The unexamined life is not worth living.
This quote is credited to Socrates who is recognized for contributions to philosophy and posing questions to his students that generated new insights and ideas.
In observing general social behaviours, talking to others, and reflecting on my own thought processes, I see that the average lifestyle does not sustain a process of conscious consideration and decision making. During a seminar I attended, the speaker showed numerous examples of empirical evidence which demonstrated that our inherent strategy is to keep things simple (this leaves us open to be more easily influenced or manipulated but that is a concern for another day).
For many life decisions, it is not a make-or-break deal so skipping the examination for a more instinctive approach may be acceptable. However, even the little things add up: on a single day, choosing what to eat is a minor decision and we could happily indulge ourselves, but in aggregate, even that can have a big impact on health and quality of life. On a larger scale, we might fail to consider significant impacts or get overwhelmed by more complex and critical decisions; overthinking is a big issue for many people I know, myself included.
On the other hand, we encounter the problem that there is no room for such examination of every decision within our busy and complex lives. Many of our behaviours and decisions are reduced to reflex responses to the situations at hand. Personally, I see a need for myself to react fast frequently, as a career professional, consumer, participant in social settings, and in my relationships. But quick choices do not have to be bad ones. Self awareness and confidence are the key to making better decisions in any of these situations. I can still be quick and effective, if every little decision stands on a strong foundation of goals and principles that I never forget.
Our conceptual framework, our lifestyle, our ideology, our climate of opinion, or our worldview is usually taken for granted as the intellectual ground that we walk on. But, sometimes, it is necessary to examine that ground, to look carefully at what we usually take for granted. If we are planning to construct a house, it is a good idea to investigate the ground we will build on, especially when something seems wrong—the soil is too soft, or it is on a fault and susceptible to earthquakes. This is often the case, too, with our conceptual frameworks; as soon as we look at them, they may seem to be soft, ill formed, perhaps in danger of imminent collapse, or liable to disruption by a well-placed question or confrontation with someone who disagrees with us.– An excerpt from The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins
This quote from a beginner’s philosophy textbook speaks of the need for a foundation to stand on and live by. It should most definitely be an evolving one. An effective way to implement this is frequent meditation or personal reflection. We can take a step back at regular intervals to consider and update our philosophy, and analyze aspects of ourselves and our lives based on that. We can trust it to guide us for quick decisions and, for more complex decisions, we can use it as a conceptual framework to organize our thoughts. In this way, we are less likely to feel under pressure from a hurried decision and make the wrong one, or lose ourselves in a long, unchecked thinking process.
In writing this blog and pursuing growth for myself, a key motivation for me is to take a closer look at life and its possibilities. I am not planning to write a textbook or make a flowchart to build my philosophy, but I will take the time to get to know myself a little better. I see a personal need for reflection. The unexamined life may not be entirely “not worth living” but it can be a messy accumulation of arbitrary choices and occurrences that sum up to a lifestyle that we never wanted. Sometimes, I feel like that is exactly where I am standing. But I know that it isn’t too late to get it back on track.
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