On Being Self-Aware

When it comes to other people, we are all a bit like mind-readers. Mind-reading just shows up that knowledge about us is surprisingly obvious and easy for an outsider to get hold of – much easier than for us inside. Strangers are surprisingly good at guessing things about us. One consequence is that we find it difficult to grasp how other people see us. The gap between self-perception and the point of view of others is richly comic: pomposity for example occurs when someone can’t see that other people don’t share their high opinion of their own merits; and there’s a satisfaction in seeing this person being forced by events to a much lower and more accurate picture of themselves. But mostly, of course, it doesn’t seem especially funny: You don’t realise

  • that you are taxing other people’s patience

  • other people often feel you hog the limelight

  • you come across as arrogant

  • you seem excessively diffident

  • you are often trying to hint that you have done everything anyone else has done; as if it would be painful to you to be impressed by anyone

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The point isn’t that other people are always right. The point isn’t that one should feel cross with other people for not rightly appreciating one’s better intent. It’s just that it is really helpful to know how we impact on other people since this allows for strategic adjustment. Once we know we can try to change for the sake of getting on better with others – being a little less assertive at certain points or making an effort to ask other people questions about themselves. 

EXERCISE 

Pair up with someone. Get them to say 5 nice things about this person, based on very little knowledge. Then, one negative thing. How did they know this negative thing? Swap roles. 

EXERCISE  

  1. Write down the kind of animal you might see yourself as being

  2. List three attributes that you feel you share to some extent with this kind of creature.

  3. Ask another person to draw the animal they see you as being, and to pick out three characteristics that help explain why. 

  4. What do you learn from their choice and their reasons?

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