Self Knowledge – or Knowledge of Self


Returning to consciousness after anaesthetic it is usual , as it was with me, to be uncertain at first as to where one is. Slowly you become aware of your surroundings, remembering what brought you there, and on trying to move you become aware of your limitations by the knowledge of the discomfort you feel.

Then as time passes you will begin to inquire as to how successful the operation has been, an estimation of your recovery time, and an expectation of when you might be up and about again – in a sense an essential self knowledge.

Similarly, those of us whose employment has been or is of a physical nature will have found out by experience our strengths and weaknesses, our stamina and endurance.

The same will apply of course in the case of mental effort at work or in the learning process, what our limits are and how we can manage within our boundaries of training and expertise and our understanding of the activities in which we are engaged.

And when we find our physical or mental capacity has diminished we will, if we know and accept it, recognise the new boundaries, adjust ourselves in some way and, on the level of our understanding, devise methods by which systems, tools and appliances can be brought into play so as to enable us to continue to cope.

And in respect to employment, a change of job is possible if our competence, either physical or mental, causes problems in the way of adjustment.

Every day we, and others also, are taking such decisions. The difficulty, of course, is to know when the point has been reached for making the change and how to assess, anticipate and prepare for it.

Many of the situations are determined for us by those in authority, the career structures in which we work, the onset and speed of technological advances rendering us or our skills redundant – we and those employing us have to consider whether we can adequately cope with the new requirements.

The other aspect we might think of this morning, as a sort of rough parallel to coming out of an anaesthetic, is do we ever ask ourselves the questions, who, and what we are. Also, if we had ever asked ourselves such questions before, would we have the same answers now as we did then.

And in attempting to understand and explore who and what we are could or should we also try to establish how we have become what we are from what we were, if we can actually remember accurately what we were and how we got here.

What do we need to know of ourselves to enable us to meet the everyday things that determine the nature of the decisions that we have to make. And how much is necessary for us to know of others, how much knowledge of you yourself is essential to them to be able to offer, provide or direct you to assistance. Also, what knowledge can they give of you to you which would assist your understanding of yourself.

At some point you may think of your genes and whether or not who and what you are are a direct outcome of and from them. And reflect also on the decisions of others which have affected our lives, the impact of which we have experienced and which have shaped us.

Can or should we examine these past events and their effect in producing our current self. Are we, can we be, objective and dispassionate enough to carry out such a crucial analysis. And if we could, what effect would it have upon us – would a deeper stage of self awareness withstand a revelation of who and what we are to ourselves.

Would it strengthen or weaken the ‘Self’ that we think that we are. Could it result in the destruction of our perception of who and what we are. Would too much introspection be dangerous. Is ‘Self’ destruction a prelude to physical self destruction. Is this where madness lies.

Is it simply necessary for us to expand our self knowledge so that we can move usefully and successfully interact with others to mutual advantage. How much self knowledge do others need which they and you can exchange so that you and they can co-operate.

And what, if any, limitations should there be on such knowledge, for yourself and for them?

The above is the text of a talk delivered to a local group in Cwmbran in early April 2007.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, South Wales, 26 April 2007 (the authorís 88th birthday).


Samuel H. Boyd

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