“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Paraphrased from Aristotle, this concept has been key, above all others, to my personal development. For me, it is not just about identifying what you do and why you do it, but also what you can do, as an individual, to strengthen positive behaviors and reduce negative ones. Self-knowledge is not armor; in fact, it is far from it. It is not a shield or a helmet. It is calcium to edify our bones. Its purpose is to grow and strengthen in that growth; to identify and take accountability; to have compassion and respect for ourselves and not enable our vices in pursuit of doing so. True self-knowledge is the first tool in countering stunting and regression. I read an article once claiming that “know thyself” is a dangerous maxim because it indicates some kind of permanence, or “being stuck.” The article implied that this could happen because if a person has identified their values and circumstances change that contend with those values, that person will refuse to adapt because it “feels unlike” their interpretation of themselves. That is not self-knowledge. Our values, circumstances, feelings, and ideas are impermanent. As human beings, we are the most adaptable animal in the world. We are nearly limitless and have evolved for ultimate survival, even in our clawless, fangless bodies. It then makes sense that the human mind, the most significant key to our advancement, is also the most significant to our downfall.
Knowing yourself is being self-aware. It is knowing when you are changing and understand why. It is knowing what affects you and how it affects you. It is also knowing who the person is that you want to become, how to get yourself there, and being aware that your goals, either external or internal or both, may change. Self-knowledge is understanding your values, feelings, and thoughts today, your values, feelings, and thoughts yesterday, and how they affect, and have affected your behavior.
It is, in a sense, introverted accountability.
To define accountability, we had to define self-knowledge; to define authenticity, we must define accountability.
Accountability is taking responsibility for your behavior. Very different than blame or shaming, either of the self or others, accountability is acknowledging when you did something and what effect that something had. Our behaviors in this world are the one thing we ultimately have control over, and we cannot be held responsible for how other people behave. However, feelings are not as controllable as many societies tell you, and if you do something that hurts someone, it is important to acknowledge you contributed to the hurt. People’s sensitivities are all different and all have been built by various factors; building blocks that, in their collectiveness, are unique to everyone’s individual chemical and character makeup, including their personality, and their experiences. What is absurd to you is not absurd to another person; and likewise, what is absurd to another person may not be absurd to you. What makes one person feel like their world is ending may be another person’s slight inconvenience. Respecting that we can’t weigh, measure, or compare pain is, to me, the second most basic respect we can give another person.
The first is accountability.
Both are fundamental to how I see the most basic form of genuine love: compassion. I try to gauge the consequences of my words and actions and if through them I have hurt someone, I say I’m sorry. I explain my genuine motivations and that I genuinely meant no harm with them, but I tell them I am not trying to use reason as an excuse, and I don’t deny or minimize their pain. In some cases now, I don’t provide explanations because I’ve learned the hard way that regardless of what I say, how someone sees me matters more than anything I’ll ever do or don’t do. And I recognize that oftentimes, saying more than “I’m sorry. I was wrong” or “I’m sorry I hurt you,” contributes to a person’s feeling that you are, by default, denying or minimizing the damage caused. Many people do use following words to excuse it, most often following the “but” conjuction. I have tried to eliminate that word entirely from certain kinds of statements, because by nature it is invalidating and a foreshadowing of excuses, as opposed to explanations. I explain myself to try to clarify intentions, because, for me, hearing why someone did something that hurt gives me more insight into the interpersonal relationship and into that person, as well; furthermore, when someone explains their behavior and still owns up to the pain they may have caused, the pain is minimized for me, and I feel less unsafe.
Imo, a person who does not take responsibility for what they do, even after you have told them how you feel, is a person who either lacks basic respect for others or lacks the self-respect to be authentic. We are all hypocrites in one manner or another, but I am actively trying to eliminate my hypocrisy from my life. Hypocrisy is a soul-eating armor but an armor nonetheless. It is a shield with a mirror into your cowardice on the back. People are fake because vulnerability is seen as weakness, and accountability often reveals what makes you vulnerable, or that things do — whether you give an explanation or not. People are fake because they are trying to meet standards – either set by themselves or by others – that they are not willing to do the work themselves to meet or at the time, lack the awareness to see that they don’t. Hypocrisy, inauthenticity, and lies are, for the most part, cowardly shortcuts. They avoid further pain and facing mostly internal monsters, which are often the ugliest because they are within us.
Many people are, without focused healthy introspection, not self-aware enough to acknowledge their true vices (to others nor to themselves.) Few people know their vices and work on them. Very few people know their vices, readily admit to them, and work on them. People are scared to face where the truly “don’t match up,” whether to their own standards or other’s, and that fear makes for an uglier, more chaotic world.
Authenticity may hurt you, but major parts of it are accountability and self-knowledge, both of which are vital to personal, individual healing. And contributing to healing beyond your own universe, too.
You cannot heal a component of your universe as complex as yourself without identifying what is wrong, sick, or hurting in the first place, and you are the only component of your universe that you can control. When you ignore (and therefore relinquish) that power, you surrender to your pain, and allow it to don your face, your body, and your life. The world may not see it because you hide it in whatever ways you do, but you will still feel it, and it will still grow. You can hide from others and even from yourself, but your monsters will always find you: Until you face them, there is no chance of ever healing, and you may convince others of a scapegoat; but in the end, you’re your monsters’ target, no matter who you end up hurting in the process.
A happy world is a safe world. Be the change.