The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

This quote has been attributed to Socrates by Plato in his Apology. I first read it the quote while studying philosophy at Purdue University. I was nineteen, and at that age, “examination” of my life focused on narrow issues like whether I was studying hard enough, whether I had applied my mascara well, and whether my choice of this frat party over that one was smart.

Nowadays, my “examination” tends to be more broad: whether I have done well by my children, whether my yoga practice is yielding the benefits of enlightenment, and whether my place in my limited existence is meaningful and purposeful. I can go rounds with myself on my achievement of any of it. And at times, I yearn for the days of naivete borne of youth with its accompanying blinders.

When it comes to my writing, I have kernels of inspiration which I think could sprout into deep, culture-crossing truths. Truths about loyalty and betrayal, truths about love and heartache, truths about life and death. It’s usually in those hazy moments which straddle sleep and full consciousness that I can wrap my fingers around those gems of thought, but then I fall into dreams or begin to think of my first cup of coffee.

I am dazzled by those authors who have managed to stay in that limbo long enough to glean a story which can account for all those things we as a human race feel and experience. Those writers who have the capacity to harness their wrangling thoughts, tie them down, and describe for the rest of us the truths of living.

While I am convinced I have scraped the surface of these, in a paragraph or even a page, my telling of them is superficial.

And I am not disheartened by that.

There need to be stories which are little more than an escape into mundanity — if only to offset the horror we see on a daily basis. Our human experience would be too painful were it be one of revelation after revelation. We shouldn’t we expect that because it would kill our souls.

So when I read the stories of others, I choose those with quick-moving plots and the banal bantering of characters. It makes me feel safe.

So, that’s what I write.

Because sometimes “examination” of all things human ends up being too much for the heart and mind to hold and results in the wish to drink hemlock and be done with all that examination.

7 thoughts on “The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

  1. Something is not right here: Our human experience would be too painful were it be one of revelation after revelation. We shouldn’t we expect that because it would kill our souls.

    Before I read the last line and realized something was amiss I read the line before it as: “Our human experience would be too painful were it not one of revelation after revelation.” And loved the simplicity and truth in it. Is that what you meant?

    I look forward to reading more…thanks for the invite.

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    1. I did not leave out “not.” I believe that were we to be bombarded with a constant expectation to “examine,” it would exhaust our minds and challenge our ability to plod forward. It’s hard to sustain seriousness and thoughtfulness on the deep and meaningful. Those who do often fall prey to self destruction through escape in addictions which mute consciousness.

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  2. Part of this year’s homeschool study with my children is something called “Big History Project”. Today we were immersed in Unit 4, watching a video about meteors crashing into earth during its formation and continued evolution. I found myself hoping for a meteor large enough to wipe out humanity were it to collide with the planet. Those are the kinds of hopes born of too much examination.

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  3. It is Not” all thing s human”he is getting at—-but our own selves and where our lives are taking us.Not–“Did I get all those things done I wanted to get done”.I Stumbled on your blog Jen.I hope you don’t mind an old guy putting in his two cents here. As I read what you have to say I am struck by the seeming hopelessness of your remarks.—-Obviously religion is not part of the equation. This world is what we have—and if you believe it,”God said it is good”.Regardless of what man has done to it.It is sad to hear what your fiend Allisa had to say.Is there no good, no love in this world??We want to teach our children to love.It has the power to change everything.Not simply science. The examined life is to look at our egos and see how they control us—Our “True Selves”,our soul,is what we are searching for.And yet it is deep inside all the time.It gives rise to all those true,good,loving aspirations that we have in our lives I am not sure where you are at “spiritually”,if at all,So will stop here.If you are interested I would recommend Fr. Richard Rohr—a Franciscan monk(New Mexico) Who has lots of good things to say about “the first half of life “:you folks are going through. I am old enough to be beyond most of that stuff. Thanks for listening. Ed Shaffer

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    1. I’m glad you found my blog.
      And yes, I am feeling a bit hopeless in light of the state of the world.
      However, I do so appreciate your optimism about the merit in finding hope when all seems to have been abandoned.

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  4. Ed, yes it is sad. I was feeling sad, among other emotions, including anger, shock, disillusion, to name a few. It was actually quite an eloquent idea we encountered – without the giant meteor that struck the Gulf of Mexico 65 mya, we humans might not have evolved from our tiny, rat-like ancestors scurrying in the undergrowth, hiding from the trampling feet of the dinosaurs. That led me to thinking, I wonder what beautiful species might evolve were we wiped out by another meteor (they hit every 100 million years on average), the earth given a chance to start anew, since we humans are so bent on destroying the planet and one another lately. Then I imagined six foot tall races of insect-like beings (think giant praying mantis) eating one another. Maybe I’ll stick with hope for the human race dependent on the elevation of our collective consciousness.

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