A couple of weeks back, I made a rare appearance at a family gathering. For someone who doesn’t like to talk a lot nor drink, I’m usually tucked away in the corner quietly observing people around me during gatherings as such. On this particular day, one relative found his way to me and started with his unsolicited advice giving; chiefly around how I shouldn’t be stuck up on earning ‘grey cash’ (NRS). Instead, I should be a ‘global citizen’ earning ‘green currency’ (USD).
It would have been tempting to start getting agitated and react, but I chose to keep my cool. I wanted to assume good intent on his part, but realized he doesn’t know me well enough to understand what my values and belief systems are.
Here I was talking to a person for whom imposing his personal values was second nature. I say this because I have seen him doing this to others in the family on multiple occasions. As someone who tries to connect everything back to myself so that I’m more self-aware, I wanted to channelize this interaction to better understand myself.
‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a very common question we get asked during our childhood. Overtime, the question changes to ‘What do you do?’. We tend to construct the answer to this pervasive question around our work role, but I’ve found it helpful to think in terms of the kind of person we are becoming. Given the rarity of this question, it might be difficult to arrive at an answer right away. So what can we do? Inversion is a great mental model to enhance self-awareness. Instead of thinking of what we aspire to be, we go the opposite route thinking of what we would never want for ourselves.
So if my list of qualities I admire in others is like this:
- Live by their values but don’t impose them on others
- Understand that saying no is better than promising half-heartedly and not keeping the promise
- Make time to self-reflect on a regular basis so that they can live with more intentionality
- Self-aware enough to realize that life is all about trade-offs and that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side
- Focused on sorting out their problems rather than appearing sorted out
- Take responsibility for their life, starting with their emotional reactions
- Understand that the luxuries they enjoy today can be snatched away without notice; hence are mindful of being a user and not a slave to the gifts of fortune
- Strive to become a better person but with acceptance for who they are right now
From inversion, I would have arrived at the above points through this route:
Qualities I detest in others (hence I don’t want in myself):
- Impose their values on others people
- Can’t say no; their yeses are half-hearted and so more often than not, they overpromise and underdeliver
- Avoid spending time reflecting on themselves
- Always looking for what others have and how they compare
- Focused on enhancing how they are perceived instead of doing internal work
- Blame others or circumstances when things start getting difficult
- Having had a taste of luxury, take pride in now being able to enjoy ‘nothing but the best’
- Emphasize only on external goals
The interaction I had with my relative was a gateway to better understand my values. When judging others, if we start noticing how we are feeling, we can start examining those feelings. Instead of getting into a rut, using our judgment of others to understand ourselves can provide us with better clarity about what we want for ourselves.
As the relative left for another conversation a few minutes later, I smiled thinking of a quote from a friend:
Observe the person you condemn.
Of the qualities the person in concern possesses,
note down the ones you detest the most.
Check whether those qualities are present in you or not.
Be aware of all that defines what you detest, and make a conscious effort to rid yourself of them.
That, just might be,
the truest act of rebellion.~ Iih
Using Inversion for Self-Knowledge