Know Thyself — Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself

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This profound quote, “Know Thyself,” is attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages, including Socrates and Pythagoras. It was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – according to the Greek writer Pausanias. At least a few of the ancients knew the importance of self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Then, as now, the average person is content to base self-knowledge on comparisons to other people. If this is the measure of self-knowledge, it is based on someone else’s standards. This practice misses the point of “Know Thyself.” Instead, it’s all about how to fit in.

“The creative individual has the capacity to free himself from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. He is capable of questioning the assumptions that the rest of us accept.” – John W. Gardner (b. 1912) – President, Carnegie Foundation

Socially Conditioned to Accept Comparisons

Comparisons are inevitable. They are a fact of life. We are compared to our siblings the moment we are born and compared to other children even before we understand the concept. We are compared to other students in school and graded accordingly. Then we are compared to our peers throughout our careers.

The trick is to recognize the majority of people have always used the yardstick of comparison to define their own sense of self-knowledge. Unfortunately, this same yardstick is also used to measure self-worth and even self-love. The secret of true self-knowledge is the realization that comes when all comparisons are ignored. True knowledge of self is attained from personal insights of looking inwardly rather than outwardly towards others.

“Total self-esteem requires total and unconditional acceptance of yourself. You are a unique and worthy individual, regardless of your mistakes, defeats and failures, despite what others may think, say or feel about you or your behavior. If you truly accept and love yourself, you won’t have a driving need for attention and approval. Self-esteem is a genuine love of self. Stop all adverse value judging of yourself. Stop accepting the adverse value judgments of others. Purge yourself of all condemnation, shame, blame, guilt and remorse.” — Unknown

Find Your Own Inner Genius

In school, we were conditioned to the idea of comparison by the grading system known as the bell curve. This system ignores the fact that we are all unique individuals with different strengths and different ways of learning to access our own inner genius.

“Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.” – Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)

A Swiss psychiatrist, Jean Piaget, made an important discovery about how students learn. In his research, today’s accepted standard teaching method of lecturing and testing produced the typical results of the standard bell curve. About 66% of the students achieved average results (C grades). About 12% were above average (B grades) and about 12% were below average (D grades). About 3% got A grades and about 3% got F grades. About 2% achieved results that could be considered in the genius range and 2% exhibited no retention whatsoever. (If drawn in a graph, these results would resemble the shape of a bell, which is why it became known as the bell curve.)

The surprise came when the method of instruction was changed. No matter which teaching method was used — drawings, small group discussions, video, reading, etc. — the bell curve remained the same, with similar percentages in each area. But with each method of instruction, there were new heroes and new zeros, and the individuals were redistributed in the average areas. These results can be interpreted to mean that we all have our own unique genius within, waiting to be awakened by the method or methods that best interface with our individuality.

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” – John W. Gardner (b. 1912) – President, Carnegie Foundation

Most people never discover their own inner genius because they are conditioned to accept the comparison method as the last word. Imagine the individuals in the smallest percentage of the bell curve — the ones who just don’t get it by hearing a lecture. Perhaps they are just as intelligent, just as interested and just as capable as the people at the other end of the bell, but they’re simply not auditory learners. They may be visual learners or they may learn best by a more tactile, hands-on approach. With this dramatically different way of teaching and learning, they may be at the other end of the bell curve. The comparison system could just as easily label these same people geniuses simply by changing the way the very same material is presented.

“If you treat an individual … as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

If we were taught to “Know Thyself” instead of “know where you fit on the curve related to other people learning a specific subject via one specific teaching method,” what a difference it could make in our quality of life. Our own self-exploration would reveal our own strengths and affinities as well as which methods work best, based on our individuality.

“Brilliance is typically the act of an individual, but incredible stupidity can usually be traced to an organization.” – Jon Bentley

If our educational system taught “Know Thyself,” we would be more eager to discover our own areas of genius and be less inclined to accept the judgment of others. We would be better able to recognize brilliant self-awareness in others and could more easily avoid those who are enmeshed in the limiting comparison method of self-knowledge and self-worth.

“The invention of IQ did a great disservice to creativity in education . . . Individuality, personality, originality, are too precious to be meddled with by amateur psychiatrists whose patterns for a ‘wholesome personality’ are inevitably their own.” – Joel H. Hildebrand – Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley

Educate Thyself

Education, self-realization and enlightenment are all things that happen to one person at a time. Each person has a unique approach and a unique experience. Don’t make the mistake of trading your precious individuality for membership in the club of the masses.

“Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the Headless Monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded.” – Sir Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Don’t lean on the crutch of outward opinions, methods of the moment, or current social trends for your sense of worth.

“Never violate the sacredness of your individual self-respect.” – Theodore Parker (1810-60)

Education is incredibly valuable because so many of life’s gifts depend upon it, but remember the best kind of education is self-education where the approach is custom tailored to the strengths and affinities of the individual. Education, like self-realization, is an inside job. For maximum efficiency and personal satisfaction, it all begins with “Know Thyself.”

Social Education is Better than No Education . . . BUT . . .

The educational system of our modern culture is always changing and lagging behind the leading-edge thinkers. It’s better than nothing, but if the system itself could be personified, given a truth serum, and asked to describe itself, it would have to say something like this . . .

“You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others, will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself . . . educating your own judgment. Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this society.” – Doris Lessing

Know Thyself Deeper

“Know Thyself” is such a powerful phrase because it can inspire a lifetime of revelations as we discover ever-deepening layers of ourselves. This article has focused on an important, but relatively superficial, layer of self-knowledge revealed by contemplation on the phrase, “Know Thyself.” It leads quite naturally to these age-old questions: “Who am I?” . . . and “Why am I here? . . . and “What does it all mean?”

These are the questions that matter most, so the most satisfying answers cannot be found in comparisons with others but from deep inside ourselves.

We are all unique individuals with our own strengths, talents and nudges leading us to embrace our own best life. Of course, that’s an ever-changing, moving target that grows and evolves with our own expansion of consciousness and deepening self-knowledge. There’s always another step to take, and one of the best clues when deciding the direction of the next step is to revisit the ancient Greek’s profound directive, “Know Thyself.”

While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.

Listen FREE to the song samples below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.

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This is the end of the article entitled Know Thyself — Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself published by Tupelo Kenyon on March 21, 2008 at 5:00 am | In Awareness, Discipline, Integrity, Purpose, Self-Image - Copyright 2007 - All rights reserved worldwide.


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  1. [...] Know Thyself – Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself The average person is content to base self-knowledge on comparisons to other people. If this is the measure of self-knowledge, it is based on someone else’s standards. This practice misses the point of “Know Thyself.” Instead, it’s all about how to fit in. We are all unique individuals with our own strengths, talents and nudges leading us to embrace our own best life. True knowledge of self is attained from personal insights of looking inwardly rather than outwardly towards others. [...]

    Pingback by TupeloKenyon.com » Get a Broader Perspective – Do It Different and Work Smarter — April 4, 2008 #

  2. [...] Know Thyself – Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself The average person is content to base self-knowledge on comparisons to other people. If this is the measure of self-knowledge, it is based on someone else’s standards. This practice misses the point of “Know Thyself.” Instead, it’s all about how to fit in. We are all unique individuals with our own strengths, talents and nudges leading us to embrace our own best life. True knowledge of self is attained from personal insights of looking inwardly rather than outwardly towards others. [...]

    Pingback by TupeloKenyon.com » Beyond the Brands of Truth — July 7, 2008 #

  3. [...] Know Thyself – Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself The average person is content to base self-knowledge on comparisons to other people. If this is the measure of self-knowledge, it is based on someone else’s standards. This practice misses the point of “Know Thyself.” Instead, it’s all about how to fit in. We are all unique individuals with our own strengths, talents and nudges leading us to embrace our own best life. True knowledge of self is attained from personal insights of looking inwardly rather than outwardly towards others. [...]

    Pingback by TupeloKenyon.com » Directed Thinking vs. Compulsive Thinking — July 7, 2008 #

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