An Unexamined Life


What is the cost of living a life that undergoes no reflection?  In Plato’s Apology, Socrates said…”The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”  I respectfully take this quote to emphasize a different problem in human history.

In a case study for purpose of expose, I know a man who I could say had not ever really looked deeply into his life, had not deeply looked into his behavior, and has never really learned from his mistakes.  If asked, he could not connect the behavior to the problems that arise out of the experience.  To him there was no problem, to him, there was no reckoning because he simply ignored it, or dismissed it.  In this case he probably is a level 5 type 8 Enneagram candidate: Eights are self-confident, strong, and assertive. Protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive, but can also be ego-centric and domineering.  Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating.  Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable.  Their basic fear: Of being harmed or controlled by others, their basic desire: To protect themselves (to be in control of their own life and destiny).  Level 5: Begin to dominate their environment, including others: want to feel that others are behind them, supporting their efforts. Swaggering, boastful, forceful, and expansive: the “boss” whose word is law.  Proud, egocentric, want to impose their will and vision on everything, not seeing others as equals or treating them with respect.

There exists in our humanity a sickness of the soul that equates might equals right, or my way or the highway, or basically a self-centered philosophy that subjugate all other voices when the need for those other voices is a necessary condition for a balanced viewpoint.  Enneagram theory and other psychological and sociological reasons for these conditions existing in our culture are prevalent and explain much of the dynamic behind the personality that develops within a mind.  Essentially the childhood experience has much to do with developing a mind that seeks to satisfy a self driven focus, and going unchecked through out their lives, these minds often become fixated on self orientation and exclude much of the true reality in our shared world of perception.  The following example excerpted from Enneagram theory type Eight: The Challenger   – The Wisdom of the Enneagram Hudson/Riso 1999

Parental Orientation

As young children, Eights were ambivalent to the nurturing-figure, the person in their early development who mirrored them, cared for them, and provided affection and a sense of personal value. This is often the mother or a mother substitute, but in some families, the father or an older sibling may serve as the nurturing-figure.

Eights did not strongly bond with or identify with their nurturing figure, but they also did not psychologically separate from them entirely either.  As a result, Eights learned that they could maintain some kind of connection with the nurturing-figure and fit into the family system by functioning in a role that was complementary to the nurturing-figure.  The nurturing-figure represented (and therefore “owned”) the qualities associated with motherhood: warmth, caring, nurturance, approval, gentleness, and sensitivity.  Thus, the Eight identified with the complementary patriarchal role, and learned that the best way to get some sense of value, affection, and nurturance was to be “the strong one,” the little protector, the one that others turn to for strength and guidance, especially in a crisis.  Eights then identified completely with this role, feeling that to give it up is to lose their identity as well as any hope of ever being loved or cared for.

Like Twos and Fives, the other “ambivalent” types, Eights feel that their well-being and survival are dependent on fulfilling their role in life. Twos believe that they must always selflessly nurture and care for others, Fives believe that they have no role to play and must find one, and Eights believe that they must be the decisive, strong person who can handle the big problems and who is indifferent to hardship and suffering. As with all of the types, the healthy manifestations of these roles can lead to extremely important contributions to the people around them, or even in the world. However, as fear and insecurity grows, these roles become prisons which trap the types and prevent them from expressing the full range of their humanity.

As we have seen, Eights begin to repress their fear and vulnerability so that they will be strong enough to meet whatever challenges they must. In highly dysfunctional families or in otherwise dangerous childhood environments, those challenges may be considerable, and in Eights, the result is a tough, aggressive person with a limited capacity to get close to others or to acknowledge their hurt.  It is as if Eights must construct a tough carapace of aggressive ego defenses so no one will ever again be able to get at the soft, vulnerable person inside.

If Eights have suffered serious abuse in childhood, their faith in others and in the world becomes so damaged and closed off that they live in constant anticipation of rejection and betrayal.  They find it difficult to trust anyone, and are consumed with rage at the injustices they feel have been perpetrated upon them. Unlike Sixes, who also have trust issues, and who may develop an aggressive style of defense against the world, Eights do not believe they can rely on anyone or anything outside themselves.  Within their family system, they experienced themselves as the authoritative person.  There was no one else to turn to for reassurance or guidance, so Eights are unwilling to allow their destiny or decision-making capacity to be placed in anyone else’s hands (“The buck stops here.”)

If there was some degree of warmth, nurturance, and mutual support in the Eight’s early childhood environment, chances are good that as an adult, the Eight will take a strongly protective role, especially with the few people that they trust and are close to. If there was little support or nurturance available, Eights tend to grow up with an “every man for himself” attitude.  They feel as though they have had to struggle and fight to survive on their own, and if others are going to make it, they better be able to take care of themselves.  Looking out after “number one” is a full-time job, and caring too much about others becomes a survival risk.

We can see very clearly in this type how a child’s natural qualities—in this case, high energy, physical endurance, and willpower—combine with a family constellation to crystallize a particular pattern of behaviors and attitudes that determine a person’s identity.  On the healthy side of the scale we will also see how these natural qualities, when positively encouraged and expressed lead to constructive, empowering human beings who leave a lasting legacy behind them.   At the other end of the scale, where these energies have been twisted and distorted by abuse, we see vengeance, destructiveness, and a legacy of another kind.  see

A damaged self-image, and a narcissistic personality are just a few of the traits that impede a healthy introspection worthy of any integrity.  The term narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo.  These advances eventually led Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.  Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus “lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour”, and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus.  Note that the myth has Narcissus reflecting upon his shallow external features and not upon an examination of the  deeper reflections of the soul.

To the extent that parents are narcissistic, they are controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of their children’s needs and of the effects of their behavior on their children, and require that the children see them as the parents wish to be seen. [1]

1.  Rappoport, Alan, Ph. D.Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents. The Therapist, 2005.

Narcissistic people blame others for their own problems.  They tend not to seek psychotherapy because they fear that the therapist will see them as deficient and therefore are highly defensive in relation to therapists.  They do not feel free or safe enough to examine their own behavior, and typically avoid the psychotherapy situation.  Co-narcissists, however, are ready to accept blame and responsibility for problems, and are much more likely than narcissists to seek help because they often consider themselves to be the ones who need fixing.

The tragedy of a life is what the Dalai Lama noticed in his rendering of what surprised him about humanity.. in that “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The reality outside our case study’s perception was ignored and not recognized so there was no opposition in his mind despite the pleas of issues brought forth from others in the events that occurred.  There is ignorance, and then there is stupidity.  If one ignores reality, and only see’s the world according to their view despite all of the information from other sources, then one will lead a lonely life of tyranny.  One leads a life, going through the motions, working, doing those things that one can do to sustain themselves, yet in many cases these people do not stop and think and question their lives in ways that challenge the status quo.  They don’t stop to live in the moment, enjoy the events of the now, but rather only take part in their favorite pastimes, like watching football, or their television programs which take them away from their families, and friends.  It also takes them away from dealing with issues about their lives if their minds are distracted and filled with non-essential information that is truly not an important feature of our lives.  Sadly the lack of being a non-reflective soul over the course of a lifetime has caused a tremendous amount of dissension within his personal life.  Even more remorseful is that he cannot understand why most people choose not to associate with him, he cannot fathom or connect the factors of his life’s modus operandi to those who have gone their own way, leaving him alone, baffled, and in silent misery.

Accountability is a huge factor in processing events that occur, and if they are not held accountable for their behavior, they will most likely not learn, and continue to think, act, and behave as they have always done.  If no force of opposition is ever met, than the chances of change are seldom.  There are many who pass the days, years, decades, or lifetimes without questioning themselves or the paths they have chosen to remain on.  Often these cases support the statistical data showing that a life not reflected upon is not worth living.  Many end up alone, and are perplexed why their lives turned out the way they did.  The “Blame game” is often a retort that they will use, again deflecting the responsibility for their behavior or actions, and continue to live in denial.

In the “Oz Principles” of accountability training, the mantra one learns is …”See it, Own it, Solve it, and Do it.”  Accountability means …”A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.”  Training oneself not to fall into the victim cycle that prevents one from achieving any of these steps to greater accountability is paramount.  It is often overlooked, but one must consider that one can only do what is within one’s power, so do not fret over things that are not in one’s control.  In other words, control what you can control.  Common mistakes we make when we “fall below the line”, are ways we see the world that lead us to an unsuccessful path and obtain results that are counter productive if we choose to be a victim.  Common victim cycle explanations that are “below the line” are:  (1) Ignore and Deny, (2)  It’s not my job / responsibility, (3) Finger – pointing, (4) Confusion / Tell me what to do, (5) Cover your tail, or (6) Wait and see.

Taking ownership of one’s life includes the way we perceive the world.  The way in which we perceive this world is dependent upon our lens of perception that is often shaped early in life.  If our lenses are smeared, so to will our perception of the world; this includes our own self-perceptions.  Given the assertion: an unexamined life is not worth living has much credence.    Socrates was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves. The sentence was death but Socrates had the option of suggesting an alternative punishment.  He could have chosen life in prison or exile, and would likely have avoided death.

But Socrates believed that these alternatives would rob him of the only thing that made life useful: Examining the world around him and discussing how to make the world a better place.  Without his “examined life” there was no point in living.  So he suggested that Athens reward him for his service to society.  The result, of course, is that they had no alternative and were forced to vote for a punishment of death.  I suspect that those who choose to live an unexamined life may be susceptible to leading a very unsatisfying life if they are fallen prey to the extremes of self prioritization.  The illusions of this self-imposed trap are deep, but can be championed.  Next time we look into the mirror, let us also look upon our soul’s reflection, I wonder what we would see?


Recommended Books

__ Plato’s Dialog of the trial and death of Socrates 399 BC

The Wisdom of the Enneagram
The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Photo credit: Loulair Harton)








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__  The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability 1994

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