“Know Thyself” and “Know What is Right; Do What is Right”

On this, the threshold of a new calendar year, it seems appropriate to take stock of oneself and the world around us. The lessons embedded in Charles Dickens’ little book, A Christmas Carol, are worth both pondering and heeding. The truths contained, therein, serve as a yearly reminder for us to examine our attitudes and behaviors – with scrupulous honesty.

A Christmas Carol TP_1

The old adage to “know thyself” reflects the ultimate wisdom offered by Dickens in his immortal little story. Pair this with the similar advice to “know what is right and do what is right” and one possesses the keys to a life of happiness and contentment.

In my experience, “knowing thyself” can be a daunting task, made easier and worthwhile only by a total commitment to honest self-scrutiny. Once a frank assessment of one’s personal self is earnestly completed, it is crucial to admit to any shortcomings and commit to do better, but it is also crucial to self-grant some personal lee-way in recognition of our imperfect natures (in accordance with Catholic teachings). Day-to-day living in our current society presents us with formidable challenges which are bound to chisel-away at our best intentions and efforts. We must not only forgive others for their trespasses; we must also be reasonably kind to ourselves given the daily roadblocks that life puts in our path. Lapses are forgivable as long as they are recognized, and we strive to stay on-course.

We are creatures imbued with a robust social curiosity. Accordingly, we interact with others in order to better-know our fellow man and to determine where we personally “place” in the hierarchy of humanity. Implicit in this great social adventure is the need for peer recognition….and approval, and this dual thirst for recognition and approval leads to many of our most pressing personal problems, so it seems.

Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter take grievous advantage of our need for social recognition. How often do we see postings such as this, complete with photo: “Just leaving McDonald’s after a burger and fries and heading for the stadium in time for the kickoff!” Considerable time is spent each day by folks posting and reading such trivial comments – but why? For many, it is the social need for ongoing recognition/approval – the drive to keep their image front-and-center with family and friends, often numerous times on a daily basis. Perhaps less and more meaningful is better?

Another indicator of social issues brought about by the increasingly ubiquitous human thirst for recognition and approval is mirrored by many of our informal group conversations. This problem is manifest in the aggressive casual conversations we encounter – not in terms of content, but in the manner they occur. Increasingly, in these times, group discussions seem to have zero dwell-time between the previous comment proffered and the onset of the next. It is not uncommon to feel temporarily locked-out of such discussions by the impatient need of group members to add their individual opinions or reactions. Worst of all, and extremely annoying to me, are people who cannot restrain themselves sufficiently to allow the current speaker to even finish their concluding sentence before jumping-in to the head of the line to add their own two-cents while trampling on the final words of the current comment! I, personally, try very hard not to be one of those desperate people. The key to overcoming such tendencies is to “know thyself” and human nature and to resist the nagging need to be quite so front-and-center.

For many of us, the price to be paid in order to stay centered in the spotlight of other people’s awareness is too steep, and we prefer not to “play the game” outside of close friends and family. In order to comfortably opt-out, one must be confident enough in their good intentions and self-worth. Absent a strong sense of self-worth, an overwhelming need for recognition and approval may lead to sullen feelings of not getting enough attention, and this can be a huge impediment to personal happiness. March confidently to your own, steady drumbeat, no matter what, but maintain an open mind!

To summarize:  Implement the inverse of “Know What is Right and Do What is Right.”  Do what is right (inspired by proper motivations), then quietly know that you did these things without ulterior motives or any need for recognition or approval from the outside world. Your personal satisfaction and peace of mind should be a sufficient and honest self-validation of your behaviors.

Such constructive introspection seems to me one key to a brighter and happier New Year when it arrives tomorrow, January 1, 2022! Be honest and kind with and to yourself and be even kinder to others. We are all in this together, and pobody is nerfect!


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