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:
You’ve just paid your monthly bills and realize you don’t have enough money to sign your daughter up for the softball team she wants to join. You are stressed, embarrassed and angry. You arrive at work to find a group of co-workers laughing in the break room. Their happiness annoys you and you lash out.
Here’s another example of an extreme lack of self-awareness:
Recently, radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh learned that a female Georgetown law student spoke out in support of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. Her stance on the matter angered the talk show host, so he went on the air and called her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Then he demanded she post online videos of herself having sex.
His words had a negative effect on his listeners, his sponsors, the woman to whom he was referring, his career and society at large. In his apology he said, “In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.”
Although he was further attacked for a lack of sincerity in his apology, his sentiment was right. Whether you agree with him or not, he has the right to disagree with the woman’s stance. However, the words he chose were harmful and did nothing to help matters in this situation. He was upset about the woman’s views and he lashed out without thinking about the consequences.
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.