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Self-Surveillance, Humility and Friendships

In order to successfully relate to others in authentic and meaningful ways, we must be willing to do honest self-surveillance. This skill allows us to spot our underlying feelings and understand how they drive our behavior. Here are a couple of specific examples.

In a recent email, I asked Tobiaz, my son-in-law, how he was enjoying being the assistant soccer coach for my grandson’s team. I mistakenly erased his emailed response but here’s a paraphrased version of it:

Ron, thanks for asking me about my soccer coaching. Being the assistant coach of Lars’ team has reminded me of my own experience in Sweden as a young boy when my uncle’s friend, a father of one of my teammates, coached my soccer team. He clearly favored his son and gave him more attention and playing time than he did the rest of us. I was resentful and didn’t like that he played favorites. I remember to this day what that felt like. But guess what? I find myself wanting to do the same thing with Lars now that I’m coaching his team. I have to keep a close eye on myself to make sure I don’t.”

I find Tobiaz’s willingness to do such honest self-surveillance an admirable quality. Further, his willingness to share his thoughts about it makes me feel closer to him. Such vulnerability both touches me and inspires trust. It also confirms my belief that my daughter made a wise choice in a husband.   

In this same vein, I recently had an email exchange with a new acquaintance, John Keahey, a published author and journalist who has kindly consented to share some of his extensive knowledge about Sicily (He’s currently writing a second book about the island). After picking his brain and receiving a generous number of in-depth, single-spaced email pages of information, I asked, “So, how’s your new book coming?” His response included an insight into his own feelings and motivations:

“I had a major interview this weekend in LA with a food historian; this coming weekend, it’s Chicago for two days with an Italian literature professor who is being unbelievably generous with her time. Then, the research has to cease and the real writing to begin—beyond the 10,000 words now sitting in a rough-rough, stream-of-consciousness draft. (Often, I have a hard time stopping the research, which is a lot of fun, and starting the writing, which is just plain hard. Hemingway admitted once that he used to love writing long letters to his friends and publisher; that way, he could delay the pain of writing. Maybe that’s why I write long emails!)”

I appreciate his generous sharing of information and insights about our mutual area of interest, but I am even more impressed by his ability to look inward and identify his feelings and motivations, and by his willingness to share these with me. Clearly, John knows how to connect with others in authentic, meaningful ways. I find his openness to be an attractive quality. I suspect John has a well-developed ability to build and maintain friendships.

What I find additionally intriguing about these email exchanges with Tobiaz and John is that they’re both confined to the written word. We are not talking on the phone about these things. Yet, the  richness in the exchanges convinces me that written correspondence can somehow allow a pure meeting of minds, which at times can be inhibited during verbal exchanges. I don’t pretend to know why this is so; it may have to do with the absence of confusing verbal or nonverbal signals. However, that’s a topic for another day and a different blog article.

I hope this brief look into the concept of self-surveillance piques your interest and motivates you to think more about the benefits of looking inward and the possible joys of sharing your insights with friends.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.


Comment from Anonymous
Time: September 15, 2009, 7:23 am

I really liked this topic! I totally agree with you about “Self-Surveillance”.
It is hard to see your blind-spots.

Comment from Johnny
Time: September 15, 2009, 10:39 am

I too find that when I take time to write, rather than merely speak, that it is in those private times, devoid of distractions, that I am able to really I listen to what I am saying and question all that I have written.

The combination of honesty and reflection allow me to reveal in written form feelings I might otherwise edit for public consumption. I find that my written correspondence is not only special access to my private self that I grant the reader,it is also personally access to my heart and reveals to me what I really think and feel.

Your article allowed me to visit this issue that I may not have otherwise. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Comment from Misty Wycoff
Time: September 16, 2009, 8:30 am

As usual, you are right on. As a therapist, I love intimate sharing, something deeper than the idle chit-chat that sometimes occurs. I sometimes wonder if this is just my character or my training and experience, but I too enjoy when people respond deeply. With the human ability to share our experience of being alive, why not do it as best we can?

Comment from LC
Time: September 22, 2009, 7:58 am

I had not before thought of honesty as being related to self-surveillance but, as you suggest, I now see that it is. In a way, you have just given me a new tool to use in my relationships with others. I love being honest. It doesn’t make me feel vulnerable when I am honest. Instead it makes me feel good. It makes me feel connected to the person I am being honest with and, whether I am perceiving it correctly or not, I always feel like the person I am being honest with is more responsive to me. But I have also found that honesty seems to have levels. At the highest levels I feel really good and at lower levels just kind of good. After reading this article, I think I now know why that is. Sometimes my honesty is just based on gut instinct and other times on past experiences ( as you put it -based on self surveilance). If I connect my honesty to a past event, it always feels better that when I don’t. Now I know why. I think the word honesty can also be replaced with the word empathy here. If I can connect my empathetic words to one of my own past situations, it makes me feel like me and the person I am talking to are even more tightly bound. Thanks for the insight.

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