“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”
~Lao Tzu

My daughter yelled at me the other day. “You never told me that ‘awareness is the first step’ is from AA!” she said. “I say that all the time, because you’ve said it to me, but you never told me it was from AA!”

I guess I didn’t think it mattered where it was from. What matters is the idea it shares. That one of the most important steps we can take is to become aware – of ourselves and others. To know ourselves so that we know our strengths and weaknesses. To know what we bring to the discussion or relationship. And to know others, so that we can live and work with them more easily and effectively. So that we can understand them and even appreciate them.

Knowing others is wisdom. When we know others, we know what works for them and what they like. We know what actions or words might set them off, and what approaches will most likely bring out their best. We are better able to tailor our requests and interactions to them, so that things can go smoothly and more enjoyably.

Knowing yourself is enlightenment. When we know ourselves, we know what works for us and what we like. We know what sets us off, so that we can do our best to stay calm, and what calms us down when we need it. We know the sorts of people and situations that cause us to shine, and those that are more difficult for us to handle. And by knowing these things, we are more likely to show up as we want to, to be more Thoughtful, to bring our best self to work and play.

But how do we get this wisdom and enlightenment? How do we learn to know more about others? By asking and questioning:

  • Asking others what works for them
  • Asking others what we do that gets in the way, and what we do that helps
  • Questioning our tendency to think we’re always right, or always wrong
  • Questioning others so that we actually understand what they mean and want, rather than what we think they mean and want

By observing and being receptive:

  • Observing when they’re at their best, and their worst
  • Observing times when they seem calm, and times when they seem agitated
  • Being receptive to their point of view, and perspective
  • Being receptive to their feedback, even if we don’t like it

And by noticing and appreciating the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in the people around us.

And how do we learn more about ourselves? Again, by all of these same things. By being open to learning and to letting go of preconceived notions. By being curious and willing to see things we may not like to see. And to hear things (about ourselves and others) that we may not like to hear.

It can be a long journey to wisdom and enlightenment, but as they say in AA, “it’s the first step.” And it’s an important first step to take.

How do you gain wisdom and enlightenment?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support on the journey to greater awareness – of yourself and others – contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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