explains it: ‘‘This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’’

God reached out to us. He wants relationship with us because he loved us first. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10).

In summary, developing our self-awareness has a positive impact on our relationships with people and God.

When we actively respond to new insights about ourselves and others, personal growth happens.

 - Lesley Gill is an associate professor at Otago Polytechnic and an elder at Dunedin Elim Church.

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