Monday, October 27, 2008

Know Thyself

I have a friend from high school. We graduated over 25 years ago! I have affection for Leslie but since she lives an hour away, we rarely see each other. Over the years, even our emails have become infrequent and we've grown apart. Several months ago, we made plans to meet at a party. Unfortunately, through poor communication (or another reason?) we came at different times and missed each other. Afterwards, we played phone tag until I suddenly stopped calling. I wasn't mad at Leslie; I just had to accept what her actions were telling me. For several years now, Leslie responded to my emails or calls but never initiated them. She wasn't interested in maintaining our friendship. It was time to let go.

On the other hand, if I told you I wasn't angry with my cousin, I'd be lying. I may act nonchalant and deny my resentment. I may create plausible excuses for why I'm not returning phone calls. But I know the truth. I'm angry with my cousin.

It is ironic that an outside observer may be fooled (does Leslie think I'm angry since she arrived late to the party and I haven't talked to her since?) but this isn't important. What is vital is that I know the truth. Since anger is taboo for women in our culture, we often make a great effort to convince others we aren't angry with them. We don't want to be perceived as “mean” or worse. But are we also convincing ourselves of a lie?

Even if I decide to lie to my cousin because:

**I don't trust her with the truth, or
**I don't want the hassle, or
**I just want to be passive aggressive and punish her;

I need to know the truth.

If I convince myself that I'm really not angry with my cousin, then:

**I won't acknowledge my own passive aggressiveness and its effects, and
**I lose the message of what my anger is telling me about my needs, and
**I lose the opportunity to grow closer to my cousin by helping her know my needs.

As someone who teaches others about Emotional Intelligence, I'm humbled to see how I don't always make the most ideal choices when I'm frightened or angry. Still, as the Greek philosophers remind us, the first and most important step in health and maturity is to “know thyself.” If I can at least acknowledge my true feelings to myself, I can begin to take responsibility for their effects and learn their unique wisdom for me.

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