The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
So said Socrates when he was on trial for his life. His crimes? Not recognizing the gods of the state, inventing new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens. Times sure have changed, right?
This Classical Greek philosopher was known for having a way with words…and questions. He developed what came to be known as the Socratic method; a form of inquiry and discussion used to stimulate critical thinking and illuminate ideas. The process works like this: a discussion is held between two parties where one side questions the other side regarding a commonly held belief, in an attempt to refute said belief. It is a method of hypothesis elimination, in that better ones are found by identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradiction. Plato later described Socrates as a “social gadfly,” someone who upsets the status quo with persistent questions in order to challenge a popular position or belief.
I’ve come to believe that we do ourselves a great injustice by not questioning our own status quo. We grow up with a world view largely formed by our families of origin. Our sense of self is also a direct result of the collective experiences of our childhood. But do most people question their belief systems, or why they think like they do? Not often. To do so is to question our families, culture, religion, and society at large.
Looking back, I wish I had spent more time in self-reflection and preparing for my future. “Eat, drink, and be merry” was my raison d’etre. I was in my late 40s before I took a hard look at the choices I made, and questioned why I made them. Some of those choices were pretty bad: I dropped out of college after one semester, then partied like crazy for almost six years, and stayed in an unhappy marriage for two decades. It was only after leaving that relationship that I finally “woke up.” Living with someone who has an addiction can do a lot of damage. For me that meant isolation and building a wall to keep out the pain. The problem with walls is they keep out everything, including joy.
For many years I operated on auto-pilot, without feeling much of anything. My children were my redemption; the only real source of happiness. But, I was out of touch with so many emotions and my spirit felt crushed.
Once I left the marriage I found a counselor who helped me formulate the tough questions that I needed to ask myself, and then to look within for the answers. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I started to heal. I remember walking out of the grocery store and being almost startled by the beautiful sunset. Food tasted better than it had in a long time and music absolutely enthralled me in a new way!
I realized then how easy it is to lose oneself if we’re not diligent. How easy it is to go through life believing certain things about ourselves and others, without questioning if those beliefs are valid. We need to think critically about the messages we received growing up and decide if those messages are true. Without a thorough examination of ourselves we might never discover our full potential. I know this first hand and agree with Socrates; a life like that isn’t worth living.