Bruce Lee (via Brainpickings) asserts:
We can see through others only when we see through ourselves.
Lack of self-awareness renders us transparent; a soul that knows itself is opaque.
I find this to be true. I think it's particularly well illustrated by one narrow facet of life. If you look at an infant, it is almost not self-aware at all. It lives every thought, every feeling, every bowel movement as if it is not being observed, either not even by its own self. Eventually it becomes a child, but there is still a lack of self-awareness, things that are not even on its radar. The child picks his nose, it throws tantrums, it does all manner of things that are considered ridiculous or at least transparent by its observers. It is not aware that it is being judged for these acts. It does not see any ridiculousness in its actions.
You see this in adults all of the time too (every adult, every person, including me). Maybe it's the couple that doesn't seem to understand that the way they fight in public shows that one or both have a rigid interpretation of gender roles. Maybe it's someone's championship of Donald Trump as someone who "tells things like they really are" at an office holiday party that suggests that their vision of the world is one of relative intolerance. Maybe it's the over defensiveness someone gets over a particular issue that suggests that this is a sore spot.
But I really wonder, if Bruce Lee is correct, is it just that people like that seem transparent to others because they're not as adept at hiding those particular traits (or don't realize that they probably should be hiding those particular traits)? Is it just about the breach of social norms that make these people seem transparent to me and others? If so, that makes Bruce Lee seem less wise.
But I think it is more than that, there's more to it than just noticing the violation of social norms. Because today I saw a young teenage girl in Christmas performance spring up to the stage and back down with the same sort of exaggerated springing body movements of a very excited three year old. It was definitely a violation of social norms. I thought that most people in the audience would identify that sort of behavior as immature. But it also had such a purity, such a lack of affectation to it -- as if she was self-aware, just not social norm aware, and just being true to herself and whatever it is that she wanted to do in that moment with regard for keeping up appearances. And she didn't seem transparent to me. She still seemed opaque. So it seems like it's not just about knowing what masks to wear to hide our true selves? But also, how is it that sociopaths are so good at reading people? Is it that they are more self-aware than most? Or perhaps more self-aware of the role of cultural expectations in which they live?
Another thought from Bruce Lee describing a problem that a lot of people experience, and for sure I see it in personality disorders that have a tendency to create a false self and have weak self-awareness (e.g. narcissism):
To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are… Yet it is remarkable that the very people who are most self-dissatisfied and crave most for a new identity have the least self-awareness. They have turned away from an unwanted self and hence never had a good look at it. The result is that those most dissatisfied can neither dissimulate nor attain a real change of heart. They are transparent, and their unwanted qualities persist through all attempts at self-dramatization and self-transformation.
And a parting thought that seems to reference the external control fallacy that got referenced in this post on cognitive distortion:
There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts that are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. Both the strong and the weak grasp at the alibi. The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience; they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders. The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instrument of a higher power — God, history, fate, nation, or humanity.