Since the beginning of 2018, psychology has been one of the subjects that has caught my attention. It all started when I watched some of Dr. Jordan B Peterson’s youtube lectures. https://www.youtube.com/user/JordanPetersonVideos
Sadhguru also had an influence on me mostly in terms of his wisdom which are very practical, psychologically on point and the kind of spirituality that helps in balancing my life. And then I started reading C. J. Jung’s book, “The undiscovered self.” One peculiar common theme emerged in words of all these three very wise, intelligent gentlemen. Common people have limited self-knowledge. Now, this statement sounds arrogant and can be easily used to game and play with the psyche of the masses. For example, a fraud imam, missionary, baba, political ideologue can tell people, “You don’t know what’s good for you, let us show you the way.” This is what happens with a large number of blind followers of a political ideology, superstitions. This is, in fact, an evidence of the fact that common people don’t have a strong sense of self-knowledge.
What’s self-knowledge? The biggest differences between humans and other species are the higher level of self-knowledge among humans. An average person has a rough idea of some things which are good and bad for him (though this largely depends on societal norms of that time which I will discuss later). An average person knows about his organs, his likes, dislikes, what’s good for his health. Animals although have instincts, knowledge about their likes, dislikes, their self-knowledge is quite limited. We are indeed at the top in the hierarchy of evolution.
But actions speak louder than words and thoughts. What you are is more accurately reflected by your actions than words. For example, you may tell everyone that you are a great animal lover and how much you care about their well-being. And then, you’re having Biryani and Mutton on a regular basis. This makes you a hypocrite. Your love for animals can’t be selective. Another example is this regard is the psyche of criminals. Most of the jihadists think they are following orders of Allah and there is nothing wrong with what they are doing.
How does a brilliant organ such as the human brain can be so foolish when it comes to self-knowledge? One of the biggest reasons is self-overrating. We overrate ourselves massively. We overrate our physical appearances. For example, you took a selfie where you clearly aren’t looking particularly good, but you may definitely think “This looks so cute. I am so cute!” (we all have been guilty of this). In truth, it’s not. Cuteness is a subjective term and more than 95% of the people in the world won’t find that picture “cute”. That’s the truth. And then, when you seek approval from others by sharing pictures on social media, and you judge yourself based on the number of likes you get, that’s a perfect recipe for your downward psychological journey. In many cases, due to good social skills, you may actually get approval from your friends that you look cute in that terrible selfie (which by the way, they are lying), your self-overrating just got false approval. That means whatever honest voice you had in your inside that was warning you that your selfie isn’t that cute and taking nonsense selfies everywhere isn’t a good idea got suppressed badly. That honest voice or conscience is very important.
Another aspect where we overrate ourselves to kind of absurd levels is self-morality and truthfulness. How many of the people you have met (including yourself) are truly willing to accept the fact that you might be wrong on this or your morals and values are not “good” contrary to your own beliefs. Only wise and knowledgeable people are open to the fact they might be wrong, even in their morals, values and the nature of the truth they believe in. Because that’s always the case. What you believe is based on your senses (which is flawed and inaccurate), societal norms, religious, political ideologies and scientific facts of that time. Your beliefs are also influenced by your family members, film stars, idols. How can your beliefs be complete truth? For example, take the flat earth theory. In ancient western civilization, Earth was believed to be flat. Many scholars of that time suggested that earth might be round. They were hanged by the people of that time. In Nazi Germany, perfectly normally raised people were Hitler believers and actually believed in a superior Aryan race and genocide of Jews. The communists in Stalin’s USSR and Mao China truly believed in communist utopia and for that, they murdered millions of innocent individuals. School children in Mao China were happily killing their teachers. Here is the most disturbing truth about these examples. If you were born and raised in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, you most likely would have been a follower of Hitler, Stalin, Mao. You may say, that’s impossible. I have at least this much of morality and I could never be a fan of such mass murderers and authoritarians. Let me tell you, Mao and Stalin are still to this day, revered in China, Russia and many communist regimes around the world.
Again, the question begs, “Had you been born and raised in Nazi Germany, would you have been a follower of Hitler and his ideologies?” The answer to which is very likely yes. Because most of the people raised at the time of Nazi Germany were believers of Hitler. What makes you think you would be any different? What exceptional qualities you possess that would have prevented you from being a follower of Hitler? You may say, “I have high morals and values, I would have never been a Hitler follower.” Well, for starters, your morals and values are mostly a result of the societal and parental upbringing of yours. Your own genuine input to your morals and values are most likely near zero. You might once again argue that you don’t agree with societal norms, you don’t believe in religion, etc. However, think again. Is the idea of opposing societal norms and your religion, truly yours because of your analytical and critical thinking or are these ideas picked from here and there on the movies, internet, comedy shows. Again, you have to go as far as Islamic nations to see how many people there are non-believers of Islam. There aren’t many. So think again. Do you have such a level of self-knowledge and bravery where you might have opposed Hitler in a society where everyone was praising and following him especially when there wasn’t any internet, media, press or intellectual to tell you that Hitler was a horrible individual? Heck, many can’t even see the fact that AIB is a biased group of individuals with immoral and garbage sense of comedy. Do you think, these individuals could have resisted the charm of Hitler, Stalin, Mao?
And when it comes to loved ones and family members, you just can’t think and act rationally. It takes a lot of bad acts from their children to make a parent realize that their children aren’t good people. Anyways, always acting rationally in the matters related to your loved ones is also not a good idea and for obvious reasons (protecting family), we have been evolved to protect our families even if we have to act irrationally for same. However, there should be a limit and you should know when things have gone too far.
So, what you believe to be true, false, right, wrong, good, bad are heavily skewed by personal biases for family, society, religion, political ideology, personalities and your tendency to self-overrating. As a result, your beliefs become rigid, outdated, wrong and you find yourself irritated when you encounter beliefs contrary to yours. This causes unnecessary friction.
What’s the solution?
The aim of many of the ancient Indian acharyas was true self-knowledge. Self-knowledge was considered to be the path for moksha. Vishwamitra, Buddha, Mahavira, Shankracharya, all these individuals sought and attained true self-knowledge first before striving for other forms of knowledge. Krishna’s message in Gita has elements of self-knowledge in Karma Yoga, Dhyan Yoga. How to strive for self-knowledge? First, truly accept the fact that you might be wrong. And then, practice meditation. What do I mean by meditation? If you have truly accepted that you might be wrong, then that voice I mentioned before would be heard more clearly inside your mind. The best way to do that is by meditation. All you have to do is clear your mind completely. Focus on your breaths, close your eyes. Focus on your breath, focus on every sound you hear, the sound of footwear of a woman walking down the street, the sounds of birds, the sound of vehicles passing down the lane, and then clear your thoughts. Keep on taking deep breaths and let that honest voice inside of yours be heard clearly and loudly. It will start telling you the hard truths. It will tell you how lazy you have been, it will tell you that you can never achieve your goals the pace at which you’re progressing, it will tell you that you will be much happier if you cut down your use of social media, it will tell you that you are wrong in believing that your brother should follow your advice. It will start telling you all sorts of things you are wrong about. And then, it will tell you that no need to worry, everyone in this world would be dead 130 years from now and all your problems would be meaningless by then.
An average person has limited self-knowledge. You’re (including me) most likely one of them. Our self-knowledge is again skewed by our biases and self-overrating. This creates problems and clashes as what we think is right can very likely be wrong and we won’t even have a clue about it. We will then fight hard to defend a wrong position and this will make ourselves look bad and stupid. We will start loosing, getting irritated and unhappy. The pursuit of true self-knowledge and truly accepting the fact that you might be wrong is the way to go. Plus, extraordinary individuals most likely have higher levels of self-knowledge as they know they are wrong and they work hard to fix those wrong thoughts, actions.