“Actions have consequences…first rule of life. And the second rule is this: You are the
only one responsible for your own actions.”
~ Holly Lisle
In all the practices we employ to develop virtue, to become a good person, to me there is none more important than the practice and development of self-awareness.
We’ve all been in the usual situations. Perhaps you’re sharing a conversation with someone. The person stops their point and you start to give yours and just as you begin, their phone rings and instead of letting it ring out to continue listening to what you have to say, they interrupt the conversation to answer the call, leaving you hanging for several minutes or longer. Another example might be when you’re talking to someone and they’re not paying attention to you at all; they simply offer “uh huh’s” and “oh sure’s” while they check their phones or type on their keyboard or begin talking to someone else, again, leaving you hanging.
There are numerous scenarios where we all have fallen guilty of being so self-absorbed to the point where we don’t realise how our actions are affecting the other person. Our lack of self-awareness can leave us seemingly detached and completely unaware of how others may be reacting to us. We fail to pick up any vibes or sense of irritation or awkwardness and even if a companion is bold enough to point out our ignorance, we often feel irritated ourselves. The irony of our lack of self-awareness is when we retort with an indignant response: “Don’t be silly – I’d never be that way!”
The reason why I think self-awareness is the most important quality to develop above all else is purely because without it, we have no idea of our flaws to begin with. One might give the opinion that compassion is the most important quality – but the only way to develop compassion is by first being aware of the need to develop it.
Unlike compassion, patience or kindness, a lack of self-awareness is much trickier to point out to someone. We can easily provide examples of when a friend has been impatient or unkind or indifferent and if they have a degree of self-awareness, they most probably will realize their error and look out for it in future. However, to point out a lack of self-awareness is difficult, due to the obvious point that they most likely won’t be aware of the issue, hence when we try to point this out verbally, we get the response: “Don’t be silly – I’d never be that way.
No doubt we all know of someone who is self-absorbed to the point of disbelief and it can be really frustrating when dealing with this kind of person. Over the years, I’ve found an effective way of dealing with this is to mirror that person’s behaviour. So, for example, if during conversations with them they are often multi-tasking and not really listening to what you have to say, the next time you converse with them, you do the same. By coming across as indifferent, unenthusiastic and aloof, someone who is unaware of how their interacting affects others around them will receive a taste of their own medicine. It’s funny just how aware people can suddenly become when they aren’t receiving the expected attention…
Of course, this alone won’t address the problem of their lack of self-awareness. Most likely, they’ll simply feel frustrated, but if you then point out that you’ve simply shown them how they act a lot of the time, generally it will sink in so much better than if you just tell them they’re being aloof or unaware. The reason this works is because the other person is forced to feel how they sometimes make others feel and because it’s quite an unpleasant feeling, the point stands a better chance of sinking in, allowing for the opportunity of developing self-awareness.
People who are unaware will almost always point out if you’re being aloof towards them, simply because people who lack self-awareness are usually a touch more selfish than those who possess self-awareness. When you juggle three different tasks while talking to someone who lacks self-awareness, they will say something like: “You aren’t you listening to me! Aren’t I more important than your doodling/phone/Facebook updates?”
If we can develop self-awareness, we are able to attune ourselves to the feelings of others and pick up vibes quickly and change our behaviour accordingly. People who are self-aware tend to be more inclusive and will make those around them feel just as important – if not more so – than themselves and those around them will feel a genuine sense of interest coming from the other direction in what they have to say.
Self-awareness is something that, spiritually, helps to increase mindfulness tremendously. In our every day living, it not only helps to refine our good manners, but it is also a powerful communication tool that can be used to our advantage: anyone who possesses a strong sense of self-awareness is always focused and tuned in to what’s going on. In its development, we gain a valuable quality that becomes indispensable because when we are constantly aware of the feelings of those around us and when we make the effort to be inclusive, we find we are often rewarded tenfold – and all for the endeavor of simply paying more attention to our actions and behavior.
Sandy Clarke is a 27-year old journalist and writer from Scotland, UK. Having worked for the Scottish Parliament and various newspaper titles, Clarke has a keen interest in current affairs and global politics and as a practicing Buddhist, he also devotes a lot of time to spirituality.