The Ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thy Self” (Greek: γνώθι σεαυτόν or gnothi seauton) was inscribed in shiny gold letters above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is a fundamental concept attributed to a number of philosophers, including Socrates, and an ideal that the human race has been striving towards for 2500 years. Yet modern culture continues to struggle with the basic question “Who am I?” and millions of dollars each year are thrown at magazines, media, fashion, music and therapists in a quest to grapple the mystifying issue of identity. We follow trends to help us feel like we ‘belong’, identifying with music, fashion or values and build our identities around them. Whether it’s “Everyone in Khaki” or “Meat is Murder” we’re reaching out for things we identify with in order to fulfill our basic human desire to pin down, classify and comprehend this illusive ‘Self’ we’re supposed to know so well.
The undertaking to fully “Know Thyself” is a seemingly insurmountable task. With so many factors and variables that change each day, with so many issues, conscious and unconscious, that cloud the picture, surely it is impossible to expect to achieve such an objective, finite state- to “Know”. The only thing I know for sure is that I will never fully know my Self. I have a million facets that shimmer and change in different light, in different circumstances, and I refuse to pin myself down, because to claim to “Know Myself” would only limit the potential of what I might actually be.
I’m not saying that I don’t think self reflection is a worthy pursuit; I’m just suggesting that a slight shift would create a more realistic and interesting aspiration. I prefer to look at who I am in the moment, rather than who I am, period. I watch the way I change when I’m around different groups of people, and how my reactions vary depending on my mood, my agenda, and what kind of shoes I’m wearing. There are countless external and internal factors that influence the ‘Self’ I project into the world; it can all be a bit intense! I choose to recognize that I have multiple ‘Selves’ which are unique and separate, and that gives me the opportunity to manage this multiplicity of factors and ultimately be whoever I want to be.
The shiny gold letters I would inscribe on the lintel of my temple would be something a little more like “Explore Thy Selves”