Recently I co-facilitated a training workshop in appreciative coaching skills for rural deans, bishops and lay members of the Diocese of Chester. It was the first time I had worked with Anglican clergy and a more welcoming and stimulating audience you couldn’t wish for (I must admit that part of me thought “in your face, Richard Dawkins!”).
The day opened with a prayer and some readings from early Christian writers who were new to me, but whose thoughts deserve a wider audience beyond the church, as they have some wise things to say regarding what we call ’emotional intelligence’ today (thanks to the suffragan Bishop of Stockport, the Right Reverend Robert Atwell, for the references).
The first comes from Gregory of Nyssa, one of the ‘Cappadocian Fathers’ (c 335 – after 394), and should be heeded by anyone in a leadership, teaching or changework role.
Our greatest protection in this life is self-knowledge so that we do not become enslaved to delusion, and end up trying to defend a person who does not exist. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinise themselves. They look at themselves and what they see is strength, beauty, reputation, power, an abundance of material possessions, status, self-importance, bodily stature, a graceful appearance and so forth, and they think that this is the sum of whom they are. Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves because in their absorption with externals they overlook their inner life and leave it unguarded.
How can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves: each of us must know ourselves as we are, and learn to distinguish ourselves from what we are not. Otherwise we may end up unconsciously protecting somebody who we are not, and leave our true selves unguarded.