“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.” ~Dostoevsky
On a long enough timeline everything is stardust. Every bone in your body. Every friend on your friend’s list. Every book on your bookshelf. Every philosophy ever known. Every philosophy not even known. All of it, will someday be stardust. What seems important now will be inconsequential tomorrow, and probably always was.
So, it stands to reason that any perennial philosophy would humble itself with this absolute. Therefore, the core value of self-inflicted philosophy is humility, followed by honesty, honor, and humor.
At the end of the day, the most powerful philosopher is the one who has the courage (honor) to be honest with himself and transform knowledge into power, power into purpose, purpose into humility, and humility into humor. Let’s break it down.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” ~William Shakespeare
Being honest can hurt. Sometimes honesty hurts other people’s feelings. Sometimes other people’s honesty hurts ours. Sometimes self-honesty knocks us off kilter. But that’s certainly not a good reason to be dishonest. It’s actually more of a reason to be honest from the jump. Honesty prevents unnecessary suffering.
The difficult part is that we often deceive ourselves. We all too often lie to ourselves, and most of the time we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be honest with others if we are not first honest with ourselves.
A little penetrating self-questioning is needed. A ruthless self-interrogation is in order. And then the self-doubt that comes from such inquiry must be reconciled. Otherwise, we risk being inauthentic, ingenuous, or even deceived.
If, as David McRaney suggests, “you can’t improve the things you love if you never allow them to be imperfect,” then it stands to reason that we must free ourselves to be imperfect, fallible, and prone to mistakes, understanding that true authenticity requires honesty regarding one’s faults and foibles. Then we must be honorable enough to learn from them.
““Fate” was only a mask, as everything is a mask that is not death.” ~Emil Cioran
The core of honor is self-honesty. We cannot be honorable without self-honesty. Where honesty puts character into perspective, honor unifies character. True honor is being responsible with our power.
Foremost, honor is responsibility. If we are not responsible with our power, then we become a pawn to it. Being a pawn to power is dangerous because power causes us to believe we are right rather than think we could be wrong. When we are responsible with our power, however, we are more likely to think we could be wrong. And since the human condition tends to be wrong about a great many things, it behooves us all to take responsibility with our power so as not to become a pawn to it.
Between honor and humility there is courage. We must be honest with ourselves in order to become honorable enough to take a leap of courage out of faith and into fortitude. It takes honor and courage to humble ourselves.
“You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.” ~Richard Yates
Before thou can “know thyself” thou must humble thyself. Archaic English usage aside, humility must come before knowledge. Otherwise, we are caught in culturally conditioned, religiously indoctrinated, and politically brainwashed knowledge and we are ignorant to updated knowledge.
Without humility we are more likely to fall victim to cognitive dissonance and not even be aware of it. Without humility we are blinded by faith. Without humility we are stuck in hand-me-down ideologies and outdated traditions. Without humility we are more likely to be clouded by pride. Without humility self-pity overpowers our ability to empower ourselves. Without humility Ego reigns supreme and edges out Soul.
Humility brings us back down to earth. It unravels the roots, uncovers the bones, strikes at the core of the human condition. It reveals the deceptive wizard behind the curtain was always us. It forces our head over the edge of the abyss. It transforms halos into mortal coils. It gets us out of our own way.
We free ourselves to unlearn what we have been deceived into learning. We free ourselves to unwash the brainwash. We free ourselves to dig up our humanness, our wholeness, our primal providence, which has been buried under multiple layers of cultural conditioning.
Humanity comes from the Latin humando, which means burial or buried. Self-conquest is foremost a digging up of our humanness. It’s also a learning how to die before we die. And it is connected to humility and humor.
“I believe in everything; nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing; everything is sacred.” ~Tom Robbins
After we’ve dug our humanness out of the humus, what else is there to do but to have a laugh? Otherwise, we are left with too much anxiety and self-seriousness. Otherwise, our smallness dwarfs our capacity for greatness.
We must be able to both honor our fallibility and rise above it. We must be able to both embrace our mortality and surrender it. We must be able to both entertain a thought/belief/ideology and not accept it. This requires healthy detachment. Which requires a good sense of humor.
Life can’t always be rainbows and unicorns and scented roses. Sometimes it’s blackholes and rhinos and clogged toilets. And that’s okay. It takes courage to choose a humorous disposition over a rigid expectation. It takes courage to choose humorous humility over sentimental pride. It takes courage to choose uncomfortable detachment over comfortable attachment.
Having a good sense of humor is more than just the ability to laugh, it’s also the ability to rage against the machine in a healthy way. It’s also the capacity to remain curious despite a world that is trying to make us serious. It’s also the propensity to transform wounds into wisdom, loss into laboratory, and whetstones into Philosopher’s Stones.
A good sense of humor is a philosopher’s saving grace. Without it, a philosopher is likely to fall out of philosophic grace. They are more likely to take themselves too seriously. The philosophy that takes itself too seriously can no longer be considered a philosophy. It becomes rigid. It becomes dogmatic. It becomes limited. It becomes stuck. It becomes religion.
Philosophy has only one deadly sin: giving up the truth quest for “the truth.” That’s religion. A good sense of humor prevents this most deadly sin. Honesty unleashes honor, honor unearths humility, humility unlocks humor, and a good sense of humor untangles the mystery from the misery of mortality.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Humble Thyself: The Core Axiom of Self-inflicted Philosophy) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.