Some life events are so powerful that they are indelibly branded into our consciousnesses, even if we are not directly involved in them. For instance, I often think about an incident that occurred more than 20 years ago when our family lived in Chicago.

 

My neighbor was mowing his lawn and his 3-year-old boy Jimmy was riding his tricycle up and down the sidewalk. He made a sharp turn and fell over onto the cement, hitting his knee. He began to cry. Two bigger boys-5 and 6 years old-laughed at Jimmy from across the street.

 

Jimmy's dad, who may have had some insecurities about his son's lack of toughness, immediately stopped work and snapped, "Jimmy, Get up from there and stop crying! You're not hurt!"

 

Jimmy did eventually stop crying, but I've always wondered what was going on inside his head. Through the years, I heard Jimmy's dad yell the same basic message to him hundreds of times. From an early age Jimmy learned that he should ignore feelings of fragility and vulnerability.

 

It isn't just little boys who are told to ignore their internal messages. The same is true for little girls. The message may be different, but the results are the same. While little boys are told to "be tough," little girls are told to be sweet, proper, and nice.

Kathy's parents may not be comfortable with her aggressive feelings, or anything hinting of anger or sexuality. She is told-verbally or non-verbally-"good girls don't behave that way." So she pretends she doesn't have such feelings or thoughts.

 

Let's fast forward 25 years into the future.  Jimmy and Kathy have met, married, and now have two young children. Given their upbringing, it is unlikely that either will know anything about their inner world. They will be miserably ill-equipped to deal with their employers, friends, children, and each other.

 

If Jimmy doesn't know how he really thinks or feels, how can he represent himself accurately? He can't be true to who he is because he doesn't know who he is. How can Kathy clearly state her feelings when she is disconnected from the internal messages that would make her feelings and thoughts available at each moment?

 

Two Reasons to Look Inward

 

Authenticity involves the relentless determination and ability to make one good decision after another, and good decision making is an internal event for every person on earth. This is why I am so concerned about people who have never become comfortable with exploring their inner world.

 

First, If you fail to look inward you won't take possession of any internal data-your thoughts, feelings, needs, wishes, and concerns. Clearly without this information you will jeopardize any decision at hand. You won't know what you feel.

 

Second, and even more important, if you fail to look inward and don't listen closely to yourself, you are in no position to deal with your thoughts, other's thoughts, and your values. You will be unable to stand in the middle of all this information and make a solid decision.