Questioning, with humility
I myself know nothing, except just a little…”
The philosopher Socrates wandered about in Athens some 2400 years ago, asking open-ended questions of people he met in the streets. Many laughed at him. Quite a few became upset.
Who was he, people wondered, the man who rated humility above self-assurance? Who preferred dialogue to persuasion and thoughtful consideration to stock answers? Who formulated his questions in ways that turned conventional wisdom upside-down? And who insisted that we should face up to how little we know?
Even nowadays, when quick and easy answers are shouted at us, we might, from time to time, need the space and time to ask open questions about our lives. How should I live? To what extent should I prioritise my own health above other concerns? Among the many activities that fill my days, which are meaningful and which no more than habitual?
The questions we have been living with for a long time may well be the most important ones. We have turned them over in our minds until they express things we truly wonder about. These are questions that can make us to feel humble about ourselves. Do I have to accept who I am in some respects – and are there others that I can change? Humility makes it easier for us to reach out to others, to recognise that “I” am no more nor less than a small but important part in a much greater context. Independent, self-sufficient people are often praised and seen as idols in modern, individualistic cultures. But: “No man is an island entire of itself”.2 There are times when we have to carry someone, but other times when we need to be carried.
It can take courage to answer the hard questions you ask yourself. So, humility is no sign of weakness but rather of an effort of will that is quite different from humiliation – which is abasing yourself against your will. Humiliation can be the cause of conflicts. Humility, on the other hand, often helps you to deal with humiliation in constructive ways.
You will be able to reconsider your own questions on the next page. Which of them are open questions that have been on your mind for a long time? The most important ones will often turn out not to be the ones you have ticked off as ‘Done’ but those you have struggled with – questions that seem to have no simple, straightforward answers. In the spirit of Socratic questioning, they may however contain new insights and, in the long term, help you on the way to experience health.