Self-Reflection stands as one of the truly marvelous aspects of my life. And I am grateful beyond measure that I find some time for a significant measure of self-reflection each and every day of my life. The usual pattern for me is merely to take a walk. A good 20-30 minutes of walking occasions a wealth of insight into my character and thus my motivations as wells as my fears and hopes and also the things that I so profoundly appreciate. To be sure, on no occasion of walking do I cover all the categories just mentioned. It suffices that I cover one or two on each instance of taking a walk.
As I look back over my life it is rather striking how committed I am to finding an excuse to take walk somewhere; for, as I have already indicated, it is in walking that self-reflection achieves both extraordinary depth and majesty in my life. Quite honestly, I cannot remember when I did not engage in walking as a means for self-reflection.
Insofar as I am blessed to be a person with considerable self-knowledge, the explanation for that reality is none other than those moments of self-reflection that are a routine part of my life. Likewise, insofar as I am not a bitter person, the explanation for that reality is none other than the moments of self-reflection that are a routine part of my life. And last but surely not least: insofar as I consider myself to be a quite fortunate person in this ever so complicated world, self-reflection has been the key to that reality in my life.
A mere email from a student or a friend may be the occasion for a walk. Reflecting upon a wonderful conversation may incline me to take a walk. Or, in the other direction, a very painful experience may be the catalyst for a walk. In the first case, a walk may be the occasion to appreciate just how much a friend means to me. In the second case, a walk may shed so very much light on the role I played in someone’s life and the trust that the person has in me. In the third case, a walk may be absolutely key to my not becoming a bitter person; for the walk may help me to see that notwithstanding the wrong that I may have endured, it nonetheless remains the case that the wrong I endured did not in any way diminish my abilities or hamper my successes or opportunities for success.
It is my considerate view that a wealth of self-knowledge is absolutely key to avoiding major mistakes. Far more positively, I hold that self-knowledge is absolutely key to living well.
Whilst my death does not appear to be eminent, I hope to be able to go to my grave with an ever so profound sense that I have lived a good life. In other words, self-knowledge will play a most majestic role in taking the sting out of death.
It also seems to me that self-knowledge plays a most significant role in eliminating jealousy. When in my youth I first read the biblical passage that “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6), I thought to myself that passage was utterly ludicrous. I no longer think that. Indeed, I can see that jealousy has been the catalyst for considerable evil on the part of human beings.
The self-reflection that I engage in whilst walking has been an absolutely key factor in my being able to live a life that is essentially shorn of jealousy.
At this point in the history of humanity, with our constant pre-occupation with this or that gadget, I wonder if people give much time to self-reflection these days. I look around me; and it appears that people cannot walk from place A to place B without texting or listening to music or chatting on their cell phone. Of course, it is perfectly possible that whilst at home these individuals engage in deep and ever so admirable self-reflection. But possibility is one thing and probability is quite another. Lots of things are possible. Yet, they are not very probable at all. While it is possible that I will defecate in public tomorrow, the probability of my doing so is surely next to zero.
Of course, taking a walk is surely not the only way in which people can engage in self-reflection. Absolutely not. But there is the following question: Are people becoming so besotted with their gadgets these days that they accord precious little time to self-reflection? I would that I could be convinced that the answer to the question that I have just asked is a resounding “No”. If not, then there is an extremely poignant sense in which humanity is worse-off on account of technology precisely because technology has become an impediment to self-knowledge.
Living well entails being the author of one’s life. And that is absolutely impossible in the absence of a tremendous measure of self-knowledge. With the prevalence of technology, having tremendous self-knowledge requires far more self-command (to use Adam Smith’s term) than anyone would ever have imagined.
© 2015 Laurence Thomas