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Self-Knowledge: Key to a Successful Life

David Schwerin November 11, 2021

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Self-Knowledge: Key to a Successful Life


Self-Knowledge: Key to a Successful Life

We have always been encouraged to: “know thyself,” “look within,” engage in self-exploration and deep introspection.” These dictates have been seen as crucial to a fulfilling life both at home and work.

Yet according to an editorial the New York Times by David Brooks, Is Self-Awareness a Mirage? “a disconcerting finding of modern psychology is we don’t know why we do what we do or think what we think. It is humbling to realize how little we know about our choices and behavior.” 

David Brooks 9/16/21 NYT “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage”

The bottom-line for attaining self-knowledge— self-knowledge and self-awareness are used interchangeably despite minor differences— is to know who you truly are. This will affect everything you think, say, and do. As this author discusses in “Know Your Soul: Bring Joy to Your Life,” attaining self-knowledge helps us realize we are safe, loved and eternal. We are spiritual beings having a temporary physical experience. In fact, many sources of Ageless Wisdom proclaim that all pain is solely the result of not knowing our identity as an eternal Soul. If we don’t know the universe is friendly and sensitive to our needs, we are likely to act in selfish, shortsighted ways as a defense against a “hostile world.” Fear results from the mistaken belief that the world is unfriendly. This fear leads many to compulsively seek guns for protection, engage in personal and societal conflicts, ignore rampant inequality and disregard environmental degradation. All of these are unsustainable and impact our very survival.

With self-knowledge we can maximize our gifts and talents and unleash our creativity. Conversely, one can temporarily disregarded the search for self-knowledge, but the cost is an unfulfilling life. That is why many believe that emotional and psychological understanding of the self is more important than historical or scientific knowledge.

Begin your self-exploration, by listing your faults and shortcomings, your negative thoughts and your true feelings and reactions. It takes courage to observe yourself objectively and humbly. You need will power, honesty and self-discipline. Additionally, you might ask someone who knows you well to provide feedback on your analysis. Then observe yourself carefully and gradually alter the thoughts and behavior you want to change. Patience, self-respect, and self-acceptance will be necessary for real change.

World leaders should undergo instruction for attaining self-knowledge. This would result in a decrease of selfish, shortsighted behavior. Domestic and foreign affairs could then be conducted in an equitable, cooperative manner. Too often we see only the first effects of an action but fail to observe the whole picture. Thinking that selfishness is to your advantage means you failed to connect cause and effect and ignored the wisdom of the Golden Rule. When you have made the connection between your problems and their causes, you are likely to find it an uplifting experience. Living in truth brings great joy at both the personality and soul level. 

Executives of large organizations need the same type of instruction. If leaders became more aware of their faults and potentials and more appreciative of their stakeholders’ positive and negative traits, narrow self-interest would decrease and the desire for the common good would prevail. Organizations and nations will become more tolerant of one another. Peace and harmony only become possible when enough people pursue a path that examines innermost motives and feelings.

We must let go of feelings of superiority and greed. Most of us have a tendency toward perfectionism which makes it difficult to accept ourselves or others preventing us from experiencing deep and meaningful relationships. Remember that it is possible to be a good, honorable person and still have flaws. Personal growth and self-development require deep-rooted self-knowledge. We need to uncover our negative habits and distorted beliefs and then change them. To resist the experiences life brings is counterproductive; we can’t understand or judge the circumstances and events in our life.

Greater self-knowledge leads to better communication. We must avoid believing that others know what we feel. Take the time and effort to explain and work through misunderstandings with tolerance and compassion. If someone is mean to you it might simply mean they fear you and are trying to defend against a perceived danger. Knowing their motivations allows you to see this person in a completely different light. Good, honest communication brings people together and tears down walls of fear and hate.  Fear—of others, of life, of death and of the unknown—is our greatest enemy. It must not be repressed but faced, examined and understood. 

Perhaps the factor most responsible for the misery we have managed to inflict on ourselves is insecurity.  We look for security in the wrong places; as a result, we are disappointed and more fearful. Once material security has been achieved, we discover that we still feel insecure.  We need to face that insecurity; admit and accept it.  Then begin to undercover distorted beliefs, misconceptions, and faulty perceptions.  Only this will bring true security. Conflict between individuals or countries, produces further insecurity. If man fails to face its own acts of injustice, greed, selfishness, pride and fear we will see those attitudes reflected back at us. War within us leads to war with others.

We can learn a great deal by discovering the causes of our problems. It will be clear that selfishness is never advantageous, immediately or in the long term. “Me versus the other” is the essence of the human struggle. As we learn who we are and work to align with that knowledge, we see that all fear is baseless; we live a loving, benign and unending existence. 

The search for self-knowledge takes courage. The numerous rewards, however, are invaluable. Self-confidence and self-acceptance, enhanced communication and peace and harmony all become possible. Humility, generosity, and a forgiving heart are byproducts of knowing who we are. These traits are crucial to a fulfilling life.  


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