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.


2 responses

  1. No name

    Have you tried praying for this co-worker? The next time you are irked- PRAY. Prayer works & God works the wonders. And maybe – just MAYBE – it’s what you WRITE that she’s interested in? If she’s spiritually hungry, she may be just looking for voices that sound like what Christ would’ve sounded like when He was teaching here on Earth- Just be the voice of Christ to her. Allow the Holy Spirit (and NOT men) to guide you as you chose your topics and continue to write what you think Christ would write. That’s probably all she’s looking for!

    July 29, 2009 at 10:22 am

    • Forgive me if this post came out sounding like I was griping about one particular individual. That was by no means my purpose. She just happened to be the first one that came to my mind. I could have used numerous others (and I actually pointed to myself in the mix, though not in name!). More than anything, I was just wanting to highlight our self-obsession in contemporary culture with the point that even though we’re constantly looking at ourselves, we don’t tend to actually see ourselves.

      You’re right that I should pray for this person, of course, but I do want to be mindful of how. If I start praying for her to change, then am I praying out of love or out of selfishness and a desire to escape? We all have to be really careful of that. And who knows? Surely God is using said individual to show me how patient I’m not and drawing me into awareness of myself!

      July 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

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