Around 2400 years ago in Athens of Greece, there lived a cute boy from one of the wealthiest and the most influential families. His father provided every facility for his development. Grammar class, music class, gymnastics class, ballet class, all from the greatest teachers in the city. Wait, I guess he didn’t take ballet class. But he grew very well, sharp and talented; unfortunately, without the ballet skill. People recognized him as a bright though modest boy who excelled in his studies.
Raised in the era of philosophy, he studied under some of the era’s most distinguished teachers: Socrates. He learned a lot about Socrates’ philosophy. One of them is how to reach the state that he termed: “Eudaimonia” which means ‘fulfilment’. Unlike Socrates who never wrote anything about his thoughts, this boy wrote lots of them. He wrote 36 books, all dialogues with his teacher beautifully crafted scripts of imaginary discussions. These then became the root of modern philosophy.
A few years went by. Then a few more. And then . . . nothing happened. Just a little bit older, but still cute. He then created his own philosophy. One of them is the idea of how to reach Eudaimonia: “Think Harder”. In his opinion, our lives go wrong because we barely give ourselves time to think carefully and logically about our lives and how to live them. So we end up with the wrong values, careers and relationships.
He observed that sometimes we just go along with ‘doxa’ or ‘popular opinions’. Yet repeatedly, across the 36 books he wrote, the boy showed these common-values to be riddled with errors, prejudice and superstition. Popular perceptions about love, fame, money or goodness simply don’t stand up to reason.
The boy advised: “know thyself”. It means subjecting our ideas to examination rather than acting on impulse. If we strengthen our self-knowledge, we don’t get so pulled around by feelings. He also noticed how proud people were about being led by their instincts or passions (jumping into decisions on the basis of nothing more than ‘how they felt’), and he compared this to being dragged dangerously along by a group of blindfolded wild horses.
Years later he became one of the greatest philosophers known as Plato. In case you haven’t heard of him, he was kind of a big deal. Even in the end of his life he built a big academy and mentored another great philosopher: Aristotle. If you really really still have no idea about this boy, I advise you to google it.
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To be honest, I don’t know much about philosophy. Well, what do you expect from a computer guy who always hides behind his working desk – watching Doraemon? Yeah, NOTHING!!
But I agree with Plato’s opinion about understanding ourselves. Popular opinion should not be swallowed without having second thought about it. Some values have been passed down through generations, thus it might be not relevant in the current era, it might be not relevant to our personalities. How can we be happy while we unconsciously do something against our own conscience?
Knowing ourselves means understanding why we do what we do, why we feel what we feel, what is our motive for action, and why we believe what we believe. It’s about realizing our true intention and defining our destination instead of just follow the flow and then convince ourselves that this end is our destiny.
I am also one of believers that we have to understand ourselves first before we try to understand anything else. We have to recognize our behavior and the way we react even in unexpected situations, so when they happen, we can be well prepared to react wisely. We will have a better control upon ourselves.