An unexamined life
An unexamined life
“An unexamined life is not worth living” – so said Socrates, the first moral philosopher and arguably the greatest teacher of all time. He was alluding to the rush and hurry of life and how its relentless pace often prevents us from thinking what it is all about. Living is our best experience, as far as we know. Some people believe that dying is an even greater one. I don’t myself believe that anyone has convincingly returned to tell us that. So we need to understand that our determination to survive, our quest for immortality, is an honour and a privilege we should cherish.
And yet, how few of us actually examine our lives? I don’t mean in a guilty, confessional way. We were not guilty when we were born and nobody has yet discovered if we are guilty of anything we do in life. We make judgments; we have to. Society only works when there are rules. Breaking those rules disrupts us all. We discourage that by punishing the rule breakers. But we have no idea if they are truly guilty because we do not know what happened in their DNA or in their youth that made them predisposed to break rules. We have even less idea of what drives them now.
We have unearthed the beginnings of DNA and are beginning to learn about the brain but there is a long way to go before we know who we are or why we do what we do. For now, another Socratic saying is still a useful guide: True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. That should encourage us to seek knowledge. We understand the pleasure and joy of perpetual learning. We are, today, rightly encouraging people to adopt it as a lifelong standard.
With so many unknowns you could be forgiven for thinking that discovering who you are is a rather long and troublesome journey. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as reaching a destination is less important than having one, so seeking is more important than finding. It is our yearning to see what is on the other side of the hill that makes us special. It is the basis of all our discoveries and inventions. Combined with an inexplicable common sense, it is what makes us human. Strange, then, that us ‘mountaineers’ know so little about what makes us tick.
Understanding who you are is the first step to knowing what you want, to discovering your purpose. That self-knowledge will not be perfect in the foreseeable future. Perhaps it will never be. However, the greater the self-knowledge, the more useful the purpose can be. Purpose for all of us is happiness. We know that pursuit of happiness, in a material sense, doesn’t work. Possessions bring responsibilities and, usually, a desire for more – and more expensive – possessions. Happiness may be acquired with the basic necessities of life if you don’t have those. Beyond them, ‘more’ generally means ‘worse’, not ‘better’.
It is particularly relevant to ponder this on the 100th anniversary of WWI. That, and WWII, were about ‘more’ – more power, more control, more land. The loss and futility of these and subsequent wars is well recognised. And yet our finance-driven world cannot pause long enough to realise that power, control and property are not our purpose, certainly not beyond ‘enough’. Millions dead, millions more disabled, has not taught us the lesson that to acquire is to destroy. We have yet to see that compulsory fun loses its joy by the very fact that it is compulsory.
We find our purpose, our ‘Tree on the other side of the Field’, when we help others’ find theirs. And we do that when we know ourselves well enough to have – and to exhibit – the confidence that comes not just with success but with handling failure. Your understanding of that shows the level of intellect you have. Your ability to do it is the measure of the person you are.
One of the nicest things said to us was a comment by a client slogging his way up the corporate ladder. Grasping who he is, understanding what he wants, handling the setbacks and disappointments that come to us all, he finished a recent email with these words: “I am enjoying becoming bold”.
To which our answer is “Not half as much as we are enjoying seeing you become bold”.
Because his ‘bold’ is our reward.
Terrific Mentors International has a registered programme called PASDAQ®. It has helped many thousands find their purpose in life. To learn about it email email@example.com. PASDAQ® stands for Personality, Ability, Skills, Dreams, Ambitions, Qualifications.