One of the first blog articles I wrote concerned the idea of Yin and Yang. It’s a topic I’ve touched on several times since (and revisited in particular talking about men and women). I reference the concept so often, because I think the duality of opposing concepts is a fundamental truth about the universe.
It’s not the only truth, of course, but it’s a very useful way of seeing things and understanding them. We see duality everywhere! Sometimes it’s something versus the lack of something (heat/cold, light/dark, full/empty). Sometimes it’s truly opposing pairs (north/south, positive/negative, male/female).
Today I’d like to expand on the concept and tell you about the Johari Window.
Computers famously have their own Yin & Yang: the binary bits zero and one. But from such humble beginnings, vast calculations are possible. While a single computer bit only allows us to select Yin or Yang, combining them allows far more possibilities.
A single bit counts 0 & 1, but two bits count 0, 1, 2 & 3.
This happens through the combination of possible patterns: 00, 01, 10 & 11.
Adding a third bit allows us eight combinations: 000 , 001 , 010 , 011 , 100 , 101 , 110 , & 111 . (Remember that computer people always count from zero for reasons I’ve explained before.)
Each bit we add doubles the number of patterns (because you get all the previous patterns with the new bit set to zero, and all the previous patterns again with it set to one). Once you add enough bits, you can count to very high numbers.
But let’s go back to just two bits (and a shave (and a haircut)).
Adding bits allows us to have combinations of ones and zeros. If we treat each bit as its own little Yin & Yang, we can consider combinations of ideas.
Each bit allows us to add one more Yin & Yang concept to combine with other paired ideas.
For example, let’s say the first bit is whether the weather is warm or cool. Let’s make the second bit reflect whether it is clear or rainy. Then we have four combinations: warm & clear, warm & rainy, cool & clear, cool & rainy.
Obviously we’re simplifying things a bit (pun not really intended). But for our purposes, we can ask the age-old question, “Hot enough for ya?” and answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to resolve the continuum of temperature to a single bit.
Likewise we can reduce all the various precipitation states to, “Do I need an umbrella?” and again come up with a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Two bits gives us four combinations of weather.
If we add a third bit, say “windy/calm” we can have eight combinations: the first four in calm, and the first four again in wind. To represent those eight choices, we could either make two four-square diagrams, or we could create a 3D two-level diagram with the levels representing windy and calm (this is left as an exercise for the reader).
Back in 1955, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram created a technique called the Johari Window. It’s not a formal psychological technique, but — not unlike Yin & Yang — it serves as a useful tool for understanding some aspects of life.
If you’ve walked the halls of Corporate America, you may have encountered this as part of some team-building seminar (that’s where I first ran into it). It also makes an appearance in some self-help approaches.
Bottom line, it’s just an interesting way of understanding how you present to the world, how you see yourself, and how others see you.
As demonstrated above, two bits can be shown in a “four-square” diagram. The diagram is really an overlapping of two trivially simple diagrams (shown to the right), each one representing one bit.
Rather than warm/cool and clear/rainy, the two bits of the Johari Window are:
- The part of yourself you see vs the part you can’t.
- The part of you others see vs the part they can’t.
When we combine these two concepts, we end up with a four-square diagram that reveals four areas of ourselves:
- The public part that everyone sees.
- The private part that only you see.
- The “blind spot” part that only others see.
- The “unknown” part of ourselves no one sees.
Again, this is not a formal analysis; it is merely a way of seeing how you interface with the world.
The goal of self-actualization (and this is why you run into the Johari Window in self-help and self-awareness contexts) is to minimize that part of yourself you cannot see. The idea is to reduce your blind spots.
Such parts always exist; parts of our unconscious are (probably) forever locked away out of sight, but the more you know yourself, the healthier (and more powerful) your mind is.
We may choose to reveal much of our selves to others or not, but we often have less control over the parts other see that we ourselves are blind to. True friends are those that help you discover those parts. (And smart people are those that learn from the feedback of friends.)
Part of the problem with our unrevealed selves is that we may not wish to truly know ourselves and our motivations with complete clarity. Many people shy away from their own thinking!
Personal and social life is filled with white lies we use to grease the rails of existence. (Yes, I will get that raise. No, this haircut doesn’t look ridiculous. I think she really does love me!)
Sigmund Freud broke the human psyche into three functional areas: the id (animalistic source of passion and drive), the super-ego (the “conscience”) and the ego (the mediator between id and super-ego).
The poor ego often has to make up rationalizations, or even lies, to balance primal desires with socially acceptable behavior. (Infidelity is a good example of the id getting its way through some rationalizing behavior of the ego in order to placate the super-ego (which is probably screaming, “Foul!!”).)
The goal of minimizing the part of yourself you don’t see involves accepting the drives of the id as well as the social conscience of the super-ego. Being willing to look into the mirror of our own minds often takes a strong stomach!
It is helpful, perhaps, to realize two things:
Firstly, when you come down to it, humans are pretty nasty and brutish. If you, gentle reader, think that’s not so, I submit to you that there are vast areas of your own psyche you’re not very well in touch with.
Secondly, from self-knowledge comes the potential of self-improvement. The incredible thing about humans is that we do have an ego and a super-ego that give us motivations and purpose far beyond our animal origins.
From the muck of beastiality arises humanity. We may sometimes have a long way to go, but so, too, have we come a long way. Much of the journey is up to you to chart and follow. Maps, such as the Johari Window, can sometimes help!
“Stay self-aware, my friends!”