γνῶθι σεαυτόν” (gnothi seauton written in Latin-based sounds) is Greek for “know thyself.” I just checked on Wikipedia to remind myself of the author of this advice. No help there. I believe I was taught that the author was Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher before Socrates, But my memory is not what it used to be, so who knows? I was trained in the pre–Vatican II seminary discipline. Four years of Greek: two of classical Greek (Homer, for us) and two in koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament. All in preparation for philosophy and theology in college and grad school. What little Greek I remember does help—mostly with crossword puzzles—but sometimes even with Scripture.
“Know thyself.” Good advice. Essential even. I have tried to follow it since I was in my teens. When I was in my 30’s, I went to a management course where they gave the Myers–Briggs Personality Inventory (I’m INFP). The instructor, Dr. Norma Barr, explained the various categories to the class and asked each of us to predict our results. Of the 60 or so people in the class, I was the only one who predicted my results correctly. Nifty, huh? For years afterwards, I had an obnoxious self–knowledge smugness. Of all the big shots in my class, I was the only one who knew myself! After 37 years of life, I knew myself. My agonized self–examination paid off. On to the next challenge.
Pride does goeth before the fall.
The first major event that showed my self–ignorance was, after falling for a third guy in the 10 years between 27 and 37, I had to come out. I no longer had the energy to stay in the closet. I had finally acknowledged the obvious to myself in my early 30’s but, being married with four daughters, I thought the better part of valor was to stay way behind the trousers and shirts. You can imagine how much fun that was! A real hoot. Several years after coming out, I finally was able to start integrating being out with the rest of my life history. I may have aced Myers–Briggs, but I had completely fucked up in real life, self–knowledge wise.
Other attacks on my smugness followed. In 1989, there was a major congressional investigation of the federal agency where I spent my career. The result that most affected me was the firing of the top administration. I was one of the three who were “sent to the minors,” as Congressman John Murtha (D–PA) so quaintly put it. I saw myself as a dedicated, super–competent manager and civil servant. But, as I was told, a civil servant at the level at which I worked also has to be a politician, and I sucked at politics. . . I still do. Again, my Myers–Briggs accomplishment didn’t mean shit.
I could go on and on. I had not the faintest clue about: my inability to flirt; my lack of understanding of my sexuality—what I wanted to do with men, not my orientation; my inability to see love in other people as they cared for me and appreciated me; the very limited usefulness of my particular intelligence. And, most of all, my cowardice and laziness in making every–day decisions. Needless to say, these (and other self–knowledge faux pas that I won’t mention) pretty much rid me of the notion that I had any self–knowledge whatsoever.
God is good, though. God gave me the past 20 years to reexamine my life and my understanding of it. After my mother died—in August, 2012—I went back to the practice I had earlier in my life. As I was taught when I was a Franciscan, I knew I had to spend time alone with God. I had to meditate so that I could deal with the many strong emotions my Mom’s death brought out in me. In the past 18 months, I’ve come to believe that true self–knowledge is to some extent impossible. Honest and real self–knowledge is possible for me, but it isn’t an intellectual puzzle to be solved. For me, it’s a relationship with God in which I see my life and my self a little bit as God sees me. Rather than being an introvert or a judge, or an intuiting man, I am someone who is loved. I’m loved not only by God, but my a good number of human beings. I also am a person who loves. I love God, my family, my friends, and others. For me, self–knowledge isn’t judgmental or harsh. It’s honest, though, but honesty mixed with affection, with love.. “. . . Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4/15 NIV). Every day, I try to sit quietly for thirty minutes or so and try to see with God’s eyes. It makes a BIG difference, using those eyes.
At age 67, therefore, I confess to anybody who’s interested that I have very little self–knowledge. But I’m working on it, as with everything else in my life.
Pax et bonum,