This month we feature another guest post, this time from Tim Giles. Tim has been a social worker for 11 years. After a chance encounter working with men who had had contact with the criminal justice system, he has spent his career working with this population in various leadership and clinical roles. Five years ago Tim had the opportunity to learn and develop an understanding of emotional health with the Global Leadership Foundation. In his words, it has since become a guiding principle in his personal and professional life. We felt Tim’s reflection on the value of emotional health was the perfect message to share at this time of the year.

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we would all be able to identify instances where our actions, or our reflections of our actions, have been self-serving. We might even discover through honest self-reflection that we have approached our lives with a skewed focus towards the self, possibly with totally blinkered attention on meeting our own individual needs even when it comes at the expense of the other.

We forgive ourselves so much more quickly than we forgive others. We reflect favourably on our own achievements yet forget to recognise the contributions of others. Did you take the time to unconditionally appreciate the colleague who emptied the work dishwasher this morning? Were you fair and reasonable in the last argument you had with your partner, your mother, your brother, considering not only your own needs but also those of the other person?

Most of us are so conditioned to meeting our own needs that it can be very difficult to impartially reflect on whether we were fair, for example, when we lashed out at a fellow motorist who we perceived to have cut us off. Had that driver made an honest mistake and not seen us? Is this a section of road that they are less familiar with? Did they really cut us off that badly anyway? We are prepared to paint an unfavourable picture of the other driver and very quickly (with a lot of assumptions) see ourselves as victims of their terrible, inexcusable driving!

We see this on a micro level in individual interactions, however this phenomenon also exists on a macro scale. For instance, human influences resulted in a 50% decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef in the 17 years to 2012. This has been allowed to happen because industries that caused harm to the reef brought us cheaper goods and services than would have been the case had we reformed those industries to protect one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Recently another common example of self-centredness occurred to me in an interaction with my health insurer. I received a request for feedback from my insurer about their service, to which I responded positively. I wanted to recognise some great support I’d received in maximising a rebate for removed wisdom teeth.

It was only on reflection later that it occurred to me that I had only provided this positive feedback because I’d been asked and because they made it easy for me to do so in just a couple of minutes. Had I had a negative experience, I know I would have been prepared to proactively call, wait on hold, complain and possibly even become aggressive if my complaint wasn’t dealt with to my satisfaction. 

Thanks to my exposure to the work of Global Leadership Foundation, I now understand that the self-centredness I’ve been describing – something that nearly all of us possess to some degree – is a reflection of our level of emotional health. If we rise through the emotional health levels, our degree of self-centredness diminishes. With that our interest and concern for the other (our community/those around us) increases. Herein lies the key to improved community cohesion: a capacity to recognise and improve not just our own lives but those of the people around us, from the very important people in our lives to those who we might have a very brief encounter with.

If we can focus on building and developing levels of emotional health across all aspects of society, the potential for improvements in our ability to function effectively as individuals, for interpersonal effectiveness and societal cohesion are limitless.

The journey towards improved emotional health is not easy. It is an ongoing journey – one that most of us will never complete in its entirety. It requires hard work including honest and sometimes confronting reflection every day.

I certainly don’t propose to possess any superior level of emotional health, however I do believe that with passionate and ongoing focus and self-reflection, I have become emotionally healthier in myself. The greatest pay-off in all of this is that the more emotionally healthy I’ve become, the more content, satisfied and happy with life I’ve become. I approach life with a greater sense of optimism and positivity and can honestly say that I enjoy life more than ever before. The good news is that I still have a way to go and that if I can continue to nurture my emotional health, my quality of life can continue to improve.

With widespread, societal improvements in emotional health, perhaps we will be able to see a shift in how our major systems and institutions operate to produce a more inclusive society, a fairer distribution of opportunity and wealth. Perhaps we will see a greater tolerance for diversity and openness to new and different ways of doing things which, in turn, could open our eyes to very exciting new ways of thinking about and doing things in – and for – this world.

Tim Giles

Photo by Jodie Nelson on