Self-Focus vs. Self-Awareness
I found myself tying my arguments in circles when talking with my wife the other day. It made me sit down and hash through this idea in my mind, this distinction between self-focus and self-awareness.
It started when I was griping about the fact that people are constantly looking at themselves, but they never seem to see themselves. I work with someone who is regularly touting her wonderfulness. She references the important people she knows. She casually slips in the erudite books she’s reading. She tops whatever one person says with her own opinion and seemingly more intelligent input. Some people don’t really notice. She drives me crazy (and there’s a growing edge for me, eh? But that’s another post…). She’s focusing on herself all the time. She has to be noticed, appreciated, thought well of, etc.
It doesn’t always take this form. Sometimes folks try to pull the “woe-is-me” card. Some actually try to fade out of the scene to draw attention away from themselves. Others… well, think Scarlet O’hara. One way or another, it’s a certain self-consciousness. But most of these people have no idea that they’re doing it. Or if they’re attentive enough to know they’re doing it, they don’t know why. We’re constantly looking at ourselves without seeing what’s really happening. Those that see what’s happening are often uncertain of their actual motivation – what’s really driving them.
I don’t think Scripture demands that we always know what’s going on in ourselves. But we are invited to look in, and I think regularly (e.g., Psalm 139, Matt. 12:33-35). John Calvin’s Institutes start off by pointing out that we are called to two kinds of critical knowledge: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. We’re supposed to look at ourselves, and I think, to the best of our ability, understand ourselves. This can be carried to an unreasonable extreme. There are certain personality types that do. But most of us not so much. What’s really making us so determined to do whatever it is we’re doing?
The standard Evangelical Christian position of not focusing on yourself I think is not the solution. I had a group leader say to us several years ago that if we were looking out for ourselves, then there was only one person looking out for us, but if we all looked out for each other, than there were multiple people looking out for us – so stop looking at yourself! Problem is, there are things that I can see that others can’t. Dying to self doesn’t mean never looking at oneself. I can’t fall into the trap of looking at myself obsessively, but I can’t ignore what’s happening either. Both are extremes that are going to get me in trouble.
God save me from focusing on myself without being aware of myself.