Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Often, the last person we pay close attention to is ourselves. Western culture has us very well trained to look at everyone and everything besides ourselves. We have been taught to rigorously evaluate others, events and things with a critical eye, often relying on the cultural narrative to justify our final conclusions. We have fallen into black-and-white thinking because, well, that's what everyone else does. We're part of an Us v. Them narrative that has fashioned us from birth. It has grown out of a scarcity mentality that is the unfortunate offspring of a capitalist system which drives us to consumerism without thought of finite supply. We can now see where that has landed us.
It's easy to fall prey to systems that unconsciously deplete and separate us from the earth and one another. Why is it easy? Because we're actually separate from ourselves, unconscious of our own motives, fears and foibles. But we're also unconscious of our own expansiveness, divinity and worth. We don't actually know ourselves.
Terrence McKenna once insightfully said, "History is not your fault". I like that. I'm not suggesting here that we are personally responsible for where we've landed as a species. Sometimes the narrative we hear is so condemning that we can do nothing but throw our hands in the air despairingly. McKenna suggests that we can have compassion toward ourselves for the predicaments we find ourselves in, both personally and collectively. Once that has been achieved, however, it is our responsibility to help steer the ship away from the reef as best we can. This begins with self knowledge. If we cannot understand ourselves, we truly cannot understand our fellow humans. We all live with elements of shadow and light within. It's our job to bring our full selves into the light with compassion. To see my own propensity for evil is to begin the process of forgiving myself, and in turn, others. To see my inherent goodness, is to recognize it in everyone.
I've wrestled with these ideas since I was very young. Growing up in a household where the possibility of being physically or sexually assaulted was an ever present reality, I saw what "good people" are capable of. Yes, good middle class, well respected, educated people. People who did NOT know themselves, but acted without restraint wherever the alcohol or drug induced stupor would lead them. I always wondered why such things could occur. I've come to realize that separation from self, condemnation of self, leads to a destructive projection of unworthiness and condemnation onto those in your path, even those you "love". The shame that comes in recognizing this, inflames the rage and leads to more harm projected outwards. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
There is another side to this coin. The side that is introspective and aligns with the dignity that is inherent to yourself and others. Inherent to the all creation and to the earth herself. The dignity of the individual garners compassion, respect. Each of us has that divine spark of sacredness as an expression of some Mind far greater than our own, very limited understanding. Until we can find that within ourselves, it will be impossible to afford that dignity to others, to creatures, to Mother Earth.
Know thyself. It's a tall order. It's why I do the work I do, personally and professionally. I won't say there aren't other tasks that are also imperative. But I do think knowing oneself comes before all else. From the deep work if introspection comes a wisdom that is then ready to be carried into the world at large. It seems to be the task of this era. It is emotional intelligence. It is compassion embodied. I wish you well on your journey.