How To Discover Who You Really Are

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“The unexamined life is not worth living.”


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.

Bust of Socrates

The process works like this:  a discussion is held between two parties where one side questions the other 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 the contradiction.

Socrates believed that all human choice is motivated by the desire for happiness and that ultimate wisdom comes from really knowing oneself.

He concluded that the better people know themselves the more likely they are to make good decisions. And thus be happy. 

As a philosopher, Socrates went about the city of Athens and engaged people of all classes in political and ethical debates. His goal was to determine the truth and he never proposed to know what that was. In fact, he claimed to be ignorant of not having answers, but wise because he recognized his own ignorance.

Some people admired him, but others felt threatened by his constant challenges to the government and the conventional wisdom of the day. His defiance eventually led to execution.

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.

The biographical information of Socrates is limited. What is available was only recorded by his students, which included Plato. Despite this, his Socratic method became the foundation for Western systems of logic and philosophy.


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 and adolescence.

But do most people question their belief systems or why they think like they do?

Not often. To do so is to question family, 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 40s before I took a hard look at the choices I made and, more importantly, 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.

Cement wall with barbed wireThe 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 tough questions that I needed to ask myself and then to look within for the answers.

Just as Socrates believed that truly knowing oneself would lead to good choices, I was forced to acknowledge uncomfortable truths about myself and others. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I started to heal. And I started making better choices.


What a difference it made in every area of my life. I began to have an awareness of myself and the world around me that didn’t exist before.

I remember walking out of the grocery store and being startled by an amazing sunset. Whether I was dining in or out, the food smelled and tasted better. Music evoked emotions like never before. 

My thinking was much clearer. I became less reactive and more thoughtful. I was able to put myself in the other guy’s shoes and see a different perspective. I became more patient.

I was also able to recognize bullshit and no longer afraid call it out. I knew what would make me happy and finally believed I deserved it.


It’s easy to lose an honest perspective if we’re not diligent.

To go through life accepting certain things about ourselves and others without questioning whether those beliefs are valid.

To Thine Own Self Be True

We need to think critically about the messages we received growing up and decide if those messages are true. We must be honest about the limitations of others, as well as ourselves.

Children learn what they live. It’s important to remember that the people who influenced our lives were influenced by others. What was their experience growing up and how did that influence the people they came to be? 

The Nature vs Nurture debate is ongoing, but we’re obviously influenced by the people who raise us. Our teenage experiences play a big role, also. That means we’re impacted by friends, teachers, coaches, babysitters, clergy, and just about everyone we encounter.

They help shape us and deserve careful scrutiny. Not for the purpose of blame, but for enlightenment. 

If we’ve been affected by another’s negative actions or bias we should be mindful of that. It is possible to change how we think about other people and the world.


Do you experience ongoing conflicts in relationships with those closest to you? Are you having a tough time getting along with a boss or coworker? 

Maybe you get angry too quickly or allow yourself to be a doormat for others.

If so, you’re not alone. Most of us experience difficulties at some point. It’s important to remember that you’re 50% of any relationship you have. While you can’t control the actions of others, you are responsible for your own.

The good news is that positive change and growth are possible!

The takeaway here is that without a thorough examination of yourself, you’ll never truly understand why you think, feel, and respond in the ways that you do. You might never discover your full potential or the real, unadulterated you.

Reading more about the family of origin issues can help you decide if therapy is an appropriate option.

Understanding what motivates you to think and act in particular ways provides insight into how to make positive change and improve those communication skills.

 I know this first hand and agree wholeheartedly with Socrates; that kind of life isn’t worth living when the alternative is so much better.


 

How To Change the World

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~ Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy


When we think about changing the world it seems….well, impossible.

I’d love to change the world, but isn’t the planet too big and aren’t there too many people in it? People who bring their own unique worldview into the mix. So many opinions, biases, prejudices…all the negative stuff that creates so much discord in life. How can one person possibly make a difference for the better?

Before you change the world, change yourself.

We can’t be accountable for other people, but we must take responsibility for ourselves. In doing so, we can make an impact by the example we set. 

I recently participated in a Kindness Challenge that prompted participants to focus on the goal of becoming kinder and more compassionate. Simply being more aware of myself and how I responded to those around me led me to act and react in better ways. Change yourself first and you change the world.

This helped illustrate Newton’s Law that states:

“For every action there is a reaction.”

Newton showed that force can only result from mutual interactions. Therefore, if we want to be a force for positive change, we must change and become a positive force! 

How can we do this? Everyday we’re faced with choices on how to respond to the people around us. If someone treats us badly, we’re likely to respond in a negative way. If, however, we respond in a totally unexpected (positive) way, two things happen:  

  1.  We get the other person’s attention long enough to…
  2. Get him or her thinking about why we responded in an unexpected way.

I‘ve come to believe that much of the poor communication between people is a result of a lack of awareness: about ourselves, the other person, and the circumstances surrounding the encounter. If we can prompt others to think first, instead of reacting, we’ll have accomplished the important first step. I’ve found it helpful to do the following:

  1. Be aware of how I’m feeling and take time to think before speaking/acting
  2. Consider what the other person is feeling and why (maybe they’re experiencing a rough point in their life, or have experienced bad things that are affecting their behavior.)
  3. Realize that other people have lived a different life and see things according to their upbringing, religion, ethnic backgrounds, and so forth.
  4. Exercise more patience and less judgmental thinking:  don’t take it personally, because it may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with something else (see #2 above.)
  5. Turn the other cheek and respond with kindness.

You’ve heard the expression that it’s usually people who deserve love the least, that need it the most. Chances are they haven’t had good leaders and examples in their own lives. They may have suffered abuse, negligence, or another injustice of some kind. Does that excuse bad behavior? No, but it helps us understand what drives that behavior and gives insight into dealing with it in a better way.

Ripples

Whatever the case may be, we have daily opportunities to induce changes in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. Like the ripples that multiply outward from a small drop of water, we can create a similar cause and effect. 

We are facing tremendous problems in our world:  social, political, economic, environmental, and the list goes on. It will take a long time to make widespread positive change and we’ll never solve all the issues, but we have to start somewhere. Now is a good time and our own corner of the world is a good place. We have to be diligent in our efforts everyday and set an example for others. Some days we’ll succeed and some days we won’t. But we keep trying.

And that’s how you change the world.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” ~ Albert Schweitzer