Part II: So You Say You Want to Know Yourself? Thoughts on Examining Your Life

512px-Vladimir-Grig-Who-Am-I

In my last post I promised to give you my thoughts on the questions I posed about knowing yourself and examining your life. There were 13 in total, (superstitious anyone?). Here are the responses they prompted in me.

  1. Someone asks for a year off your life — a transfer of 365 days from you to him in return for money. Would you accept? How much money seems sufficient? The old Twilight Zone TV series presented an interesting story involving such an offer: The Self-Improvement of Salvatore Ross. I can imagine circumstances in which I would take the offer. If I needed money to save the life of someone I loved, for example. Otherwise, probably not. But then, I am financially comfortable. Were I not, perhaps I’d be more inclined to accept. I’d not care to get a bigger house, win status, or travel the world. Nor would I give the year for any charity short of enough dollars to change thousands of lives. There are limits to my altruism.
  2. If you could trade one extra year of good health and youth for one less year of longevity, would you make the exchange? Everything else being equal (which is never the case) this is attractive. Pain can be instructive if you are young enough and the suffering is defeated. Living longer, at least into an old age suffused with agony has no appeal for me. Leon Kass, physician and philosopher, however, argues that discomfort and gradual loss of our abilities combine to make us less resistant and more grateful for the release provided by death. Note that my answers to all of these questions are personal. You might well offer ideas at least as worthy and persuasive, perhaps more faith-based.
  3. What would you die for? My post What Would You Kill For? includes many thoughtful responses I received from friends and acquaintances.
  4. What would you kill for? The same essay deals with answers to this query as well.
  5. Imagine you are given the opportunity to improve your physical beauty by 25% or your intelligence by a similar percentage. One or the other, just by saying so. Please discuss your decision and justify it. Were I a deformed young man, enhanced beauty would be difficult to resist. The importance of what meets the eye, of course, depends on the individual’s self-image and how much else recommends him to others in the mating game. The hand of time steals pulchritude from us all, a dime’s worth here, a nickel’s worth there, until at last those who once possessed surpassing beauty often sustain the most damaging psychological losses. We witness what some pursue from surgeons to fight the clock. The world pressures women more than men with regard to appearance, another consideration. At this point in my life, however, I’d take 25% more intelligence, being without an outsized vanity regarding how my externals are judged. Yet I wonder if the added cognitive burst might then separate me from friends and loved ones, literally change my thinking, our mutuality, and increase their discomfort in my presence. The value of relationships means more to me than becoming Einstein. Had I been given the offer of a bigger brain in my school years, however, I’d likely have accepted. We tend to think of ourselves as a kind of unitary whole, despite the changes we go through outside and inside. For a number of the questions in this essay, consider whether you would answer the same way when youthful, in middle-age, and in old age.
  6. You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination. My first thoughts here were focused on my youth, when confidence and self-assertion were wanting. On the other hand, life worked out before long. Moreover, any edge won with increased bravado would have been temporary, or (as Rosaliene Bacchus commented in response to the original post) might have altered the course of events in ways I didn’t predict. For example, had I been more masterly with some young woman in my single days, perhaps I wouldn’t have met and married my wonderful wife, produced our two great daughters, etc. No, I’d let the opportunity for a “do-over” pass by for the chance of self-advancement, but take advantage of it with respect to someone I hurt. My answer to question #10, based on regret, offers the details.
  7. A genie will give you the ability to relive one day of your life just as it happened, without change. Which would you choose? Explain. My post What Memory Would You Take To Eternity? describes a heavenly reward consisting of living forever in a single, precious, blissful moment. I chose the instant I treasured most and treasure still, described therein. However, if I had 24-hours to live over again, I’d probably conjure up my father when I was a small boy, maybe three. He created a pretend radio show for me using the nozzle of our vacuum cleaner (hose attached) as a mock microphone. We played different parts, at least as the story was related to me much later. Though I lived it, I own no memory of the event. I’d like to visit him again in the fizzing sparkle of his relative youth, when his heart fairly burst with love and pride in his first born. The pictures of my dad with me show how overwhelmingly happy he was, beside himself with joy. I remember my own experience of this dad role with my children and watch it duplicated today whenever I go over to the home of my youngest daughter and son-in-law Keith with their wonderful boy — my grandson, of course.

That’s enough to ponder for now. Stay tuned, as my dad might have said in our imaginary radio days, for my take on questions eight through 13.

The top image is a work of Vladmir Grig called Who am I as sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

14 thoughts on “Part II: So You Say You Want to Know Yourself? Thoughts on Examining Your Life

  1. “For a number of the questions in this essay, consider whether you would answer the same way when youthful, in middle-age, and in old age.”
    ~ I doubt that I would answer the same if I were much younger.

    7. “Though I lived it, I own no memory of the event. I’d like to visit [my father] again in the fizzing sparkle of his relative youth, when his heart fairly burst with love and pride in his first born.”
    ~ What a wonderful thought! I had a violent father, but I have a vague recollection of him taking me out with him when I was a tot. Perhaps he loved me more than I knew.

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  2. drgeraldstein

    We are all pretty complicated. Few of us are all good or bad. As a result, it is easy to become uncertain about those who did us harm, since they may have also had good moments. The fact that someone has such kind moments, however, doesn’t necessarily provide adequate compensation (or any compensation) if the harm is great enough. My opinion only and a general statement at that, not specific to your life, Rosaliene.

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  3. slowmovinglife

    Though I have experienced a number of amazing and terrible days and love so many who are now gone (from earth or my life), I am not sure that I would redo or replay or revisit any of the above.

    True, the idea of feeling and experiencing the joy and happiness of the best day of my life would be amazing…but it would not be the same as the first time.

    Killing for someone. I would not kill another human being to gain something for me or another. Never…unless the person to be killed is me. I would offer my life to save someone that I care about. If one or both of my kids needed my kidneys, I would give them up for them. If a doctor cited ethics about not taking my life, there would be a gun in my mouth pulling the trigger to make it as simple as that. My entire life doesn’t come close to being as valuable as one day of theirs. If someone was threatening my family or someone I love and care about, again I would do what is necessary (up to and including placing myself into harm’s way) to save them (which includes the person I mentioned in previous conversation).

    I value human life. Taking another’s is not something that I want to be a part of, ever again.

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    • My condolences for what sounds like a painful back story. Your answers make you sound like a person who takes responsibility seriously. More power to you. Thanks for your response.

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      • slowmovinglife

        The backstory is the root of my combat-connected PTSD.

        I do take responsibility and I hold myself to a high standard. I have failed in this in the past year+ but I am working hard with my therapist and myself to not allow myself to make the same mistake again. I am learning to not hate myself for my failures…though it is hard when others rightfully hate me, too.

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      • I applaud your work and sense of responsibility. Part of leading a lucky life is never finding out what we would do in an extreme situation. It appears that you found something out that continues to disturb you. I hope you now find a satisfying way to make whatever amends you can and accept your basic decency as, like all of us, an imperfect human. Best of luck in this.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I only just saw the original post. How fun! I would take the extra year of health in exchange for longevity as well. (What good is living if you’re sick or in pain?) Maybe it’s small, but I’d think I’d be fine with being 25% prettier; I’m a girl, so we’re taught to chase the impossible standard. Good answers, doc!

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    • Thanks, A. Whenever I get a teacher’s applause I feel a little better! Really — I’m still a student at heart.

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      • I might steal for a beginning-of-the-year icebreaker! We’re getting into some juicy controversies straightaway, so that sort of community-building will be really important, and high school kids need good engaging questions to sink their teeth into.

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  5. Feel free. And if you care to direct them to my blog, feel free to do that, as well. I’m sure we don’t want to encourage the next 16-year-old student of Mrs. Trump! 😉

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  6. The theme that keeps coming up and speaks to me most directly is that we live our lives in a unique way. We cannot avoid what the community dictates, but self-examination is still something we do alone. I like to think of it as “each of us writes our own story.”

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  7. An interesting perspective, Joan. I think it is true, but perhaps we are less unique than we suspect. Part of the problem for the majority of depressed people is the belief that the experience of others is so different that they will neither understand us nor suffer the same “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that we do. I may write a post speaking to the difficulty of getting outside of ourselves enough to recognize how much the larger community of friends, relatives, and the moment/place in which we live impacts our psychological state in ways we take for granted, partly because of our preoccupation with our inner life.

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  8. That gives me a lot to think about. So, I’ll live in my head a little more thinking about how to live outside my head. Thanks!

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