A few months back, David Brooks, a columnist with the New York Times, who I disagree with more than agree, asked the question How do you succeed in being introspective without being self-absorbed? He concludes: “The self is something that can be seen more accurately from a distance than from close up. The more you can yank yourself away from your own intimacy with yourself, the more reliable your self-awareness is likely to be.”
As someone who has had to periodically defend the fact that I engage in the (perceived) navel-gazing that is the personal blog, I do believe there is something to be said for this methodology: “We are better self-perceivers if we can create distance and see the general contours of our emergent system selves — rather than trying to unpack constituent parts.”
He suggests three ways of doing this.
“First, you can distance yourself by time.” Somewhere in my life, I have learned to do this. My first instinct in a situation is not always the best. Facebook debates are not only non-productive, generally speaking, they make me uneasy. So when I write something two or three days, or weeks, or months after an event, its lack of immediacy is actually valuable to me. It is less fraught with emotion.
“Second, we can achieve distance from self through language.” Sometimes, I am watching my own movie, and it’s not me commenting, but some iteration of me. This may not make sense to you, and I wish I could explain it better. But I have hit on a self-duality that’s useful.
“Finally, there is narrative… We should see ourselves as literary critics, putting each incident in the perspective of a longer life story.” Isn’t almost everything we experience in a broader context?
So, unintentionally, I’m taking life lessons from David Brooks. I can deal with that.