Why is “know thyself” hard?
You’d think you’d know yourself better than anything.
Here’s a major reason why: because almost everyone in the world benefits from you not knowing yourself.
Because organizations mediate your interactions with everyone in the world except the dozen or so people closest to youÂ and nearly all organizations benefit from you not knowing yourself. They benefit from manipulating you.
Don’t believe me? Think of the most influential organizations in the world—governments, religions, corporations, schools, etc. Each says it’s right or the best or something like that and all others should be more like it. These claims are patently bogus. As much as each government says its history and people are the best, the others do too. They can’t all be best. As much as each religion says its history and beliefs are right, the others do too. They can’t all be right. Every corporation claims its products are the best and so can’t all be right. As long as all these organizations evolve and change positions we know right, wrong, good, and bad aren’t determining what sustains them as important and influential. They not only don’t agree on what’s right, wrong, good, or bad, they fundamentally disagree on them.
What sustains organizations as important and influential is their stability and ability to gather and keep members, which comes from the behavior they motivate. To some extent they depend on their resources and environment, but a more effective organization would eventually be able to get at those resources. If you want to understand an organization and why it’s effective, you’ll get a lot farther just looking at the behavior it motivates than trying to understand its beliefs.
What makes an organization stable rarely makes its members happy. Members of governments derive power from making its citizens scared so they feel they need them for protection. Members of religions derive power from making people feel guilty or scared of eternal misery or damnation so they need them for salvation or enlightenment. Members of corporations derive power from making customers feel unhappy or unfulfilled so they’ll buy their products. Can you think of any major organization that doesn’t benefit from making you feel bad so you need it? Especially the people with power and influence in the organization?
I don’t mean to say these organizations don’t help you at all. On the contrary, many of them build community, teach literacy, and create happiness in other ways. Nor am I saying people in those organizations don’t genuinely want to help you. In today’s post I’m only considering how organizations interact with the individual’s self-awareness and create beliefs that make creating it difficult.
I wrote last week in “If someone tells you the world around you isnâ€™t real or what you think it is, watch your wallet!” about how many organizations begin their teaching with â€œThe world you see is not what you think it is” followed by “Weâ€™ll tell you what itâ€™s really like.” Creating uncertainty and doubt is an effective tactic to get you following them. Though it makes the organization more stable, telling you to doubt yourself and believe others’ at their word also creates the opposite of self-awareness. Again, the most influential organizations benefit from you not being aware. They give you beliefs that contradict your awareness.
Self-awareness creates your own ability to create fulfillment, contentment, and so on, which gives you independence from those organizations. The difficulty in attaining self-awareness isn’t in learning new things about yourself, it’s in overcoming the fear, guilt, uncertainty, and doubt that made these organizations so successful. They taught you to believe things you had to take at their word and created dependency.
Most of us have to work to disentangle these claimed truths and “received” wisdom to discover ourselves. The work is hard but rewarding.
Why is “know thyself” hard?