The Unexamined Life

I know (oh, I know) that the thinking I share in this blog is anathema to some.  “Too complicated”, “too academic”, “too intellectual”.  “Business is simple”, “analysis paralysis”, “let’s just do it”, “we haven’t got time for all this”.  Even: “we don’t want to be better people, we just want to make more money.”

I also know that I’m not alone in finding that reflection on how I (and we) live, how we spend this precious life, really matters.  Of course this reflection is not a substitute for action, or a way of delaying it.  It’s all about taking action — deliberately.  And of course this is not just an amusing pastime — it’s as real as it gets.

Socrates put it with Classical clarity: “The unexamined life is not fit for a human to live.”  He was on trial for his life.  I think we can understand him to be pointing out that we, alone, have this capacity to enquire into and understand the wellsprings of our actions, our beliefs, our dilemmas, our life choices.  To fail to use this capacity would be like a gifted athlete or musician failing to develop and use their talent.  It would be against our own best nature.  In that sense, the unexamined life is sub-human.  Not in a rude sense, but because if we ignore our human capacity for self-reflection, we fail to aspire to the best we can be.

But more than that: how we act, individually and collectively, adds up to who we are.  Our institutions, especially companies, have enormous capacity for good or harm.  The difference lies in how we behave in them, around them and towards them.  Stopping to think about our own lives matters to us individually, and to those nearest to us.  Stopping to think about our collective life matters to all of us, collectively.  It’s how we define our life as a community, a nation, a civilisation.  To do this heedlessly, by default settings, would be to fall short of our potential as a human community.

So I and others make no apology for taking time to examine our lives, in Socrates’ sense.  Not because we are navel-gazers, but because this really matters, out there, where the rubber hits the road. Thoughtful action just works better than thoughtless action.

That’s what I think.  You?


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