13th October 2021
HOM: Thinking about thinking
‘A person who knows who they are is not threatened by the beliefs of others’.
As a teacher of religious studies I really appreciate the truth of the above quotation from Robert Anthony. Those who are self-aware and secure in their identity are able encounter beliefs different from their own without any sense of threat. Among such people dialogue between different religious faiths or worldviews can promote real understanding and growth.
Alternatively those with little self-awareness and insecure identities will find such dialogue difficult without making judgements, polarising opinions and even seeking to ‘cancel’ the other who disagrees.
We live in challenging times when there are many who would seek to limit freedom of speech but I wonder if such sensitivity towards hearing views we may not agree with, is actually a sign of our own insecurity and lack of self-awareness.
‘Know thyself’, was inscribed in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. This according to Socrates leads to true wisdom because it involves both being aware of what you do know but more importantly, knowing what you do not know. So an essential part of knowing yourself must be recognizing the limits of your own wisdom, and understanding what you have yet to learn. And if you don’t have that insight, it is very likely you will feel threatened by the beliefs of others.
The importance of self-awareness and also self-control can be found in many religious and philosophical systems.
In the Buddhist tradition we read: “Though one should conquer a million men on the battlefield, yet he, indeed, is the noblest victor who has conquered himself.” (Dhammapada 103)
In the Taoist scripture are the following words: “He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others has physical strength; He who conquers himself is strong.” (Tao Te Ching 33) And in Hinduism we read: “. . . when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein.” (Katha Upanishad 1.3.3-6)
In Judaism we see the importance of self-control in the words of Solomon; “…he that ruleth his spirit [is mightier] than he that taketh cities.” (Pv 16: 32) And finally in the Christian spiritual and monastic tradition both of these attributes self-awareness and control are to be richly cultivated.
The importance of self-awareness has its roots in many cultures throughout history and that surely lends it authority as a key virtue to be cultivated. When we know what we do not know without fear, we will be ready to hear the voices of others.