I think that we, as a collective society, have a problem with self-awareness.
Now, it's hard to make such an individualistic claim about a society as a whole and a problem that's so self-centered, but I really feel like it's a trait that's evolved into part of our character.
We — and this we is definitely inclusive, as I'm part of this problem — don't seem to be very aware of ourselves or our role in the game called life, and just as troubling to me is the fact that we seem to have become experts on others-awareness.
I've written columns on similar pieces before, but for some reason, the lack of self-awareness — and the conscious recognition of others-awareness going on inside of me and in others around me — have been quite evident to me lately.
So, instead of fleeing from it, I decided to go out of my way to take note of it this week. I started with a look in the mirror. One thing that's not too obvious to us, although we look it in the eye on an almost-daily basis, is our actual appearance.
Now, I'm not one who's tied up on good looks or nice skin when I look in the mirror, but when I stand before the reflective beast to brush my teeth each morning, what stares back at me isn't quite a picture of health.
It's easy for me to brush that off, though, if I'm not focused on being self-aware. Knowing that I'm bigger than I should be is probably a benefit to me and is definitely one that should drive me to push myself to eat healthier and exercise more — or at all — to fix that problem.
So, my self-awareness isn't exactly the best when it comes to my physical appearance, but it turns out I'm quite others-aware when it comes to these things.
If someone else is a bit overweight, that's quite easy for me to notice. If someone forgot to comb their hair — something I often do — I notice that, but I could easily miss the fact that I forgot to when I look in the mirror.
But self-awareness is an essential tool, because it's what motivates us to adapt and change what we need to change about ourselves.
So, as a trained observer, I did two things this week: I set out to be more self-aware and take note of the things that I need to change about myself while continuing to be others-aware and take note of the things that people were doing that, if they thought about it, they'd admit they probably shouldn't be doing.
And that's one of the things with self-awareness. We tend to think we're better at things than we actually are, and so, while we'd say that others shouldn't do them, at least in general, we feel like we're more qualified to execute the tasks at hand.
The results of my "research?" You guessed it. A list! (Those of you familiar with me know my love of making lists!)
Here's the catch, though. I won't be telling you whether the trait that we probably shouldn't be doing is something I was doing myself or something I saw in others. I won't sell myself out so easily!
So, without further delay, here is my list of things that we probably do, even though we know we probably shouldn't:
• Tailgating: Driving down the road, it's very easy to be others-aware of the driving that's going on around us, but I think we would all admit that tailgating isn't a good, healthy characteristic, and it's certainly not something we should be doing.
The funny thing with tailgating is, we can get mad about someone doing it to us, even while we're doing it to the car in front of us!
• Texting while driving: First of all, this one's obviously something we shouldn't be doing, because it's against the law to be doing it.
But, we all know the temptation to reach for the phone and "just check that message" after the crazy little tone beckons us. The thing is, we would all also admit that texting while driving isn't a good thing (just try talking to someone who's texting sometime if you're not sure about its ability to impair your multi-tasking).
But, I've heard, time and time again, people say, "Most people just aren't good enough at multi-tasking, but I'm pretty good at it, so I will text while I'm driving sometimes." WE NEED TO STOP IT!
• Talking on the phone while driving: I promise, this is the last one in the category of sitting in a car, but I think it's an important one. Folks are aware of the dangers of texting and driving — even if they choose to ignore them — but from my observations, someone who is talking on the phone is just as distracted. We really need to consider what's in the best interest of both us and the drivers we share the road with when we take on this issue.
• Bullying: Everyone will tell you that bullying is a bad thing, but then, on the other hand, we all seem so prone to it. The campaign to stop bullying in our schooling system is in full force, and while it's unfortunate that that's necessary, I'm glad it's being evaluated so well.
But what I'm worried about isn't just limited to the school system. Bullying takes place all around us all the time and at all age levels. This is one we definitely need to fight back against.
• Gossiping: As easy as it is to fall into the trend of bullying, this one might be just as dangerous a problem for us. We don't need to look at the national news and see the tragic events that've happened as a result of an individual being pushed to his or her limits by bullying to know that words can hurt. And when we talk about people behind their backs, when they don't know about it, that doesn't make it any less hurtful. It just makes us sneakier.
Whether you're the religious type or not, I think we would all benefit from remembering this verse found in Ephesians when it comes to gossip: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (vs. 4:29, NIV)."
• Posting everything that crosses our mind to the Internet: From chat rooms to message boards to comment sections to social media sites, recording our every thought has become a bit of a normalcy these days.
But here's the thing: Not every thought we have is worthy of recording or posting or even of repeating. As it turns out, we think some nasty things sometimes.
Let's keep those thoughts to ourselves, eh? Just because we have an avenue to share doesn't mean we get to say whatever we want. We have the right to free speech, but we should start learning to exercise it properly, or just like that not-so-fit body I see when I look in the mirror, that right might disappear sooner than we'd like.
Self-awareness and others-awareness can be good, beautiful things if we use them properly. And self-awareness is, perhaps, the only issue that seems to be a cultural one where we can make a difference just by making a change within ourselves.
So, I'm going to switch gears from working on observing the lack of self-awareness around us and start working on being more self-aware.
I do hope you'll join me.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit.