Socrates once proclaimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. That is a rather harsh and bold statement, especially if you are someone who doesn’t have the motivation or feel the need to examine your life. But if this statement hits a nerve for you and you agree with his observation, then the next step is to try and figure out where to begin this examination process.
Plato gives us the definitive starting point when he said, “Know thyself.” He wrote in Phaedrus around 370 BC: “I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still ignorant of my own self would be ridiculous.”
Knowing yourself is a process that requires patience and persistence. Without too much thought one might believe that it is appropriate to just act, feel and think in the ways that are comfortable and come natural. It is easy to stop right there and call it a day. Fortunately or unfortunately, being human is more than just this simple existence.
There is so much more within us that can be expressed than just our instinctual, animal-like, stimulus-response, organism with preset preferences and desires. In this state we are, as Albert-Laszio Barasi calls us, a dreaming robot on autopilot. When we live our lives from this unconscious state, it is only natural that our intentions are all about our wants and desires. The basis of this most likely arises from our natural animalistic survival needs.
Socrates and Plato wanted us to rise above this unconscious state and head in the direction of our ultimate potentials. For those who want to heed their advice the question becomes, where to begin? It is obvious to me that you begin with the aspects of life that have the greatest impact on you and your view of the world.
Einstein helps us to clarify this when he said:
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Our delusion of separateness comes from the fact that we are experiencing this world by our egos, which sees itself as being not only separate from others, but also the centre of the universe. It is the overcoming of the ego that is a goal of most religions and the goal of enlightenment. Relinquishing the ego’s control and letting our “higher self” be more involved is the answer to most of our humanly problems. Learning the characteristics of the ego and the higher self should be our starting point.
As I was formulating the basic premises of Master the Mystery of Human Nature, one of the most important revelations I had was that the distinctions of the ego and higher self. I found that these two opposing aspects of human nature could be summed up in one clean and crystal clear salient point. That point is that the ego is all about getting and the higher self is all about giving.
At first glance this might seem rather simplistic and even sophomoric. I can assure you from all that I know, this statement about giving and getting is the most pure, precise and surgically cleaved descriptive. It is at the apex of these two opposing dualities that defines our human nature.
With this wonderfully simple illustration of the ego and the higher self, we can now begin our self examination from the most appropriate starting place. We are off to see the wizard!
If you ask yourself, am I a taker or a giver in this world, what would you say? Can you be honest or objective? This is one of the most defining questions about who you are when answered honestly and objectively. So, are you a taker? Or are you a giver?
It is so easy to mislead yourself with this question. You can find all sorts of examples of how you give to others, especially your family. But if one is truly intent on being honest about oneself, there has to be a constant observation of one’s intentions in all aspects of life. Why is all this so important? Why should we strive for this understanding? The main reason is that our life will be much more fulfilled, satisfying, and rewarding. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
When you give everything and expect nothing in return, only then will you be in a position to gain anything. When you love loving, you give because giving is getting. Giving is a gift unto itself, and when you
realise this you understand that you can’t network if you can’t love.
– Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE
The more we can become a gift to the world by our giving, the greater the rewards that will come to us in many mysterious ways. This probably sounds unconvincing to the novice self examiner I am sure. Only through life’s lessons will this become apparent. There will be many opportunities for this to be learned given to all of us.
Our life lessons seem to be centred on learning how our egos get us into all sorts of predicaments, usually by being in conflict with others. Our conflicts with others are the perfect classroom for us to learn the hard way that egos clashing can end up with horrible results. The ego always wants to get its way. Getting becomes a means for its survival. In relationships this survival instinct has to be overcome by learning to be giving to another.
Giving does not mean to hand away all your possessions. Giving is not about being taken advantage of by others who would be willing to stand at your trough and take everything. Giving does not mean that you sacrifice your life for someone else. Giving does not mean that you will not be compensated for your time, energy and efforts.
To be a true giver there has to be an internal knowing that you can get all you want and need in this world if you are intent on helping others to get what they need at the same time.
The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and
the will to help others.
– Albert Schweitzer
Our purpose in life is not to take everything we can get by taking advantage of others. The world won’t work forever with us all competing with one another in this manner. When taking rules our lives we become like a cancer within an organism that ultimately destroys the host by not working for the greater good. Our egos can be compared to a cancer if taken to the extremes.
Asking oneself the question of being a giver or a taker is really asking whether one is run by their ego or is one influenced by their higher self. Recognising this distinction and acting upon it is the first step in becoming a conscious being . It is through our egos that our unconsciousness is expressed and it is through our higher self that our consciousness is unveiled. Socrates, I believe, wanted us to examine our lives and see this distinction in order to escape our ego’s control.
Rising above our ego’s control is the first step in personal growth, spiritual evolvement, or whatever metaphor there is becoming a higher level human being. Volumes have been written about this subject and volumes more could be written. We are still learning about this ego condition we all have but the main outlines are becoming clear.
Overcoming the ego is the road less travelled. One has to travel it for oneself. It is a tough road, I warn you. Proceed with caution and good luck with your journey!
Scott Trettenero’s recent book, Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values helps readers learn about themselves, others and how the world works because of our differences. Scott has maintained a solo dental practice in Southwest Florida since 1981. His research on quality service in dentistry and his interest in human temperaments formed the basis for his first book, Unlocking the T-Code. He is married and has two children.