Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living"
By Robert Gerzon
I've always been fascinated by Socrates' bold statement that "The unexamined life is not worth living."
He doesn't mince words. He doesn't say that the unexamined life is "less meaningful than it could be" or "one of many possible responses to human existence." He simply and clearly says it's not even worth living.
Why does he make such strong, unequivocal statement?
Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."
Examining our life reveals patterns of behavior. Deeper contemplation yields understanding of the subconscious programming, the powerful mental software that runs our life. Unless we become aware of these patterns, much of our life is unconscious repetition.
As a psychotherapist, I see so many tragic examples of the effect of an unexamined life. I remember Melissa, a sensitive, attractive woman in her late forties who realized that a series of repetitive, doomed-from-the-beginning relationships had used up so many years of her life that it was now very unlikely that she could still manifest her dream of a husband and children of her own. I recall Donald, a caring, hard-working man who neglected his wife and family emotionally for too many years. By the time he came to see me he was divorced, depressed and living alone in an apartment.
If only Melissa and Donald had taken the time to examine and reflect upon their lives as they were living them, they could have made changes and had a different experience during their lifetime.
The good news is that it is never too late to start examining our life more thoroughly -- and to reap the rewards. Melissa never had the child she wanted but she stopped recreating her past and eventually married a loving man who helped her heal her childhood wound of a father who deserted her. It was too late for Donald to get a second chance with his wife, but he was able to build strong relationships with his children.
We all have blind spots. Sometimes when I examine a chronic problem in my life, I have that unsettling feeling that I must be missing something, but I can't quite see what it is. We try to examine ourselves, but none of us can see our own back side (our "shadow").
That's why Socrates' method of self-examination included an essential element that became known as "Socratic" dialogue. Dialoguing with a close friend, a spouse, a skilled psychotherapist or spiritual adviser helps reveal those blind spots we cannot see by ourselves.
Our society discourages self-awareness with a weekly cycle of working and consuming that keeps us too busy to slow down for self-reflection. Consumer capitalism's game plan prefers an unaware and vaguely dissatisfied populace that tries to fill the emptiness inside with shiny new products.
It's a radical act to stop and contemplate your life. But according to Socrates, it's the only game that really matters.
Find out more about how Life Coaching can help you examine your life.