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This comment actually comes from a conversation I'm involved in in a UseNet newsgroup elsewhere. It's part of a conversation thread regarding the skills and values that are positive or necessary in a polyamorous relationship. Another person in the conversation posted the usual list you'll see in any poly discussion anywhere--you know, honesty, communication, that sort of thing. I added one more thing to the list; "Know thyself."

One could reasonably say that this idea has not been well-received.

My commentary:

There is a difference, I believe, between a person who can't answer general questions about himself because he feels that it doesn't offer enough insight into what's being asked or because he feels he has no place to start, and a person who can't answer a general question (or a specific question, or for that matter just about any question about himself whatsoever) because he *does not know.*

Now, I'm about to make a series of statements which, if my experience holds up, will probably upset, threaten, or anger approximately 50% of the people who read them. Nevertheless, I will stand by all of them, because I believe they're true. :) Ready? Here we go!

1. Self-knowledge is an important and valuable tool; all other things being equal, a person who seeks to know and understand himself, a person who develops not only the skills but the *habit* of introspection, will probably be better off in many ways than a similar person who does not.

2. Self-knowledge is a process, not a state of being. It requires constant work, constant self-examination, and a genuine desire and commitment to understanding what makes one tick. Because it's work, and furthermore because it's work that never ends, there are many people who hate, despise, fear, feel threatened by, or otherwise respond strongly against the notion that self-knowledge has value. in fact, with some people, the statement "Self-knowledge is a valuable thing to have" will get much the same response as "Sex with dead animals is a good thing to have."

3. Self-knowledge is valuable to relationships--not just polyamorous relationships, but relationships of any sort. Like communication, self-knowledge is both a tool and an approach; it benefits a relationship because a person who has a reasonably good grasp on who he is, how he reacts, and what makes him happy has a clearer idea of his wants, needs, boundaries, and so on than a person who does not, and therefore can more easily explain those to his partner. It is possible to have a good relationship with poor self-knowledge, just as it is possible to have a good relationship with poor communication skills, but having good self-knowledge, like having good communication skills, makes things a whole lot easier.

And just in case there's anyone who's not pissed off yet, this one should really do it:

4. Self-knowledge makes happiness easier to achieve.

Now, no reasonable person is static; I may know things about myself today that turn out not to be true tomorrow. This is why it's a process, and this is why it requires work...and this, I believe, is why so many people hate it so much. Nevertheless, i submit that if you do not know what you want, you can not reasonably expect to have what you want, except by accident.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Francis Bacon, who wrote "Your true self can be known only by systematic experimentation, and controlled only by being known." I also happen to agree with one of the things Socrates said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Judging by the popularity of TV reality shows, I would suspect that many peope probably disagree with me, and would be more likely to believe that the untelevised life is not worth living. That's fine with me.



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2004 07:11 am (UTC)
very well-put. bravo.

(I'd cheer louder but my caffeine hasn't kicked in yet...)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 2nd, 2004 07:59 am (UTC)
Re: Know thy self
"I actually disagree with the idea that good relationships are possible with poor self knowledge."

I will concede that it is at least theoretically possible for somebody to be so shallow that he is an open book to his partner even though he's a mystery to himself, and that a relationship with such a person is therefore possible despite that person's lack of self-knowledge... I've never seen a good relationship involving people who lack self-knowledge, mind, but it may at least theoretically be possible.
Oct. 28th, 2004 07:26 am (UTC)
It constantly boggles my mind that folks actively disagree with statements such as these. But I encounter them daily nonetheless. Folks who are more concerned with the size of my boobs, or who consider deep reaching questions to be about preferences on pizza toppings. (Not to say that pizza toppings aren't important in some manner, mind you.)

I'm coming to the realization that I've become a Socratic metaphor for living in a culture seeped in Puritanical mythological idealism and shallowness. :/

Oct. 28th, 2004 08:04 am (UTC)
I find it very bizarre that this isn't considered a given. Common sense even.

I don't understand how people can seriously state that self-knowledge has no value. Perhaps they are afraid to examine themselves too closely. Some people cannot look at themselves objectively and refuse to confront or accept things about themselves that run contrary to the ideal that society has created and put forth as positive, "correct" behavior.

Everyone has issues, no one is perfect. How can you fix those parts of your personality (assuming that you choose to) that you find unacceptable or present your perspective to others around you without this basic insight into your own reality?
Oct. 28th, 2004 08:18 am (UTC)
Re: self-knowledge
I must be really spoiled. I just generally don't associate closely with people unless they at least profess self-knowledge and that knowledge proves out over time.

I'm rather confused as to what people would be disagreeing with. I know that I am very introspective but I didn't realize that I was that out of touch with most people.

Can you mention ways in which they had difficulties with your points?
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 2nd, 2004 08:03 am (UTC)
Re: self-knowledge
"The original statement "know thyself" came across as needing to know one's self perfectly, all the time. That's not possible."

Of course it's not possible, and to be quite honest, I do not believe for even half a second that anyone really believed that's what I was saying. I think there are some people who jumped on the semantic argument because it was a quick and easy out, but I find it difficult to believe that anyone would actually seriously believe I was advocating some sort of perfect self-knowledge.

People say all the time "Communication is necessary for a good relationship." Does anyone jump on that statement and say "Ha! How absurd! That's ridiculous, because perfect communication is impossible!"? No, of course not. the statement carries no expressed or implied statement that perfect communication is necessary; anyone who made that argument would not be taken seriously. Same with self-knowledge.

"Regardless of how it was originally intended, that's how it was being interpreted."

Naah. The people on the newsgroup are smarter than that. That's how people pretended to interpret it, because it offered an easy semantic argument.

(Deleted comment)
Nov. 2nd, 2004 09:15 am (UTC)
Actually, I just left a number of responses in that thread, though some or all of them may not appear on the newsgroup. AOL's newsgroup server has been down for three days, and has been in yoyo mode (up and down) all day today--I believe that at least one, and possibly more, of the posts I've made today have been eaten.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 3rd, 2004 04:05 pm (UTC)
And on an unrelated note, here's something you'll no doubt find very amusing: according to OK Cupid, you're the best match for me in the entire world, with a 98% "romance" rating and a 98% "friendship" rating. Make of that what you will...
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 28th, 2004 08:58 am (UTC)
Ummm. Someone is ARGUING with all this?? The mind just boggles.

As usual, you have said it well and pithily. *clicks the memories button again*
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 28th, 2004 10:59 am (UTC)
It feels a bit like you're attempting to get the last word on something, to an entirely different group of people, in an attempt to prove that you were right and everyone who misunderstood or disagreed was wrong.

I'm not on the newsgroup and I think this post stands on its own. I also know a fair amount of people who are extremely hostile to introspection - both cooperative and solitary. No misunderstanding/misinterpretation necessary. I make no claims about the nature of the conversation on this newsgroup - I'm only saying that his point stands alone (take it or leave it of course) - which is why I think he posted it in his journal. If he wanted to get the last word in without debate, then I don't think he would have posted this on the newsgroup as well.

I also think you can demonstrate that there are compelling reasons to avoid introspection. You avoid the paralysis of internal contradiction, the despair of existentialism, and the flaws in your spiritual cushion. Often people will argue a semantic point (or maybe a straw man) when it isn't socially acceptable to argue the main point - and I've seen that happen when it comes to discussion of introspection. I will point out again that I'm not qualified to make any statement about the newsgroup discussion - but I think this discussion stands alone.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 28th, 2004 10:11 am (UTC)
I completely agree with you, and I was also pretty surprised while reading the thread on usenet that several posters claimed to have little-to-no self-knowledge. (or even desire to work toward this goal...)

I think that the tone of the message is one that just has a tendency to push people's buttons and cause certain individuals to go into defensive mode.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 28th, 2004 10:28 am (UTC)
So, if I'm misinterpreting this correctly, you're advocating sex with dead animals?
Very interesting, solid points, with which I agree wholeheartedly.

I'd amend to include:
"Self-knowledge is a lot of work, and mistakes will be made along the way. This is part of the process."
Oct. 28th, 2004 11:44 am (UTC)
Fuckin' duh. Bravo.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )