The power of a Socrates on the team
The unexamined life is not worth living.
- Socrates (in Plato’s Apology).
Doncha just love mantras?
I came up with my own a few years back:
The quality of your life depends directly on the quality of the questions you ask.
It came after a lengthy period of reflection and following my nose through various bodies of wisdom literature.
(Including Plato’s Republic, which is massive. I’m not gonna pretend that I’m anywhere close to finishing that yet.)
Somehow I coined the mantra one day. And it’s stuck in my head ever since, as a sort of guiding principle.
But it was only this morning that I realized: It’s not particularly original. It’s pretty much just an alternative phrasing of Socrates’ famous statement.
I’m old enough now to be . . . .
. . . . if you’ll pardon the sporting metaphor . . . .
Playing in the second half of the match.
It’s a good thing footie players get a break at the half. Gives them a chance to catch their breath, recoup, get some water, etc.
And a chance to think.
To ask questions.
What the HELL happened out there? Why did we let the opposition score on us like that? Are we happy with our game plan?
And particularly. . . .
What do we need to change, NOW?
In the first half, you get busy real quick . . . .
- School, trade, or profession . . . .
- The ritual fencing with the opposite sex, possibly finding a partner for life (you hope),
- Kids, house, mortgage. . . .
- Divorce, remarriage, dysfunctional relations with siblings, parents, etc.
Really, in the first half, you’re just busy growing up.
So when you break at the half . . . .
You’ve had plenty of hard knocks. Pain, grief, etc.
Bloody hell, at the half, you’re all growed up. Whether you wanted it or not.
What happened out there? How on earth did we get HERE?
This was all supposed to be EASY!
The oh-so-perfect adulthood you imagined for yourself as a teenager . . . . is oh-NOT-so-perfect.
How do we turn this AROUND?
Here, the football analogy breaks down a bit.
In The Game of Life, you don’t have the advantage of having played matches of this sort before.
A savvy footie player does walk onto the field asking questions.
A good question to ask in the dressing room is, of course:
What on earth were we THINKING?
Answer: You weren’t.
All your initial assumptions were handed to you as faits accomplis. By parents who were still playing in the first half themselves.
(Actually, it's more complicated than that. Your sub-conscious mind DOES think, and reach conclusions based on early childhood experiences. But you internalise these conclusions very quickly, so they seems like faits accomplis by the time you're older.)
You were discouraged from thinking for yourself. Don’t, your folks said. Hurts too much. Up here. (Tapping forehead.)
Just do as you’re told. Much easier. (For them.)
Children should be seen and not heard. (Hoo boy, I remember that one.)
At school, you were subjected to teachers and principals and other rather intimidating adults who said pretty much the same.
Submit. Obey. Memorize. Repeat.
Pass this test. You passed? Awesome, here’s another one. Pass it, too.
Test, test, test. This is how you qualify for the right to be a human being.
Another bloody brick in the wall, Pink Floyd
Questions were squashed out of you.
I remember most teachers encouraging us to ask questions. But, of course, it was always within the confines of a specific subject, eg math, physics, history. (A subject that the teacher had agreed to limit him/herself to, and was therefore going to limit the questions to as well.)
And it continued past school, of course. Want to get an evil eye from a boss on the job? Try challenging the way, or the reason, anything is done. The answer you get is liable to be along the lines of, Because that’s just the way we do things around here, dammit.
He/she who asks too many questions is liable to be branded a Rebel. Shit disturber.
Threat to The Established Order.
I’m here to tell you:
In whichever half you’re playing . . . .
Recover your Long-suppressed Inner Jedi.
Get. It. Back.
And release it on an unsuspecting world.
It’s what we need from you. And from me. Quite desperately. (That's why I write stuff like this.)
You’ll get flak, of course.
We’ll tell you to shut up.
Quit making me think, you’re making my head hurt. I can’t be bothered with stuff like that. Excuse-me-but-dinner’s-burning, yadda, yadda.
Ask questions anyway.
And start asking them of yourself first. And demand answers.
Great questions, of course, don’t have answers.
At least, not simple, yes/no, quick-fire, done-and-dusted, now-we-can-all-go-home type answers.
Great questions make you bloody well THINK. And thinking is hard work.
They’re not answered in a minute. Or a day. Or a week.
Great questions can sometimes only be answered by even better questions. After a lot of reflection.
Start asking questions anyway.
I’m out of the dressing room, and well into the second half. And I’m cultivating the questions habit.
Oh, by the way: