The self assertion trap
Have you ever thought you should be more assertive?
In one of the companies I worked for there was a list of values that all employees were judged against in their performance reviews.
One of the values was ‘Edge’. That meant putting yourself out there, being self-assertive, stamping your mark on meetings and projects. For someone who had long believed the words of a gym teacher that she was a ‘wet prune’ this was a hard value to live up to indeed.
But I gave it a good go. And as a result I spent meetings wondering how I was coming across. Was I assertive enough? Was I talking enough? How was I coming across? Was I being bold, confident enough?
Many of us think that success is a function of the self – of belief in the self, of how we put ourselves out in the world, of how others regard the self. And so it looks like to do well we need more self assertion. It all seems to be on our shoulders. Make yourself bigger, more impactful, more important. Stand up for yourself.
And what if our focus on self assertion, indeed the focus on the self at all, instead of being the key to all successes, is actually the only cause of any problem we ever have?
Let’s have a look at what is happening.
Sometimes it looks like the assertion of this self of ours is vital because that is the key to everything we have ever wanted. Right?
And what this results in is a stream of thinking along the lines of ‘me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me’.
Everything goes through that filter. Every thing we say, hear, do. All about me. A constant analysis of self. The behaviour and body language of others is judged in relation to what it says about ‘me’. Results are judged in relation to what they say about ‘me’.
This would be all very well, except the interesting thing about this self is that… it doesn’t exist.
And yes I know that sounds ridiculous. Because look. There she is. Sitting in the fourth floor meeting room with her work clothes and her note book and her obsession with what people are thinking of her. Of course she exists.
Well not really.
Because all experience of Clare in the meeting room is a creation of thought and belief. If there are seven people in the meeting there will be seven versions of Clare, including her own. None of them true. How can they be? Because everything believed about that Clare will change. All of it transient. None of it objective or permanent or truthful in any way.
Where does that leave us?
It means that all of that attention and focus on ‘me me me me me me’ is a total waste of time. Not just a waste of time but a massive distraction. Because with a focus on me the entire objective of that moment becomes to defend, protect and put forward a self that doesn’t exist.
This narrowing of focus onto an idea of self that only exists in that moment closes everything down.
The senses hone in on every possible attack or praise. Vision constricts. There is judgement, defence, protection, one upmanship. It is the end of listening, seeing, feeling.
In other words, in all that self assertion, in all that me me me, the full experience of the meeting is temporarily constricted. Nothing can be heard free of the weight of meaning and implication. From this place of vulnerability, ideas may be expressed but they are unnatural, forced, jangling with self-protective tension, alert only for what is relevant to its own temporary self image. With a focus on the self, all there is is the self. And this is no good for anyone. Especially not us.
And the crazy thing is that the more attention there is on the self, the more it seems there is to defend. A vicious circle arises from nowhere. I know how easily that self defence and self focus can lead to real antagonism in a meeting if the self feels it is being attacked. Leading of course to more antagonism. This is how all wars start whether in the kitchen, the meeting room or the government offices. Unconscious behaviour meets unconscious behaviour.
What happens when there is no focus on self?
We come into reality. We are there in the meeting, in the friendship, in our work as open awareness. As presence. We notice an idea of self arising and disappearing. It is not important. We notice an idea of separate others arising and disappearing. We know that is also a creation of thought and will change.
Sitting there, open, alert, engaged, there is breadth of vision and clarity of listening. Words are spoken and heard. The channel is open. Ideas flow in. Are turned into form by the miracle, unknown conversion process that seems to be who we really are. There is no illusory self in the way. Just pure flow of intelligence. Flowing in and moving out and seeing itself in the faces around the table. There is laughter, creation, peace, love even, because there can’t not be – even in a fourth floor meeting room.
No self. No other. No trap.