On Blind Spots


If you must be strong, you’ll react every time you see your­self being weak. You will stamp out weak­ness by being espe­cial­ly strong, dis­play­ing what your strength looks like so even you can see it. This may well have side effects, includ­ing look­ing espe­cial­ly weak and self-cen­tered as you beat up on others.

If you must be smart, you’ll react every time you see your­self being stu­pid. You will intel­li­gent­ly ratio­nal­ize things to your­self so you will not be stu­pid ever again. This may well have side effects, includ­ing look­ing arro­gant and super­cil­ious to oth­ers as you explain your right answers, one after another.

If you must be respon­si­ble, you’ll react every time you see your­self being irre­spon­si­ble. You will per­son­al­ly re-com­mit to tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for solv­ing every prob­lem. This may well have side effects, includ­ing being patron­iz­ing and micro-man­ag­ing to oth­ers while express­ing frus­tra­tion that they aren’t car­ry­ing their weight.

If you must be sen­si­tive and com­pas­sion­ate, you’ll react every time you see your­self being insen­si­tive and harsh. You will respond in a sen­si­tive, self-for­giv­ing way that proves your human­i­ty and self-care. This may well have side effects, includ­ing attempt­ing to talk with oth­ers about your and their wounds a lit­tle too much.

What­ev­er we must be cre­ates a blind spot because, as good as we are, we can­not ful­fill our pre­ferred self-image all the time. In turn, this cre­ates an inabil­i­ty to see our full per­son­al impact on oth­ers because see­ing it in total, see­ing how often we fail, would under­mine the very self-image we are doing every­thing we can to pro­tect. We become who we want to be at least par­tial­ly through skill­ful, will­ful self-deception.

The oppo­site of self-knowl­edge is not igno­rance or a sim­ple lack of aware­ness. Rather, it is this propen­si­ty to self-deceive.

In writ­ing this, I’m not immune. 

It’s good to con­sid­er oppo­sites, I think. Real strength is my capac­i­ty for vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Real intel­li­gence is know­ing that I may have the wrong idea. Mean­ing­ful respon­si­bil­i­ty involves learn­ing to let go. Sen­si­tiv­i­ty and com­pas­sion alone won’t save the world. There are no absolutes.

I remem­ber once attempt­ing to facil­i­tate a lead­er­ship learn­ing group on LinkedIn. There was a guy who absolute­ly want­ed to dom­i­nate the on-line dis­cus­sion with his view of the pre-emi­nent lead­er­ship trait. Do you know what he thought it was? Gen­eros­i­ty. It got so bad and he became so destruc­tive in the con­ver­sa­tion I shut the group down before he did any fur­ther damage.

We can’t lie our way into the truth of who we are.

But we can try to get in touch with real­i­ty as best we are able and def­i­nite­ly with a lit­tle help from our friends.


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