Know Thyself (and Others)

To be known is an innate desire in us human beings. But what does it mean to be known? To be known as we know ourselves at this moment or to be known as a process of discovery? There seems to be an understandable need in both individuals and societies for us humans to be complete and settled into who we are, to be solid and unchangeable. The need for this stability is understandable as it provides the basis for building long-term projects such as marriage, parenthood, and careers. From this base point, we can go out and do. Self-reflection and interest in the unknown parts of us do not align very well with this process. They could encounter unexpected realizations that unsettle those ongoing life projects that we participate in and often are solely responsible for. Still, we continue to want to be known by others, to be received, understood and responded to in the way that makes us feel seen. Outwardly oriented, we look to others to give us the self-reflection that we are not so inclined to do ourselves. 

Of course, there are many who are completely averse to any self-knowledge – from others or themselves. This attitude can be effective and lead to great external success. In some small way, a small part of me admires it. However, for those of us who have embarked on an ongoing dialogue with ourselves and others about all that we are, there is a beautiful and exciting road ahead, covered with bumps and roadblocks, interrupted by confusing road signs and surrounded by an ever-changing scenery. And as we go on, we need to keep pausing to evaluate the landscape, assess how it has affected us, determine how prepared we are for the next step, and recalibrate our self-curiosity. There is a continuing tension between the motivation to keep going, and the temptation to submit to the pull of our current environment. This tension appears from the moment we are born. For survival, for nurture, for love (as defined by those important others in our life) we learn to compromise the innate need for creatively expressing who we are. From unconscious split-offs to conscious withholding of our true thoughts and feelings, we hide the parts of us that are not welcome. On an individual, family, peer group, and social level, the creative expression of who we are is constrained by how we are received. What we reveal about ourselves to others is determined by our assessment of what feedback we will get. And so we adapt and reorient ourselves to continue fitting in.

The need to be known remains intact, however. When we are received and understood, we become alive. In these moments we are one with our external reality. Sometimes, it takes only one curious and understanding human being to change our self-perception and activate that (often) dormant need for a dynamic, energetic and connected living.

To live in this way requires a continuous effort to remain in a dialogue with oneself and with others. It is based on deep inquisitiveness, the ability to listen without judgment, and the responsibility and skill to express our own thoughts and feelings. The desire and attempt to see another person’s perception is a high aspiration, a difficult undertaking, a brave step. Mistakes will be made, miscommunication will occur. However, as long as there is a willingness to understand and an attempt at it, the dialogue will go on. In this ongoing dialogue, stands our chance to know ourselves creatively, to reveal and remake ourselves and to do the same for others.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.