Debra Swersky
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Know Thyself

Throwing this out there… I am not a religious person. I had a Bat Mitzvah (yes), and did my Hebrew-School-best to read Hebrew (sure), and tried to understand the Torah (and all that jazz). But, that doesn’t make me a religious person. (I’m sorry if you’re a relative reading this and are offended. That was not my intent in writing this post.) Living in Texas I’m now surrounded by lots of much more religious people than I, mostly non-Jewish, who say grace before meals, talk about the Bible, and participate in Ash Wednesday festivities. (To my religious friends, please forgive my ignorance and take no offense by this post.) In fact, the only reason that I bring up religion at all is because I read a blog post last week from Eric Barker, the guy behind Barking Up The Wrong Tree, who brings “science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life.” It’s a weekly blog that’s an interesting read. This past week the post was: “How To Tell If Someone Is Lying: 5 Research-Backed Secrets.” Spoiler alert! The 5th “secret” is: Know Thyself.

The post explores how to avoid being lied to and gives advice from Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game (I hate to disappoint here, I haven’t read this one yet). Maria shares her insight on “how you can get better at spotting lies and dodging fraud.” As with most of Mr. Barker’s posts, I was intrigued enough to read through until the end (even though his posts are typically on the lengthier side), but there was a word in the 5th secret that caught my attention. 

Maria interviewed people who repeatedly infiltrated cults that used the most extreme forms of manipulation and deception. How did they resist being influenced? They had a strong sense of self. They didn’t rely on other people to tell them who they were. They knew what was important to them, what they wanted, and what their hopes and dreams were. By having a strong self-definition they were able to resist the most intense forms of coercion… [Mr. Barker then goes onto say]…  On the flip side, who is most vulnerable to being manipulated? Someone who has big changes going on in their life — good or bad. When our lives are unstable and shifting we’re open to change. And that can mean bad things if someone is deliberately trying to influence you.

So… why is it that I started talking about all of this religious stuff upfront? Well, as I was noodling on the phrase “know thyself” all week it occurred to me that knowing about yourself is kind-of-super-really-flippin’-important and that it should be one of the 10 commandments… or something. (Here’s the ignorance, people… bear with me). Which, of course, prompted me to Google the 10 commandments which I could not recite. Lo and behold “Know Thyself” is not one of them. Apparently, knowing oneself is pretty difficult. So says Benjamin Franklin:

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

In thinking about this phrase all week, I reflected on my own process to get to know myself. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always been fun, and it, for sure, hasn’t been quick (or is even over!)... but, without a doubt, the time, effort, and energy that I have put into the journey has been worth it.*

* Many thanks to my mom and sisters for enduring the struggle with me.

Debra Swersky