The common connotation of the term "self centered" is having a "preoccupation." In order to be "self centered" one has to be preoccupied with oneself and one's own affairs. It's during a person's childhood that a person tends to be stuck in preoccupation, and unless one is given the right tools and knowledge, they may be stuck in a rut of self centeredness for the rest of their lives. By giving children tools to understand what self centeredness should be, they can better understand the impact of being aware of oneself and their environment, rather than focusing on the self.
A byproduct of focusing on the self, for example, may be focusing on singular aspects of the environment and making children aware that there is more to be aware about than the singular self. In considering how to help students connect with themselves at the heart and how to help the guide connect with students at the heart (a very important component to educating the child) the guide should also consider the importance of redefining "self centered" so that it's not just a negative connotation, but a natural human tendency in general to have a sense of self centeredness. It goes along with self preservation, but to truly develop and mature into being a successful, fulfilled member of society, one also has to be self aware and aware of their own environment.
So, let's focus on two qualities or personality traits: self centeredness and awareness. Let's understand self centeredness and what it means to bring that understanding to the children, followed by what it means to be aware, coupling the benefits and impact this can potentially have, by giving a child this tool for their future and the future in general.
When one is self centered one is preoccupied with oneself, and that, in and of itself, is a negative experience. Bad habits and addictions can come from self centeredness, whether they be drastic addictions such as drugs and alcohol to overeating to relational addictions like being involved in dramatic relationships or not being able to be social, because you are so self centered that you are not able to participate in relationships by reciprocating other feelings or being self sacrificing in enough of a way to maintain a healthy relationship or friendship. Once understanding that, let's redefine self centeredness for our purposes and associate it with self preservation. If self centeredness, in this way, is about self preservation, it's already equipping a child to have healthy relationships and a healthy life.
With that said, it's important to have a conversation with the children about this idea of self centeredness and the distinction between self centeredness and self preservation. You can ask the elementary child to think about times that they may be self centered and self preserving in that they are caring about themselves or striving to be a better friend or brother or sister. You can revisit it in a few days, after introducing the concept, if they can't think of any examples immediately. An example of a child being self centered might be saying, "Im not going to do this work with you because I'm doing what I want to do. You need to go find your own thing to do." In some cases, you might just hear a child say, "Go away." When a guide hears this, it is the perfect opportunity to shed awareness of the child's ability to communicate differently and express kindness and understanding, which always dissipates one's self centeredness as being the preoccupation of oneself or one's activity.
An example of self centeredness with our definition would be that an older child might be doing a creative great work, utilizing their imagination. A younger child then gets a work similar to theirs and sits near them and starts trying to copy what they are doing and becoming a distraction to the older child and their work. While we know, as a Montessori guide, that the self preservation of a child's concentration is of utmost importance, there have to be, either exceptions to the rule, or exceptions for the opportunity for greater possibilities. This is one of those times. So, when the older child comes to the guide and says, "this person is bothering me and distracting me and copying my work." It is a chance for the guide to say that they understand how they feel and it must feel frustrating, but ask the child to look at it from a different perspective, before asking the child to choose something else.
The guide can simply say, "think about you being that child once, for no other reason than you liked them and looked up to them or you wanted to participate in that, but were too scared to ask. So instead, consider giving the opportunity of appreciating that that child is looking up to you as a role model rather than just trying to annoy you and see if you can be there and appreciate that that is what he or she is doing."
In most cases, as has been my experience, when we communicate with a child in this way, they become more aware of this perception and they're no longer self centered in a preoccupied way, but as long as they can preserve their own work, they can understand their fellow student, because they are trying to do great work too. One might say that this is simply showing empathy, and while that's true, there is no empathy without awareness first. So empathy and other attributes that can be experienced are by-products of being aware first.
What does it mean to be aware? Being aware or having awareness is the ability to perceive through multiple lenses. When we're on the ground we can see the street in front of us, the trees around us, houses, cars and people. If we climbed a ladder to the roof of a house, we could see the grooves of other homes, people, trees, the street and cars, from literally a different perspective. Additionally, if you got on a plane and you looked at the window as you started to take off, you would see even more from a different perspective.
Being aware is nothing more than seeing the environment and your experiences from a different perspective. Through our interactions with the children, we use their conflicts as tools to see different perspectives, which brings more awareness to themselves, the environment, their experiences and the people around them. The next step that comes from practicing awareness is deciding what story you want to hold onto and tell yourself.
Giving the children the opportunity and the choice of which story to hold onto is the key to practicing a fulfilling life. When giving them the experience to choose and letting them have the opportunity to see that choosing a negative story only leads to negative outcomes, you give them the gift of realizing that, holding onto the positive story, yields positive results. These positive results may not be right away, but they always outweigh holding onto a negative perspective.
In conclusion, both the traditionally accepted definition of self centeredness as well as the new definition of self centeredness needs to be understood, which basically involves removing the sense of preoccupation. Self awareness can come from utilizing the tool of mindfulness, simple meditation, or being given the opportunities to be guided through experiences. Overall, one becomes better at being aware through the conscious daily experience of living and in the beginning, having someone being able to guide you through those experiences in a noninvasive way. In the end, being able to connect with your own heart and someone else, having a healthy sense of self centeredness, being self aware and aware of the environment and those around you can be attained by being given these opportunities by the adult or guide.