What made me awaken this morning with the question of self awareness dancing in my head? It’s both a personal and social question and quest, and so almost impossible to think about objectively. And like so many “word concepts” there is no agreed-upon definition or meaning to actually talk about, unless it’s among religionists of certain beliefs, philosophical schools of knowledge, or neurologists hunched over their arrays of brain tissue, peering like haruspices over a pile of pink meat.
My own prejudices lean toward two basic underpinnings of self-awareness:
1. It is not a “thing” but an experience.
2. Self awareness (beyond Look! It’s me in the mirror…) is learned, earned, created, achieved.
From a previous post –
Co-consciousness; the product of language : “In Western cultures verbal language is inseparable from the process of creating a conscious human being.
A child is told who it is, where it belongs, and how to behave, day in and day out, from birth throughout childhood. In this way culturally-approved patterns of thought and behavior are implanted, organized and strengthened in the child’s brain.
Social education means setting tasks that require following directions, and asking children to ‘correctly’ answer with words and behavior, to prove that co-consciousness is in place.
This is one of the great challenges of human development, and children who do not ‘pay attention’ to adult demands, however deftly sugar-coated, are rejected as defective, defiant, and diseased.
Punishment for having early self awareness may be physical or emotional brutality or abandonment and exile from the group.”
Who am I? is a question that most children ask sooner or later – prompted obviously by questions from adults (no child is born thinking about this) such as “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Not, Who are you now?) The socially acceptable menu is small: “A famous sports star” for boys, ” For girls? “A wonderful mom and career woman who looks 16 years old, forever”.
How boring and unrealistic. How life and joy killing. Adults mustn’t let children in on the truth, which is even worse. We know at this point that a child can look in a mirror and say, “That’s me! I hate my haircut,” but he or she is entirely unaware that someday firing rockets into mud brick houses, thereby blowing human bodies to smithereens, may be their passion. Or she may be a single mom with three kids, totally unprepared for an adequate job. Or perhaps he or she may end up addicted to pills and rage and stuffing paper bags with French fries eight hours a day.
If a child were to utter these reasonably probabilistic goals, he or she would be labeled as disturbed and possibly dangerous. And yet human children grow up to be less than ideal, and many dreadful outcomes occur, but these are the result of the individual colliding with societal fantasies and promises that are not likely outcomes at all.
The strangest part of this is that we talk about self awareness as a “thing” tucked into a hidden space, deep with us, but it isn’t. It is a running score on a test, that once we are born, starts running: the test questions are life’s demands, both from the environment into which we are born, and the culture of family, school, work and citizenship. The tragedy is that few caregivers bother to find out enough about a child to guide them toward a healthy and happy self-awareness. This requires observing and accepting the child’s native gifts and personality, AND helping them to manage their difficulties. This is not the same as curing them of being different, or inflicting life long scars by abandoning them, or diligent training so that like parrots, they can mimic conformist behavior and speech.
Self awareness comes as we live our lives: self-esteem is connected to that process, not as a “before” thing, but an “after” thing: a result of meeting life as it really is, not as a social fantasy. Self awareness is built from the talents and strengths that we didn’t know we possessed. It also arises as we see the “world” as its pretentions crumble before us. Being able to see one’s existence cast against the immensity of reality, and yet to feel secure, is the measure of finally giving birth to a “self”.
I’m satisfied that loving the land is my talent and that this is not a small thing, when there are so many human beings who don’t.