Why Are Some of Us Very Successful at Not Knowing Ourselves?

According to the best estimates, our species is around 250,000 years old.  I’ve been thinking about that for a short while tonight. Mainly, I’ve been wondering how often — given all that time, and all the people who have come and gone — we have repeated ourselves.

How often, for instance, has someone fallen in love, told a child to work harder, invented a god, or decided one of the most important things he or she can do in life is to “know themselves”.   I would just bet Socrates isn’t the first person on earth to have gone around telling his fellow humans the unexamined life is not worth living and admonishing them to know who and what they are.   Not the first by far.  Not in all that time.

Some ideas usually turn out bad.  Inventing a god, for example:  Seems that one usually turns out bad.   But “know yourself”? That often turns our to be embarrassing, but embarrassment is not the worse thing in the world.  It just feels like it is.

I know a lady on a popular internet forum who simply does not know herself.  Not even — apparently — a little bit.

Of course, there are probably a lot of people like that in this big world, but what might be a little rare about this one lady is she is always telling you who she thinks she is — and she is almost always wrong.

She cannot write a paragraph without telling you who she thinks she is.  She cannot state the simplest fact without telling you who she thinks she is.  I have seen her take 500 words to answer a yes or no question because she felt it necessary to detour through a speech about how that question might be related to some notion she has of herself.  And she almost always — so far as any mere outsider can tell — almost always misses the bullseye about who or what she is.

For instance, I’ve noticed she is quite often insulting.  That is, she can’t seem to debate anyone she dislikes even in the least without resorting to making some very snide or insinuating remarks about them.  I’ve watched her insulting people on that forum for a year or two.  And I’ve thought no more about her doing it than I think about anyone doing it until, this past month, she stated on more than one occasion that she abhors insults and makes it a point never to insult anyone.

She has stated it so forcefully that I now believe she believes she has never intentionally insulted anyone on that forum.  Ever. And I will grant that it is an unconscious thing with her.  I will even grant that it is all but a mistake that she insults people.  But even so, it simply happens too often for it to be entirely, on every level of intention, a pure accident.  On some level of her soul, she is purposively indulging herself in insulting others.

She might not be a good example of what it means to live an unexamined life, because she at least appears to examine herself up to each and every hour of the day, but she is nevertheless a very good example of what it means to not know yourself.   Her self examinations — no matter how frequent they are — still somehow manage to leave her in the dark about who and what she is.

In practice, knowing yourself might sometimes mean being embarrassed for yourself, but being embarrassed for yourself still strikes me as somehow less burdensome than being absolutely deluded about who or what you are.   I suspect — but cannot prove — that almost everyone on earth is to one extent or another deluded about themselves.  Yet,  it seems to me there’s an order of magnitude difference between the average person’s degree of self-delusion and the degree of self-delusion that a few of us somehow manage to obtain.   Just as there are a few among us who are so insightful they must be geniuses at knowing themselves, there appear to be a few among us who are so un-insightful they must be geniuses at deluding themselves.

I have my suspicions, but I do not really know why that is.   Why some of us are exceptionally successful at not knowing who or what we are.  What are your opinions about that?

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7 thoughts on “Why Are Some of Us Very Successful at Not Knowing Ourselves?

  1. Perhaps knowing oneself and knowing others are two sides of the same coin?

    When I am unable to get in touch with what I am feeling and needing, it seems I am also unlikely to guess what another may be feeling and needing.

    Empathy for another does seem to require the ability to get in touch with feelings, whether they be my own or someone elses doesnt seem to matter so much.

    I would guess that woman is in pain and would benefit a great deal from some genuine empathy.

    Kysha

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  2. Ah man, for a minute there I thought you might be talking about me. I mean, I had my head in my hiney for years and old habits do in fact die hard.

    Truthfully examining one’s life is not for cowards. For me it seems to be a life-long process and a significant challenge. Writing with my heart on my blog helps. Incidentally, what’s your secret to living a life self-examined?

    You have some amazing insights here, Paul. This post is a keeper and one I’ll be referring back to.

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    • Thank you for your kind words, CD! It seems you always have a way of cheering me up.

      “Incidentally, what’s your secret to living a life self-examined?”

      I think when you write about such a topic — as I have here and there — it’s easy to appear as if you know a bit more than the next guy in line about the subject. But in my case, that just isn’t the truth. I’m no better at living a self examined life than the average person — although I, and most others, are certainly better at knowing ourselves than the occasional exceptionally self-deluded person.

      The only thing that I know about knowing yourself, CD, which I am not sure is known to most people, is this: Ultimately see yourself in what you do, rather than stop short of that by looking only at what you think or feel.

      I have found that when I only look at what I think or feel, I often come up with an image or sense of myself that does not comport well with what I actually do.

      For instance, Some years ago, I was in the habit of believing I was not an abusive person simply because I did not think or feel that abusing people was right. In fact, I was strongly opposed to abusing people: So, I couldn’t be an abuser myself. Right?

      Then, for various reasons, I suddenly began paying attention to what I was saying to people — and to what I was really doing — instead of merely paying attention to how I thought and felt about myself. Only then did I clearly see that I had a number of behaviors which were downright abusive of others. Especially verbally abusive.

      I think that was the first time I got a glimpse into how easy it is to hide ourselves from ourselves.

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