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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, July 1

Self-Awareness and Self-Consciousness

Since I've been thinking about the subject of self-awareness lately, the post by Alice in Texas mentioning self-awareness and self-consciousness caught my eye. (Although I frequently disagree with her analysis, I sometimes find her topic choices interesting.)

At first glance, it seemed "obvious" that self-awareness and self-consciousness are not on "pole opposites" as she suggests. In fact, I'd think they would be complementary although I wouldn't assume that a person who seems to have one also has the other. I want to think about that a bit more.

Self-conscious means "to be aware of oneself as an individual... ". It can also mean "excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner" or "socially ill at ease". ( Definitions all from Dictionary.com ). I'm assuming the first meaning wasn't what she had in mind because it seems nearly identical to the definition of self-awareness. Then again, it could mean something simpler like "awareness of oneself as a being separate from other people" vs. self-knowledge.

I'm guessing though that what is meant is something like "excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner". I don't see why a person who understands himself pretty well couldn't also have the idea that it's important to present oneself in a way that people can relate to. It certainly doesn't seem impossible to have both.

Thinking about the example of Hitler... It's hard to know without being inside the mind of a person and without having much background on his life, but on the surface it seems that he was aware of having particular tendencies and also aware that they wouldn't be very accepted in a public forum. I would guess that he didn't "accept" these traits within himself (which is different, I think, from being unaware of them). It could be that he was actually unaware of why he had his particular mannerisms or aversion to particular traits of his (like seeming emotional and "weak"). In that sense, he might have been lacking in a deeper self-awareness that some people have. It would fit the idea of being "self-conscious but not self-aware". Then again, having that knowledge might have had little impact on his self-consciousness if he found that the traits were unacceptable regardless of the reasons for having them.

This bit of exploring has brought another idea to my attention. It seems that deeper self-awareness would require deeper knowledge in general. It also requires self-honesty. It doesn't require that one share that knowledge with anyone and I'm not certain that another person could necessarily tell how self aware someone else is. It could be guessed, but the accuracy of the guess would depend on how much self-honesty and knowledge a person reveals.

Oh! That brings me to another element of self-awareness. I think beyond self-honesty and general knowledge, other requirements would be motivation (that one thinks self-awareness is important) and ... I'm not sure what word to use or how to describe it exactly, so I'll tentatively say drive and/or curiosity. Curiosity seems more in the realm of motivation. One could be motivated by thinking it is "right" to be self-aware, but one could also just be curious (or both) (Note to myself to talk about curiosity and what it means in another post). Drive would be how much effort... how much one is willing to do to get something... to get self-awareness.

It seems another factor to keep in mind is fear. It can be a bit scary to uncover truths about oneself or morality especially. A difficulty can arise even for a person of integrity (meaning they do what they think is good). If they learn that perhaps something they've previously thought of as good is actually not good, it can feel yucky or like self-sacrifice to do the new good thing. A person can be tempted unconsciously (or consciously) to avoid growing or finding knowledge in that area.

I think this could be a good thing to do temporarily. Another strategy would be to proceed gently with thinking about it with the understanding that one doesn't have to act on or feel obligated to act on the new knowledge unless one is ready. Although it might be "ideal" to immediately act on new moral knowledge regardless of one's feelings about it, I think, usually, it's more important to develop a good attitude toward knowledge growth than to fix a particular mistake immediately. Of course, if it's a very important bit of knowledge, one might need to act on it before one feels completely comfortable, but then the importance itself will hopefully help with the motivation to act.

More on this later.

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