To say that a life isn’t worth living is pretty bold, don’t you think? To say that somehow a life is meaningless, that it has no purpose, that it’s worthless. That’s not just bold, it’s damn ballsy. It’s not something you would want to say in front of a crowd without being able to back up. People don’t tend to take kindly to devaluing a human life. So, why then does the sophisticated Socrates make such a blunt statement? Why does this fantastic philosopher believe that he can categorize some lives as completely meaningless? Why Socrates, why?! (insert sobbing woman)
Well, let’s take a look.
(This is the part where we examine our lives, so if you’ve been slacking on your examining, don’t worry. Your once puny and worthless life is now full of meaning and hope)
So do we really agree with Socrates? Is an unexamined life really not worth living? And just so we’re clear, he’s not saying that the lack of examination diminishes the meaning of a life, or that it kind of sort of makes a life a little bit worthless. He’s saying that an unexamined life shouldn’t even exist. That a lack of examination should equal a lack of life.
For all you illiterate math-wizards out there, that equation looks something like this:
life – examination = you should probably just quit, you worthless piece of dung
Are we cool with that? Is that ok? I mean, we’re dealing with people’s’ lives here. It’s a subject that humans commonly refer to as “sensitive.”
Well, let’s look at it this way. There are plenty of people who don’t seem to examine anything, let alone their own lives. These are the ones that sit in class and stare at the floor as if it’s going to reveal some money-making scheme that will earn them millions. They avoid paying attention as if it’s going to render them more unconscious than they already are.
Sadly, none of these people are bajllionaires, so I don’t think the floor is the answer to our money problems. But, my point is that there are some people who really don’t think too much. All they do is stare at the TV, the computer, and, yes, the floor. Seemingly, they would fit under Socrates’ “worthless piece of dung” category. Right?
Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think that we need to find out what Socrates really wants to say.
What is this examination of which the mighty Socrates speaks? What is this complicated tool that gives meaning to our lives?
Socrates was wicked smart, and I’m sure his definition of examination is much more complicated than mine. But, I don’t think that examination means that we have to spend hours meditating about our souls, contemplating our lives and all of the philosophies that apply to them. First, unless you’re a Shaolin monk, no one wants to do that. Second, no one has time to do that. Third, well, just trust me when I say that no one’s ever gonna do that. So what is examination?
Examination could mean a lot of things. There is a simple explanation, though.
Examination means taking a good look at things. So, when it comes to our lives, examination is looking back and learning something from what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Examination is taking your past experience and applying it to your current life. Examination is adaptation.
Everyone does it. Even the floor-staring, mind-numbed, borderline unconscious zombie of a student that couldn’t pay attention in class if the lives of his/her entire family depended on it. We all peek back into our past and draw from our experiences. We all examine something that we’ve been through and take some sort of lesson from it. It’s the only way that we function in life. We adapt so that we can survive. Examination lets us avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. If you haven’t drawn any lessons from your life, if you haven’t done one tiny bit of examination, then, I hate it say it, but our friend Socrates is right.
So if you were scared that your life didn’t mean squat, don’t worry. I think it’s safe to say that we all learn from the past. We all examine our lives in some way. Maybe some examine more carefully than others, but examination is something that’s natural to all us humans.
So what have we learned from the wise words of this philosophic fellow? Be patient, kimosabi, and I’ll tell you.
The message of this quote is to look into yourself and see what there is to learn. Observe the places you’ve been, the people you’ve seen, and the things you’ve done and ask yourself how they’ve impacted you as a person. Examine your experience. Examine yourself. Examine your life.
And stop staring at the damn floor.