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We meet a person for the first time.  Perhaps we are standing in a line for a coffee, we introduce ourselves to a visitor at church, we go to a parent-teacher’s meeting, or we sit beside a Bear or Yankee fan.

Although we may not be pondering the “great issues of life” at that moment, nonetheless we do bring to the encounter our understanding of human nature.  That understanding may be the result of formal study, of our own efforts at generalizing from our own experiences about who and what we humans are, or perhaps that understanding may have been birthed in our religious environment and thinking.

Regardless of the source, we bring to our encounters and dialogues a grid of ideas and understandings about our common human nature.  We even do it when we monologue!!  We can, I think, take it to the bank that the following components are pretty universal among us humans.  These components allow us to resonate and connect with each other on levels deeper than the level of both of us knowing that tomorrow’s weather forecast is “a clear sky in the morning, with showers by 4 pm”.  What makes up that grid?   What follows are some of the items.

Both the other person and we . . .

  • have some fears, such as the fear of death, of debilitation and / or the fear of complete reliance on someone or something else just for survival
  • have deep dissatisfaction with personal traits, habits, physical appearance, addictions
  • have a desire for power / control
  • are prone to bursts of emotions, such as anger, lust, jealousy, greed, love, happiness, and others
  • are convinced to some degree that some other people don’t like us or don’t want us to be with them
  • want to please God and not have God as an enemy
  • tend to ask forgiveness, but birthed out of a sense of displeasure about ourselves
  • are likely to blame others rather than accept personal responsibility
  • seek opportunities to impress others
  • believe that a particular race or gender is superior to any other race or gender
  • to some degree conform to a scheme of social value based on the quantity of possessions, including money.

The point I am making is that the sooner we know where both we and the other person stand concerning the just mentioned issues (and others of the same importance), the better we will be prepared for honest and fruitful dialogue and self-disclosure.  Many of our existential concerns spring from one or more of the bullet points above.  This is not the case for only a selected few of us humans.  It is simply part of the personal resume of all of us humans.

Perhaps by now, you have recalled the words “Know thyself.” The expression can be traced back to at least the time of the Greek philosopher Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC) whose most famous disciple was Plato.  There is also evidence that the saying was being used even earlier than the time of Socrates.  “Know thyself” is said to have been inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece.  Socrates is described by Plato as being driven by the adage.

“Know thyself” was not just a throw-away expression 2500 years ago.  It still shouldn’t be.  We can’t afford to not know ourselves.