It’s not easy to get to know yourself. However, it’s the command of the sphinx. The sphinx says “know thyself.” In the book of Job it says “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.” It’s not easy to know oneself because attaining true knowledge of the self may reveal things that we don’t wish to see. We may be surprised by our own weaknesses. Conversely, self-knowledge can mean admitting that we are not as bad as we would like to say we are. It can imply having the humility and courage to give ourselves a second chance even if self-punishment or despair are more compelling.
Self-knowledge is so important because it helps us to understand how to act with other people. If we don’t know who we are, we may not love people or ourselves in a way that is fitting. Someone told me that the importance of Christ’s commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” has as much to do with how we love ourselves as how we love our neighbor. Loving ourselves requires being hard on ourselves at times and not cutting breaks for ourselves. It means being real with ourselves, real about our bad and good habits. I think it also means having self-respect for who we are and human-dignity.
Getting to know yourself is an internal process and an external process. When we interact with other people, we get to know about ourselves in a way that isolation might not allow. Human interactions bring out the best and worst in us. They show our impatience and selfishness as well as our capacity for selflessness.
In the end, I don’t believe in a mystical self that we can discover through experimentation and un-grounded methods. I also don’t believe that we will dramatically alter the self through certain experiences. What we are is what we are. We can improve it, work on it, and finally end up with something better than we started out with, but the basic material will be the same.We get to know ourselves in ordinary life, through ordinary methods.