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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