Self-knowledge is the term psychologists use to describe the information that an individual draws upon when finding an answer to a question such as “What makes me me?” or “Who am I?”.
While seeking to develop an answer to these questions, self-knowledge requires constant and ongoing self-awareness and self-consciousness or self-cognition.
“Who or what am I?” is the most critical question we can ever ask ourselves because just who we are and who we are becoming is an ever-changing idea that is forever being shaped by our experiences, surroundings, and culture. From our pasts, families, friends, and heritage; to the philosophies and morals we embrace and the choices we make every day, we are continually shaping and reshaping who we are.
Knowing who you are is not only the key factor in defining your core values; it’s also what we use to determine self-worth and give joy and meaning to our lives.
According to Friedrich Nietzsche, finding oneself is the most fundamental endeavor a human can undertake. Nietzsche believed that the journey of self-discovery was one of the greatest and most fertile of existential difficulties.
Nietzsche eloquently addressed the question of how we find ourselves and learn to become the best person we’re capable of becoming in his beautiful essay, Schopenhauer as Educator. In this dissertation, Nietzsche simplified the thought process down into four basic parts or steps.
Step one: DON’T FOLLOW THE HERD
“What we’ve called universal values, what we have called truth, has always only ever been the personal expressions of those who promoted them.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
According to Nietzsche, a strict societal code only serves to create a “herd mentality” aiming towards sameness, comfort, and the preservation of the herd at all costs, thus creating a moral code that has been invented by others and then imposed upon the herd as to control society and human behavior.
Although this universal morality may serve to protect us from occasional extreme unpleasant human behavior, it also is very limiting to our individuality and creativeness. Nietzsche also believed that these limitations led to some individuals becoming more rebellious and could give way to extremely antisocial behaviors, especially when the moral and behavioral code that drives the herd becomes dogmatic and tyrannical.
When this happens, the herd will punish anyone who stands out too much. These people are seen as “scary” or “envelope pushers” and are quickly chastised by the herd who have become amputated of spirit, dreams, goals, and creativity. They are immediately threatened by change and possibly angered when they come to realize that they haven’t really begun to realize their full potential.
This will happen to those of us who wish to reach for the stars and break free of the heard and strive for something better in life. We must not become distracted by the obstacles the herd produces for us. We must go our own way, moving ever forward, shining a light so bright that others can not deny or ignore us.
Leave behind those that wish to limit your individuality or dim your light. They only wish to do so out of their own regret and anger. Be strong mentally and be courageous enough to step out of your comfort zone and away from the herd. It is what you must do to reach your full potential, as it is an important step on the road to self-awareness.
Step two: EMBRACE THE DIFFICULTY IN SELF DISCOVERY.
“Life confided the secret to me: behold, it said, l am that which must always overcome itself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
The intuitiveness and automatic reaction of most people is to avoid pain and discomfort at all costs. Let’s face it, the easiness and simplicity of most things in our everyday life have become so commonplace that we become angered at the slightest inconvenience or setback.
Nietzsche surmised that in order to truly grow as individuals, we must be willing to face head on the challenges that life gives us. Nietzsche wrote: “If one wants to become someone in this life, they must willingly choose the difficult path although that path may well lead to isolation.”
While being a loner is difficult at times, it’s the path we must all face for the privilege of owning ourselves. Distancing oneself from the heard is the only true way to keep from becoming swallowed up by it. Isolation is the price we must pay for choosing this path as we embark on our voyage of self-discovery, true freedom, and individuality.
To be completely free, we must also try to become loosed from as many physiological and psychological needs and wants as possible. We can begin to do this by mastering our own urges and learning to control them and not let them control us. Understanding that you will constantly have these desires of need and want, or extreme impulses, is the first step in realizing that you CAN consciously control these feelings. When you are able to do this, you can then decide with a clear mind whether or not to act upon them.
This quest is not only a struggle for self-development and fulfilling life, but it’s truly a fight to find your authentic self. This has been and always will be a difficult challenge. Again, you will find this may lead you to become somewhat of an outsider as not to compromise yourself or the quest and put you in direct conflict with many of the heard.
To look deep inside yourself and delve into your darkness, you must change your lifestyle, perhaps sever ties with those holding you back. You must analyze your fears and rise above them. You must learn to break the bonds of oppression and opinion. Nietzsche says we must challenge our own demons and try to understand their meaning.
We do this by going out into the world and experiencing life with all it’s trappings and temptations and exposing ourselves to that which is in direct conflict with our life’s purpose and goals. We must teach ourselves always to be completely present and cognitive and in the moment so that we may emerge a richer, more fulfilled version of ourselves.
Nietzsche thought that if we did not live our lives in a fully conscious and aware nature that we were never truly experiencing life. To reach a true state of self-ownership, Nietzsche knew that we must learn to walk our own unique path, a path that will ultimately uncover our own set of values and help us discover the passions and joys in life that truly and fully represent us.
Step three: SAY YES TO WHAT GIVES YOUR LIFE MEANING
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
At its core, Nietzsche’s philosophy on this topic says that we should always say yes to the things that create meaning and add value to our lives.
In the past, we had always turned to religion to give our lives meaning. In ever secular and scientifically modern society finding a truth that can satisfy both sides of this aisle can be increasingly difficult.
Nietzsche found this idea to be deeply disheartening as he feared it may drive most people to nihilism. In hopes of remedying this dilemma, he offered us three solutions to the problem.
The first solution was to replace religion with art, music, philosophy, culture, and other academic disciplines and humanities. Nietzsche saw these aspects of life as a way to contextualize our suffering and give it meaning while allowing us to relate to those around us.
By allowing others into our lives, it made possible the belief that someone could offer insight into our life’s difficulties and perhaps offer solutions to the problems we all must face. To do this, we must also view all these arts as tools for living and just as ideas for academic study. We must learn to grasp history and view it as a living thing and realize its effects on our daily lives. We must accept and understand that there is beauty and lessons to be learned in our arts and theatre; and that they are not just entertainment.
If such things are of no interest to you, the second option Nietzsche would suggest is you try to become the “Übermensch.” Which essentially means over or Superman. By doing this, you become somewhat superhuman, creating your own meaning and values without outside influences. When you do this, you overcome the desire to understand the meaning of life by creating your meaning to life and taking full responsibility for yourself.
According to Nietzsche, there were only four men who ever came close to Übermensch status. They were Napoleon, Caesar, the Buddha, and Goethe. As for the rest of us, Nietzsche suggested that we look inward and try to discover our true values and cast aside that which the herd tells us we must value.
Nietzsche saw our physiological evolution as an ever-changing advancement that we all have no choice but to take part in, and this is what makes becoming the Übermensch so difficult to achieve.
But if becoming superhuman isn’t in the cards for you (like most of us), Nietzsche gives us a viable third and final option. Loving your life! Amor Fati, or to love that which is your fate and, in fact, your life. To truly love your life is to understand that everything that has happened to you, from the good to the bad, the great and triumphant, to the heinous and most foul, have contributed to making you exactly who you are. Trying to invent yourself will undoubtedly lead to some failures, but embracing those failures along with your successes will ultimately give your life value and meaning.
After all, Nietzsche also said, “He who has a why can survive almost anyhow.”
Step four: FINDING YOUR TRUE VALUES
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’… Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
When Nietzsche said, “we need to create our own values to lift the greatest weight,” what he was saying is that we overcome our biggest obstacles by learning to do the hard work needed to become the best version of ourselves, and in doing so we create our own values; thus we’re “learning to lift the greatest weight.”
Using the values set upon you by the herd can be overwhelming and can
lead to repeating past mistakes. We must always be asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right for me in this moment, or am I just doing what is expected of me by the herd?”
If you truly believe that what you are doing is worth repeating forever into eternity, then rest assured you are well on your way to obtaining the courage and strength to “lift the greatest weight”; if not, then there’s a better than fair chance you haven’t learned to create your own values. Worse yet, you’re still a slave to the heard and the herd mentality. But, even worse still? You will never reach your life’s full potential.
When we learn to re-evaluate our moral landscape, only then can we truly learn to Lift the greatest weight, according to Nietzsche.
Often times we find ourselves stuck in the same bad relationships with the same type of people. People who use us sap our energy, are overly critical, and abusive. If you were truly your own individual with your own set of morals and values and self-worth, you wouldn’t keep finding yourself in these situations and relationships. You would understand that the only guilt you feel is from trying to be a good person by the herd or societal standards and hang-ups. So I have to ask, is it worth it?
Nietzsche would suggest in every situation, we ask ourselves, “do I desire this once more?” If the answer is no, then you must change it by re-evaluating yourself, your values, and your standards so that you can begin to lift the greatest weight.
It’s unfortunate, but most of us seem to live our lives in some self-imposed prison. Never understanding that “true good” may actually lie outside the herd’s standard definition of good and evil. These prisons are made by prescribed social beliefs meant to subdue the wildness and individualism of the human spirit.
Most people willingly submit to the cold comfort of their chains. Nietzsche recognized that in order to break these bonds, we must undergo this painful transformation and build our own values and morals away from the heard. This may require that you distance yourself from religion, tradition, society, your community, and occasionally those you love and care about. We must have the courage and strength to isolate ourselves somewhat in order to become our true self.
This transition doesn’t need to be abrupt and painful, but it must take place. You must try and decide who and what limits your freedom and distance yourself from those people and things. You will need to break free from your heard based shackles and learn to chase your dreams and give meaning to your life.
You must reassess and re-evaluate until you are able to say that you are willing to relieve every moment of your life forever in eternity without regret. Happiness has never been a destination but rather a process.
Written by: J. M. Shoemaker
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