“To Thine Own Self Be True…”


Leina‘ala Ahu Isa, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Ke Aloha Nō! Aloha Pumehana.

Each of us, whether we realize it or not, has a self-image. We see ourselves in some way—smart, slow, kindly, well-intentioned, lazy, misunderstood, meticulous or shrewd; we all can pick adjectives that describe ourselves. This is the “I” behind the face in the mirror, the “I” that thinks, dreams, talks, feels and believes, the “I” that no one knows fully. In this month’s column, I will explore the meaning of the self-image, particularly in relation to changing behavior in this “new normal” which Covid-19 has placed us in… and how changes in self-concept come about. Who would have thought a pandemic of this nature would change us forever, or at least get us thinking about how we change things for the better.

The self-concept is important because everything we do or say, everything we hear, feel, or otherwise perceive, is influenced by how we see ourselves. One reason this self-concept is crucial is that it has a great deal to do with manager development — with being a growing person and eventually realizing one’s self-potential. Note the term “manager development” rather than management development; the purpose of such development is to help individual managers to grow. After all, they have to do most of the job themselves. No one can tell managers exactly how to grow. Rather, the most one can do is to help managers understand themselves in their own situations, and then trust them to find the best directions themselves.

Coming to a knowledge of oneself is no simple task and often goes underdeveloped because we often tend to resist it. Many people have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror and dealing with the ravages of time. Fortunately, we can be grateful to the mirror for showing us only our external appearance. Only through self-knowledge, openness to criticism, and being receptive to facts and perspectives that challenge our own, can we arm ourselves against denial. That, of course, is easier said than done and requires a special quality that does not come naturally to us either: humility. “Taking on a disposition of humility and learning keeps us open to changing ourselves and consequently keeps us from claiming to be perfect.” — Bill Welter and Jean Egmon, The Prepared Mind of a Leader (2006)

Rather than see ourselves as we truly are, we see ourselves as we would like to be. Sometimes self-deception can be more comforting than self-knowledge. We like to fool ourselves because confronting our failings can be too painful. The inability to see ourselves clearly can be described by the term “behavioral economics.” This is the intersection of psychology and economics, a field that challenges the strict rationality of most modern economic models — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. The physicist, Richard Feynman, said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — you are the easiest person to fool.”

Polonius’ famous quote:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

ʻO wau iho nō me ke aloha,
Trustee Leinaʻala Ahu Isa