You Are More than the Sum of your Parts

This post comes to us courtesy of CarpeBootium (a blog)

I want you to imagine that I asked you to describe someone you know well (could be yourself or someone else).  The way you will describe them is to list 40 things that they have been through and survived, things that have described them, their circumstances, and/or their character.  The only catch is that these 40 things must be seen in the lens of someone who doesn’t like that person.

How easy do you think it would be to come up with 40 bad things to say about the past and/or present of a person you know well?  How much harder would it be to say them about yourself?  You lived the experience.  You hear your inner voice on a daily basis so if anyone knows how to criticize you, it’s you.  Would you criticize yourself fairly or would you embellish?  Would your occasional overeating be “momentary indulgences” or “gluttony”?  Would your passivity be “prudence” or “cowardice”?  Would you know the difference if you were describing yourself?

Now I want you to imagine that I asked you to describe yourself using a list of 40 positive characteristics (either past or present).  This list must be seen through the eyes of someone who loves and admires you. How hard would that be to do?  40 things?  Are there 40 things you can accurately and positively say about yourself that wouldn’t just be made up?  Anyone can come up with 5…or 10…even 20, but 40?  Go on, give it a try.  Would you appraise yourself fairly or would you minimize the positives?  Would “genuinely caring for sick, impoverished, elderly” become “does volunteer work”?  Would “diligently provides for the physical, emotional, social and spiritual welfare of spouse/children” become “committed to family”?  Would “stays late, comes in early, and puts every bit of energy into seeing a goal quickly and thoroughly completed” become “dedicated”?

In order to do this, you have to search yourself for qualities you like about yourself, compliments you have received, attributes you would put on a resume or personal ad, and that might get you to 30.  After that, what do you do?  You have to come up with 40 things and you have run out of sources.  If you keep at it, you will likely come up with more that you just don’t think about or recognize about yourself, unless you are forced to.  These are things that are so core to who you are that you don’t recognize them as being an attribute anymore than the nose on your face.  If you didn’t have these attributes (or your nose) you wouldn’t really be the same person, would you?

I hope you have taken the opportunity to write these two lists about yourself.  If you haven’t I would like to invite you to do so.  After you have finished your lists, take a good hard look at both of them.  They paint a very different image of the person, don’t they.  When you talk to yourself (hopefully this is an internal conversation, but maybe not), which words do you use?  Do many of them come from the first list or the second?  When you describe and talk about yourself to others, which words do you use?

The effect these two lists provide is called the Halo Effect (which has nothing to do with the video game).  Essentially it is the lens with which you see yourself and others.  If your lens is more focused on the first list, it is likely you don’t think too highly of yourself or others because the good is muted and the bad is exaggerated.  If your lens is more focused on the second list, it is likely you have very high self-esteem and see the world as full of opportunity.  If you have a mix of the two (as most people do), then you see somethings in shadow and some in light, which is healthy and normal.  Just be very careful of tipping too far to one side or the other.  Whereas the first list will lead you to depression and anti-social behavior, the second list will lead you to narcissism and obnoxiousness.  The reality is that both lists are right, wrong and incomplete.  They are right in that the show something that has or does attribute to you.  They are wrong in their scope (too much or too little).  They are incomplete because they only look at you from one side.  Look at all of you and see who you really are.