In 432 BC Socrates said, “Know yourself.”
Easier said than done.
The word “Know” means to regard as true beyond any doubt. The word “Yourself” means your unique, usual, and normal self. So to “know yourself” means regarding that which is unique, usual, and normal about you as true beyond doubt.
Integrity is wholeness and completeness, unfolding and becoming, purity and objectivity. Integrity is rooted in your self. If you don’t know yourself, you don’t know integrity.
Do you know yourself as true beyond doubt?
- The first way is through your public self. This is what is known by you and also by others.
- The second way is through your blind spots. This is what you can’t see but others can.
- The third way is through your private self. This is the self that is only known by you.
- The fourth way is through your unknown self. This is unknown to you and to others.
The public self is the self most of us identify with. This self is defined by citizenship, birthplace, family and occupation. It is also defined by homes, lifestyles and material possessions. The public self includes your ideas, your values, your beliefs and interests. This is a narrow but accepted way to “know yourself.”
Webster’s dictionary defines blind spot as “an area about which one is uninformed, prejudiced or unaware.” Blind spots often cover a self-serving bias that others can see but we cannot. Therefore, people with blind spots cannot “know yourself.”
The private self is the self that no one else knows but you. This self often contains fear and insecurities as well as the emotions associated with wrong doing, frustration, anger, guilt and/or remorse. These feelings when denied, suppressed or ignored become our dark side. Many people see this as their real self; however, this perception ignores other parts of the self.
People can know their public self. They can develop techniques that overcome their blind spots and heal their dark side. But how do people deal with an unknown self that is not known to them or others?
The constants of integrity can help shed some light on this problem. The three constants of integrity are:
1. that which is within;
2. that which is without; and
3. the dynamic flow between what is within and what is without.
To “know yourself” is to know all “that which is within.” The public, private and the blind parts of the self are all part of “that which is within.” When all these parts are integrated into a well functioning consistent and healthy whole, an individual begins to understand the principle “know yourself.”
The self does not exist within a vacuum. It exists within the world. The constant “that which is without” can also be defined as “know the world” or as “know reality.”
To “know yourself” then, you must also “know reality.”
Knowing “that which is without” requires that we deal with the physical, mental, social/economic, political, ecological and spiritual realities of the world. The lessons we learn about these realities are, as we all know, very difficult.
The challenges to “know reality” are:
1. to create order out of chaos;
2. to derive meaning from a complex changing world; and
3. to make a value added contribution with your life.
The dynamic interplay between “that which is within” and “that which is without” provides the process where the unknown area of the self is revealed. Life is intertwined. “That which is within” impacts and is impacted by “that which is without” and vice versa.
The best way to see this dynamic interplay is to think of the idea of disturbances. A disturbance is malfunction, intrusion, or interruption in our ordinary life. Disturbances are either within you or outside of you. Common forms of disturbances include problems, misunderstandings, conflict, loses, accidents and sickness.
Disturbances can occur anywhere at any time. They are anything that links what is inside you with what is outside of you. Disturbances are where the unknown self is revealed. Disturbances are opportunities where “that which is within” becomes one with “that which is without.”
Not all disturbances are important. There is a story in ancient China where a man walking with his horse accidently knocks down a stranger. The stranger picks himself up, dusts himself off and says “passing disturbance, no meaning”.
Some disturbances are important. They manifest aspects of the self that need to be dealt with to "know yourself" as an integrated whole. For example, problems become opportunities for self growth. Insecurities become strengths through trials. Sickness becomes a path to know your own mortality. Accidents are sent to appreciate what you have or had. Losses become the gateway to success. Fear becomes trust.
We come to know unknown part of ourselves through the disturbances in our life. Until we know the unknown side of ourselves, we cannot “know yourself”.
The Gnostics have an interesting take on the unknown self. The Gospel of Thomas states “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you destroy you."
As you encounter the disturbances in your life, that which is unknown within you is evoked. The unknown self becomes part of you through the disturbance. This is the key to the process of knowing yourself.
If the disturbances in your life evoke nothing within you, then you have nothing to work with or from and the disturbances destroy you.
Douglas Ross is father, husband, businessman and an advocate for integrity. He is the creator of Led by Integrity™ (On face book), the blog “Results through Integrity”. He also founded the Success through Integrity forum on Linked in and the Integrity forum on Ushi
Want to learn more? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 706-267-0609. I want to speak to you about integrity and how it can help you and all of us.
@2010 All Rights Reserved, Douglas Ross