"The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing" Socrates
When Plato sat down and wrote of the wise teacher Socrates in his work "The Apology" this statement, in which Socrates was purported to have said is one of the gems that have withstood time and place.
To know we know nothing is to remain humble and heart centered, not ego driven. Since it appears that most issues in society are centered on having power, retaining power, empowering oneself or others, or dis empowering another for perceived one-up-manship, this wonderfully inspired sentiment gets lots on a narcissistic society.
It would appear that narcissism is alive and spreading in the 21st century. All one need do is look at someones Facebook page to see the multitude of pictures of the self strewn in the albums, and the focus on the life of the self from the ridiculous to the sublime. It is not enough that we think of the effects of something from our own gain or loss, but now we focus on the minutiae of our bodily functions twittering them to all those willing to read those 140 or less updates. There are several articles that examine the idea that because they were often told they were "special" and could "do anything they wanted to do" many of our twenty and thirty something offspring believe they are in fact "entitled" to any and all things by virtue of being alive. This undermines the point mom and dad were trying to make. Told they had limitations during their youth, mom and dad wanted to be sure their offspring knew they had lots of choices in life, but there was nothing in the pep talk that told them to be egotistically self centered in the process!
Knowledge is something we hope to acquire over a lifetime, and by both knowledge and experience we come to the real goal: to attain wisdom. But wisdom and knowledge are fluid. No one, even someone as brilliant as Socrates stops learning, growing and assimilating information. When we come to think ourselves better than another, smarter, or ingrained in a solid belief system, we limit the lives we live. For what is better than knowing each person and new experience, even those that are seemingly perceived as negative can help us to grow? Each term I start a new class I make sure to tell my students they are there to teach me too, and I am open to learn and grow from each of them. The relationship is based on equality, more than an insufferable sense of superiority. I may have studied longer than they, and have loved longer than them, but what makes me wiser? The only thing that makes me wise is knowing I know nothing, and can continue to learn from each new day.
Socrates was considered a dissident in Greece in his time. He was condemned as a heretic for that which he taught his students and sentenced to die by ingesting hemlock. It was the answer that the Oracle at Delphi gave when asked who was the wisest man in Athens at the time. The Oracle replied it was Socrates, although he believed this to be a paradox. Those in Athens who believed themselves to be wise were actually not wise, but Socrates who knew he was not wise was the wisest of all for his admission of his ignorance.
Not wanting to change who he was, Socrates remained true to his beliefs and willingly drank the hemlock that killed him at the end. His death makes him a martyr for his beliefs and opens the door for his student, Plato to write of his thoughts and philosophical discussions that were compilations of possible discussions in his lifetime. When he was on trial for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he used his insights to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are not aligned. He reminds them that the material concerns of life should be balanced with concern for ones soul.And it is this soul that is sorely missing from the way people interact in society today as well.
There is nothing wrong with ego if it is in balance with all other areas of ones life. It is when the ego overtakes our lives completely that we can become arrogant, judgmental and self centered. As in all things we must seek to balance our lives with beauty, humbleness and generosity, compassion and love for our fellow man, and remember that there is much to learn, and even if we lived another 200 years, there is no way we could learn it all.
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