The quote “To thine own self be true” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet may sound like good advice. After all, with accurate self-awareness we can make effective choices that shape our experiences. Without self-aware vision we are trapped in a prison that amounts to being a spectator in our own lives. A misshapen view of ourselves can be just as destructive as blindness, if not worse. Delusion is an inseparable companion to chaos, stagnation and poverty when it comes to intentionally shaping what it is we experience as life.
While the benefits of self-awareness are clear and arguably crucial to understand our roles so we can navigate toward anything satisfying and meaningful, as a society and even as a global culture we place little emphasis on self-understanding as a value. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that in order to actually realize a reasonable understanding of ourselves we have to first understand the foundations on which our perceptions stand and this is an enormous task. The effort is especially hard to accomplish in the context of an apathetic culture because of how much we must swim against the currents of apathy. Most of us do not apply ourselves to this task with anywhere near the intellectual energy required to actually make any substantive inroads toward knowing ourselves. Using behaviors as indicators of our values we place a much higher value on glittery myopic distractions that ultimately drain us of purpose rather than nourish.
There is perhaps a perverse irony in knowing the value of self-awareness because at the same time it presents a clear picture of how we can cultivate a purposeful existence; it convicts us of our own complicity in being buffeted by the winds generated by accidents of circumstance rather than captains able to harness circumstance to intentionally sail toward a destination of our own choosing. Perhaps an even deeper irony is how much effort it takes to become aware, much less exercise a measure of freedom.