Is The Unexamined Life Worth Living?

The Search for Meaning

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”—Socrates

Consider whether your past choices are programmed or devoid of conscious intent? As time goes by, we may pause to reflect how such choices were made, realising we have not been present at all. Socrates, the Greek philosopher and founder of Western Philosophy coined the phrase: “The unexamined life is not worth living” circa 470—399 BC. There have been countless explorations of this passage over the years. Whilst I do not wish to analyse the phrase in this article, I wish to offer my thoughts on how we can live a virtuous life through regular self-examination.

Self-awareness is one of the key attributes humans possess, which distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. The notable mirror test developed by the psychologist Gordon Gallup Jnr. is used as an indicator of awareness in animals. In the experiment, animals are shown an image of themselves reflected via a mirror. If they recognise the image (often a marking is made on the animal to determine if they identify it), it is deemed they are self-aware. Interestingly, children fail this test until they are 1 ½ — 2 years old. Therefore, self-awareness is the bedrock upon which we identify with our being. It allows us to interact with others and our environment through our experience of the world. Being self-aware not only points to an awareness of self, it signifies an understanding of one’s personality, i.e. strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs and motivation.

In contrast, there are people who sail through life oblivious to their behaviour. They rarely learn from their mistakes, since they are programmed from early childhood to disregard the impact of their actions. It might be said their self-awareness is limited because they are unaware of their mental and emotional prejudices. Some say we spend the first half of our life accumulating knowledge and the second half of our life challenging those long-held beliefs. Devoid of our capacity for self-examination, it may appear life is acting upon us as we fall victim to the forces of life. Alternatively, as we let go of our biased thinking, we appreciate that as free-choice agents acting within the container of free will, we are co-creating our life’s circumstances. Do you agree that many of our choices are not really ours but those passed down to us?

Awakening the Authentic Self

“There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity on self-examination.” Mencius

It posits favourably that since we have free will, we should strive to make decisions in line with our best interests. Our aim should be to uphold the essential virtues of human existence: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, positive attitude, integrity and humility. For example, authenticity is used to describe the act of living in congruency with our highest nature. Rather than abide by our external environment, we become aware of our motives as we strive to uphold the human virtues. Self-examination in this context becomes an expression of knowing oneself. Fundamentally, our aim at this level is to overcome our mistakes by not inviting them into the future. Two vital ingredients are required for self-mastery: personal growth and self-awareness. Like brushing our teeth to keep them clean, attending to our personal growth nourishes our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Moreover, self-awareness coupled with personal growth is akin to a gardener pulling weeds while simultaneously harvesting new crop. In time, not only do we cultivate an entire garden devoid of weeds, we simultaneously allow our authentic self to emerge.

In my book The Power to Navigate Life, I invite the reader to consider two ideas essential to the mastery of life. I affirm we are either Navigating Life or Parked. A Parked state is characterised by the metaphysical relationship one experiences while in a motor vehicle when stationary: stopped, stuck, enclosed, stagnant, not moving and trapped. Navigating Life denotes a movement of energy: expansive, moving freely, navigating, exploring, discovering and expressive. These two states represent the metaphysical relationship we have with ourselves at certain times of our life. As we learn to master life and reclaim our internal state, we move from a Parked state to Navigating Life.

It must be said even while we are in Parked state, it serves as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection so we do not carry those mistakes into the future. A deep and meaningful life is only worth living if we become self-aware and strive to lead an authentic life. Through regular self-examination we come to appreciate there are no rights or wrongs, only consequences. Knowing this, I’d like you to consider ways in which you can use self-examination in your life on a consistent basis? Might it be through journaling or keeping a diary? Some people see a therapist and about themselves through therapy. Others experience pain and suffering and remain stuck in a cycle of despair, learning little about themselves. My contention is, to reduce the likelihood of experiencing untoward outcomes, we ought to connect with our deepest self which is the essence of our authentic nature.

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