In thrall to his accusers and the court, Socrates chose a noble death, no begging, no justification, no exile. When facing that terrible fate, he said the famous quote, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. The body can be killed, but virtue is eternal. Socrates got killed, yet his works and deeds survived. He became immortal by seeking goodness, surrendering to wisdom, discipline, valour, ethics, morals and a strong character until his last breath.
“I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a).Apology 38a, Plato
What would I do in his place? Would I have taken the shortcut? Would I have been afraid of death?
In thinking about the episode above, I can’t help but wonder about our actions and attitude at every given time. What are we doing now, in the present, the only time we have to live? Are we spending enough time soul-searching and examining our thoughts, emotions, feeling and attitudes? Nobody knows when we will depart from this form of existence; life is undoubtedly fleeting, hence the need to self-examine. That is what the stoics called “Memento Mori”.
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”Seneca
The ancient wisdom from Jewish literature also expresses a similar notion. In the book of Koheleth (aka Ecclesiastes), the Sage (believed to be King Shlomo) denotes the benefit of observing the end of things rather than going along with partying and debauchery. We live in a world that encourages and rewards profligacy, sensuality, or the life of the senses rather than reason. Our brains are chemically hardwired to avoid stoic discipline and embrace epicurean pleasures, though even the latter is misinterpreted. The Sage suggests that a wise person should be drawn to a house of mourning, yet simpletons, fools, those only interested in the service of their senses, to a house of merrymaking. In that sense, he advocates that vexation is better than revelry, as in internal conflict, one can reach true bliss through self-examination.
Upon meditating on the words of ancient philosophers and sages, I urge myself to embrace the discipline of self-examination as the pathway to a life worth living, to remember that we are only here for a very brief moment, to make every second count as the present time lost will never return. Though it often comes back in the shape of the ghost of the past, regrets creep in, besmirching our souls.
We take nothing from this world; that is the truth, but while we are in it, we have, like Socrates, a choice of how we want to live it and how we want to depart from it, whether with high moral and ethical standards, being the best we can to us and others, or by just living an inconsequential and unintentional existence.
How will you be remembered? The image next is a sculpture in a place not far from where I stay when I am in Austria. It is the “Die Pieta” or Cloack of Conscience. It is meant to symbolise what we leave behind when we die or what outlives us.
It says, “The love we gave, our deeds and works, the misery we went through.”
We are very preoccupied with reaching success, to achieve greatness so much that we forget the little things in life, the importance of virtue and the commitment to becoming a better person every day.
One of my favourite quotes for success is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who understands success, happiness and life pursuits from a different perspective from most social media posts.
“What is success?Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”
Note to self: self-examine daily, seek virtue and justice, be kind, love much, and learn to find contentment with every little thing.