I grew up privileged. I am white, middle class with professional parents. I come from a developed country that cares for it citizens in times of need. I attended an excellent school with people who had similar capabilities to me. In many ways I was, as many of us are, sheltered from life. But being sheltered from life is not the preserve of the privileged. It applies to almost all of us in one way or another. We are mainly exposed to and associate with people like us as we go through life, and this guides our views on life and on people. It leads us to have bias towards those that are not similar to us in some way or to those who we do not understand. However hard we work to deny this to ourselves it is ultimately unavoidable because these biases are often subconscious. We perceive difference more readily than we perceive similarities between us.
Throughout my career as a psychologist and beyond, I have worked in diverse situations and environments. I have spent several months living on a remote island alongside a Fijian tribe and have seen that away from the western cultural ideals of work and productivity life is simultaneously both harder and easier. I have worked in male dominated and violent prison environments attempting to support cultural change in what can be a rigid and indomitable environment. I have spent hours in play therapy with children who have been traumatized and abused by those who were supposed to love and care for them. I have heard the stories of refugees who have endured unimaginable hardships not only in war-torn countries but in their journeys to freedom. I have spent time with many parents struggling to understand their child’s learning disabilities and coming to terms with what that means for the lives of all family members, and I have sat with older adults, including members of my own family, facing the new challenges imposed upon them by diseases of the memory. And I have worked with successful business men and women who outwardly have all the appearances of success, power, money and recognition, but yet feel they have no purpose in life or who can’t understand why with all they have acquired they feel so empty.
At times I have viewed this as a series of quite isolated events and experiences in my life. This is especially true when I explain my history to others and try to draw threads of commonality between these experiences. But what I see quite clearly from CEOs of global firms, from a seemingly carefree Fijian to a small traumatized 5-year-old is the need in all of us to be understood. As individuals at some level we all wish to feel heard and understood. Perhaps by our colleagues at work by whom we feel challenged each day, perhaps by our families where we long for acceptance or approval. But mostly by ourselves. There is a need, often unrecognized within ourselves for our own acceptance. To truly recognize who we are and what it is that we hold most dear. This is reflected in the many recent articles that posit the need to find purpose, to know your own values and to be happy. These are all important issues. But they skim the surface and often falsely lead us to external goals and desires rather than guiding us towards inward reflection and comprehension of our feelings, emotions and deep seated beliefs. Very often I find that this is what people are searching for, but it is not until they begin the journey and experience something of this self-acceptance that they realize that what they have been searching for is within themselves rather than in the world outside them.
If we can recognize our need for self-acceptance and work towards it then it becomes easier to witness the struggle of those around us, in all walks of life and see that their struggle is not so dissimilar from our own.
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Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has 20 years’ experience working with individuals, groups and organizations enabling them to overcome difficulties and develop skills in life and leadership. Contact her at [email protected] or visit the website.