I was pondering aspects of human experience on a personal rather than global level and it occurred to me that it is uncommon for individuals to take the time to define themselves with any sense of rigor. Perhaps ego is involved as our associations with other humans point out our differences, strengths and weaknesses, more often than our points in common. The idea is we are all fundamentally the same at a biological level and we have essentially the same basic physical and emotional needs to survive, yet it is obvious that we are considerably different from each other in our likes, dislikes and skills. Clearly the culture or subculture we happen to experience from birth to adulthood will have a profound effect on our view of life, both at a personal and global and cosmic belief level. Education and specific life experiences can modify our perception of ourselves but I wonder how many of us ever take the time to define and examine ourselves in detail, with a goal of maximizing our experience of life? This examination can readily be done at a macroscopic, superficial level by comparing our personal opinions about life in our culture to the opinions of others in the same culture, thus creating our general self definition. But what about drilling down lower than opinions of macroscopic events and subjects and looking at ourselves from a detached perspective, answering such questions as who am I, what is my life purpose, what is the purpose of any person's life, what do I really do as compared to what I say is good, what are my life accomplishments, what are my true strengths and weaknesses compared to my fellow humans, etc.?
Most of the above explanations and queries seem to be subjects for psychology (introspection by psychoanalysis) or religion (what am I supposed to be?), and possibly for political considerations (what do I believe is sensible and fair and moral for a society?). I believe these areas have important value. We should understand ourselves in terms of our motives and values. We should understand ourselves individually compared to those around us and those from other cultures. If we think about it we are often evaluated or rated by other individuals and various organizations, like management where we work. But I think something very important is missing. It is the following: I need to know from the time I am a child up to the present what I am about, why, and where I am going in life. Careful and detailed introspection can be very valuable if it helps us to add experiences to our lives that help us to grow or to understand better cosmic issues and/or the world around us. Conversely, too much introspection poisons the purpose of the exercise by wasting our time worrying about our insufficiencies instead of leading us down useful paths to grow.
I am imagining a group of perhaps six people sitting in a room and charged with the responsibility, as individuals, of explaining to the other people in detail exactly who they are and what they are and why, ergo, how did I become who I am? This imaginary construction may appear to have points in common with group experiences in psychological self help groups (Gestalt) or in religions or cults, or even in political affirmations. But those things don't really address my point. I want to know, I want any of us to be able to define, accurately and thoroughly, the details of what and who we are and why and what we are doing with our lives towards some set of clear and personal goals. This is, I believe, what does not happen, and what is the reason for and the root of all of our self deceptions leading to lost opportunities ... I am talking about the things about us or around us that we choose not to think about. This does not infer that we are bad people. Instead, we are blithely naive and not inclined to question our motives and actions with any sense of depth or of using the detailed knowledge about ourselves for planning a future.
Have I clarified my query? I hope so. Now try to imagine a society that made incumbent on all individuals the requirement to go through a rigorous self examination at key points in life, like age six, puberty, completion of secondary school, completion of higher education, five year intervals in jobs or careers, five year intervals as close friends, five year intervals as spouses in a marriage, and five year intervals as a parent? You might add to that list an examination every five years of how the individual engages/participates in the larger aspects of joining in and thus helping operate the society or even the subculture. Now, realistically, do you know of anyone who does anything that detailed, individually or in groups, outside of church, cults or politics? I think not. I think we mostly live in a stream of consciousness environment moving with very little active fundamental reasoning from experience to experience, analysing primarily, and unfortunately, only when life events become particularly painful.
One exception to my thoughts is in the world of older people, of which I am one. Oldsters are often given to reflections about the lives they have lived and why they have the opinions they do. This likely points out the basis for one of my own personal concerns, that of believing that a much better job could have been done by me and by my parents and by my society in helping me understand life and prepare myself to make optimal use of opportunities available to me throughout my life. No, I am not upset, in fact I am rather proud of my accomplishments, but also humble about my notable deficiencies! I might add also the frustration in the consideration of limitations in my abilities. In any event, I ponder how much our world and our associations with each other would improve if we added the evaluation tasks that I identified to our lives? Are we not missing the benefit of careful introspection, early in life and all through our productive years? Are we not missing the chance to identify budding problem areas in each of our lives (consider shootings in schools by fellow students)?
Yes, some of our best and brightest do rather quickly evaluate life around them and develop best courses of action to achieve a personal goal ... But I believe even those individuals typically fail to do a deep introspection to define what they are really about and why, and to update that perception periodically, opposite all the possible areas of life to which they might apply their abilities. "If I'm getting what I want I must be doing things right! Right?" No. I fear we are primarily reactive instead of proactive. I fear we jump at those opportunities that appear to be fun and not often to those that might empower us to grow. Oh, of course we can do medium term planning and do hard work to gain a specific goal, but what about areas for growth that do not have any apparent immediate benefit? Can we look beyond our beliefs and appetites to consider investing time and effort in rounding out ourselves in our perception of life and the meaning of our very existence?
Clearly some of these considerations are addressed in higher education at liberal arts institutions, where students are forced to broaden their knowledge and thus perspectives about areas of life that are not within their chosen area of concentration for future employment. But what about the rest of the people, especially those who do not participate in higher education? Is it wise to promote their ignorance by ignoring their broad perspective growth from early life to their death? You can answer that question to your own satisfaction. For me, our cultural devolution in the USA is a direct byproduct of ignoring the growth of knowledge needs of our young people, knowledge that would improve their attachment to the society in which they actually live, not the enclosed world of diversions that ignore the importance of engaging the real/external world. Hence, our problem children define a new world by their actions, and it is not a pretty world, and it is much worse than the "good old days," when you consider devolutions like school shootings that really didn't occur even fifty years ago. So why now?
Let's introspect ... And then act positively. The responsibility to make this happen is personal and societal, affecting home life, schools, religions, community groups and especially governments ... And to some extent businesses that cater to our appetites instead of our essential learnings about life.
What will we learn to value? Will we take time to think about why? Will we introspect? The answers to those questions will determine our progress or our devolution as a society. Think finally about yourself as an individual. What life experiences and understandings have you missed? What might you do about that on your behalf and especially on behalf of our young people?