Virtues: Self-Awareness

eye-440843_640One of the greatest virtues is self-awareness – a seemingly contradictory mix of brutal honesty and compassion directed towards the self. A virtuous mind values honesty above all else. Our chief enemy is the imperfect, irrational, interfering ego. One who leaves their insecurities and neuroses unchecked will find themselves unable to rely upon their ability to reason, which is tragic indeed.

Without reason, navigating life becomes even more difficult that it already is. We must seek to maintain an honest perception of ourself at all times. This is crucial for life and our continuous learning and self-improvement. Surely it is much better to be aware of a fault than unaware? If you were unwittingly harsh to your parent/significant other/friend would you rather you found this out about yourself or would you prefer to just continue the bad habit? Burying your head in the sand will only lead to the problems festering; far better to cure ourselves before things deteriorate.

Before we take on the far greater challenges of assessing morality and the various ills of society we need to be confident that we have cured as many of of our own ailments as possible. We do not want to suffer under our own negligence, our own self-inflicted clouding of reason. How can we properly assess the workings of our wider society if we cannot see and fix our own personal irrationality and faulty reasoning? How else will we be fit to get an accurate grasp of reality? The very last thing we want to happen is to be so immersed in our convictions that we end up spending our lives deluding ourselves of our faults and their consequences; worse would be a life spent battling for a illegitimate cause. How tragic if we never questioned our own beliefs honestly and rigorously enough to expose the most hidden of weaknesses in our own ideas.

The finest way to refine our intellectual capabilities is to strive for objectivity at all costs: the costs of being clouded by the fog of our delusional, irrational ego are far greater than the cost of the self-discipline required to be adequately self-aware in the first place. To be able to see without bias requires to see another’s argument – no matter how flawed – exactly from their point of view, absorbing all the information, taking care to listen and understand it as well as they are explaining it, and where appropriate to infer and take into account compromising factors, spot for errors in judgement, weak links or crude judgements.

Let us consider the advantages of acute self-awareness, to understand why we must all hone this virtue. Be as honest and scrupulous with yourself as possible – the main motivation for this is that your insecurity and ego will prevent you from seeing the clearest view of life – you seek the truth so strongly that you will gladly do battle with you primitive id: you will examine your own compromising tendencies and psychological weaknesses and keep mind of these when deliberating on any issue. You will not let fear prevent you from confronting unpleasant realities. You do this because the short-term pain relief is paid with the expense of letting your life stagnate and wither under denial and confusion of the self. Our goal must be to prevent our ego from interfering in our pursuit of truth and knowledge, thereby as accurate a view as achievable. This is possible only by suspending the self and getting immersed in the depths and details of the argument; without fear, without denial and without complaint.

5 thoughts on “Virtues: Self-Awareness

  1. I’ve just spent a while reading your posts. I greatly admire your endeavor to enlighten others of the prolific abuse of animals as well as this post on self awareness. Very interesting and enlightening. Thank you for sharing with us.
    Michael

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  2. OK. How do you make this philosophy practical? The best means I’ve found for self awareness is honest journaling, but honesty requires examination of society’s as well as personal values. If there is a major conflict between social and personal values, such as the institutionalized hypocricy of politics, for instance, how does honesty help? I’ve found my honesty only turns the hypocrites against me, in “kill the messenger” mode. As I am not a masochist, I’ve learned to temper my honesty. As they say, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” I’ve decided to be more of an angel and less of a fool.

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    • Hi Katherine,

      I find that frequent self-reflection is the best way of ironing out the kinks in one’s mind. Practice questioning our own thoughts and beliefs – instead of concerning ourself with other people’s actions – gradually turning it into an automated habit. Stoic philosophy in particular is great at training you to think diligently about yourself – Epictetus and Seneca are fantastic teachers of reasoning. I owe them both so very much.
      Regarding “killing the messenger”, I agree that it is indeed sometimes prudent to remain quiet in certain situations. Dealing with major hypocrites is very difficult, I feel the advantage of saying your piece is that even if they kill the messenger, your words have still been heard and there is a small chance that one day it may help wake that person up to their false belief. A small chance is better than no chance at all.

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  3. Pingback: Mind Maintenance: The Danger of Distractions | REFLECTION SELECTION

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