“What follows ‘I am’ is far more important than what follows ‘You are’.” I put that quote up on Facebook a while back and got a LOT of traction with it. It seems so simple a concept – what you think and say about yourself matters more than what others think and say about you. Right? There shouldn’t be any argument about that. But in reality, we spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about how others perceive us; what they think of us; how they view us; what our reputation is and so on. I’m as guilty as the rest. And then something will happen, or I’ll ready something or hear something… and it’ll help to ground me. It will remind me: what I think of me is more important than what someone else thinks of me.
It’s easy enough to do and it’s completely understandable at times: people make an observation about how you look, something you’ve done, what you’re wearing… whatever it may be. If it’s a compliment we always love to hear it. If it’s a compliment from someone we actually care about, it can mean the world. Isn’t it interesting though… we highly value those compliments from people we care about and who we believe care about us, but society has reached a point where unsolicited compliments from a stranger are creepy? Whatever happened to the days of being courteous and, thanks to that, being able to pass on a politely worded compliment to someone who simply appreciated the pleasure of receiving the compliment?
As nice as it can be to get such compliments, we need to keep in mind that they are quite often either very singular – inspired by an isolated act or statement. The insight offered isn’t very deep or insightful. The stranger who sees you do something nice, or hears you say something that appreciate, can offer up that compliment but it’s important to understand that the compliment is narrow in its scope. That stranger doesn’t really know who you are. They are complimenting you on a singular observation they’ve made.
The greater compliments are those that are more insightful. Those usually only come from people who know you more in depth. The people who have known you all your life or for significant portions thereof, typically family members or longtime friends, sometimes workmates depending on how long you’ve been in your job, can pay you compliments that should be considered of higher value. After all, they know who you are far better than the stranger on the street who simply sees a small snippet of you.
That all only makes sense, right? So, here’s the question and the focus of this entry: who knows you better than you? I know, it sounds weird. We don’t compliment ourselves, do we? In my experience, when I’m in front of a mirror, I don’t typically say, “Hey, Frank… you know you did a really good job on…” whatever. It’s probably a sign of needing some mental help if you talk to yourself in the mirror too much, but when else do you pay yourself a compliment? Truth be told, you can compliment yourself anywhere and anytime. YOU know your heart, your motivations, your thoughts, your feelings. YOU know when you’ve truly earned that compliment or when you need to work harder.
Ultimately, all of that boils down to how you perceive yourself. How do you define yourself? The connection between how others compliment you and how you view yourself has to be kept in perspective. The statements others make can impact what we think of ourselves but it’s vital that we keep in mind that others don’t know us as well as we know ourselves. Even your family members and closest friends might misunderstand or not make a complete observation. While it’s important to take their observations into consideration and appreciate the concern they show in making any observations, paying compliments or voicing critiques, it’s more important to listen to our own inner voices.
And that takes me back to the beginning. There are a lot of statements and identifying completions that can follow the words, “I am…” Whatever they are, they come from within you. They reflect how you view yourself and how you perceive yourself. When someone else says, “You are…” and then finishes the statement, we have to remember that it’s how they perceive you, your actions and thoughts and how all of that is filtered through their perceptions, experiences and beliefs. It cannot be as accurate as how you perceive yourself. They can’t possibly have that same depth of insight.
It’s vital, as we consider who we are and how we define ourselves to keep that in mind. WE know ourselves best and WE define who we are. The statements of others do not.