Understanding Self and Others

Lately I have been hearing from seniors who are writing some of their narrative, in part for themselves as a process of healing and self-understanding and in part for those who will follow them, relations, friends, former co-workers. Reading and listening to these reflections is a great privilege for me, it is one of the great perks of my job, being invited in to share these insights. It is a great gift to take the time, think through one’s life, the arc of the experiences and characters and trace one’s development as a person. Reading and listening I can hear the other gaining deeper understanding into their life and work.

What I rarely hear from others is the integration of learning who they are in relation to those around them. In other words it is one thing to write a narrative about one’s own life, it is another to write that same narrative and include insights about who the others are in our story. I find people fascinating. But the people I am increasingly drawn to are not just those who dig deep into their own mind and heart but those who do the same for the others around them. If I can be excused for mistakes, changes and development, how about those around me? How do I imagine that the person I love, the person I worked with, the persons I shared social time with, matured, regressed, stalled, grew, were transformed, and what did I learn from them?

Of course there are those around us who are very insightful of others but terribly non-reflective when it comes to themselves. The psychiatrist who can assist everyone else in their counselling work but repeat the same mistakes themselves, over and over and over. We all know her/him. But increasingly, in our self-obsessed world, I see the opposite. We are fixated on understanding ourselves, our family history, our illnesses, our strengths, why we fail, what we have learned, etc… All of this is healthy. It’s also spiritual and Biblical. King David, the Apostle Paul, Peter, many Biblical characters wrestle with themselves, come to grips with their narrative.

But there is a relational part of this journey and the search for self-awareness and understanding is always connected to how we relate to others and to God. The folks I am drawn to in conversation are those who are hungry to understand themselves and others, that the two quests remain connected and organic. Self and other feed off each other, as we love ourselves, care for ourselves, we see others challenged and in flux and identify with them. We want to understand because we love.

People are fascinating. Each of us has a story and the trick is to understand that while our story is interesting to us, other stories are interesting as well. The more we understand about others the better we get ourselves and vice versa.

Today I had two conversations about worship and in both I learned something about myself and my flaws. I also learned about those who I spoke to and how they make adjustments and process. I realize that living with mistakes is not a bad thing and how we move with this makes all the difference in how others share what they know about us. I think we all learned more about each other and I feel this will only make our conversations more honest and transformative.