Psychologists and philosophers have contemplated the subject of self-awareness for the last century. The psychological study of self-awareness began in 1972 when psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund developed its theory, which they proposed was essentially an act of self-control. “When we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.” (1972)
Self-awareness is a character trait that does not come naturally to most. It requires us to know what is happening inside ourselves, acknowledge, and accept these thought processes as part of being human. It is about paying attention to ourselves with an open mind and heart. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, self-awareness is the key to emotional intelligence. When we possess the ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment, we will come to understand ourselves better and be at peace with who we are. Additional benefits to practicing self-awareness include acting consciously rather than passively, developing good psychological health, and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Those with self-awareness often have greater depth of life experience and are likely to behave more compassionately towards others as well as towards themselves.
But can having too much self-awareness create arrogance? In Judaism, we learn that there is a fine line between self-awareness and arrogance. The Talmud (Sotah 5a) discusses the evils of arrogance and advises all Torah scholars to possess an “eighth of an eighth” of pride. One who wishes to be taken seriously must carry himself as a true Torah scholar. A Torah scholar knows his talents were G-d-given and that his abilities are hardly developed to the potential with which he was born with. To his students, he is seen as a master and he must act as such. He must demand their attention, supervise their development, and ensure that they respect other Torah scholars who are bearers of G-d’s Torah, as respecting scholars demonstrates respect for G-d Himself.
It is important to strike the right balance. Looking down on ourselves disgraces us to ourselves, our children, and our students. We must carry with ourselves the knowledge of who we are and what we represent in order to succeed in life. To a very small extent, in accordance with the teachings of the Talmud, we also must make sure that the world takes notice. We must carry ourselves proudly, but not arrogantly, by being aware of our shortcomings and knowing the role we play in society and in the world. When we learn to practice self-awareness, we can truly come to a discovery of ourselves and the inner world within us which was unknown to us before.