Clarence Day wrote “The test of a civilized person is first self-awareness…” Hmm. What does this mean? What exactly is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is when you realize that, although you are not the center of the universe, everything you say and do can affect those around you.
True self-awareness comes when you recognize that your own thoughts and feelings can lead you to act in a way that is either helpful or harmful to others.
Here’s an example of how your thoughts and feelings can lead you to act in a way that is harmful to others:
There is a job opening in your company. You and a co-worker both apply. She gets the job and you don’t. You feel hurt. Your first thought is, “it’s not fair.” And, you know what? It may not be fair. But this is the moment that tests your self-awareness.
- A person with self-awareness will let herself feel badly. She’ll seek comfort in friends or family. She’ll think about what went wrong and start making a plan to do things differently when the next opportunity arises.
- A person who lacks self awareness will stew in the angry feeling of unfairness. She will begin to plot her revenge. She will hold a grudge against the co-worker and the hiring team. She may even act on her negative feelings by saying something mean like “who did you sleep with to get the job?”
Here’s another example of an extreme lack of self-awareness:
Mary has strong political beliefs and never hesitates to share those beliefs with everyone at work. Most people at work try to avoid her. Even the people who share her same beliefs are becoming annoyed by her aggressive stance.
One day Mary was ranting about a particularly sensitive topic while sitting at the front desk. A client overheard her and went to her supervisor to complain. When the supervisor confronted Mary with the complaint, Mary launched into a tirade about free speech.
Not only was Mary unaware of how her behaviors affected her co-workers, but her lack of self-awareness now made it impossible for her to see how her behavior was affecting EVERYONE around her.
The bottom line is this: It’s okay to feel stressed, angry and embarrassed. It’s okay to disagree and speak your views. However, when you have self-awareness (aka civility), you know how to keep your thoughts and feelings from translating into harmful words or actions against others.