Where is our stable and safe place as shadow passes into sunlight and sunlight into shadow? The assumption behind the question is that you do better for yourself, your loved ones, and the world if you know such a place for yourself and maintain your awareness on it.

A tough, philosophical question for you this week: what are we to do knowing so well the shadow and often feeling so distracted from the sunlight? Knowing horrendous, relentless daily bombardment in Ukraine. Knowing American suffering through daily gun violence, mass shooting or not. Knowing political privilege immune to the sufferings and given rights of minority and female Americans. Knowing climate destruction. Knowing growing, not shrinking, income gaps.  But sunlight, too. Knowing the joy and support of friends and family. Knowing the satisfaction of improving our live. Knowing the fun of a night out. Knowing the deep joy of helping others. Knowing the feeling of being appreciated by others. Knowing that I matter in how the world proceeds.

Where is our stable and safe place as shadow passes into sunlight and sunlight into shadow? The assumption behind the question is that you do better for yourself, your loved ones, and the world if you know such a place for yourself and maintain your awareness on it. The inner place of I am, the inner place of decision, the inner place of action.

My thoughts will not be about what you should do or should not do or what you should think or not think from such a place. That breaks all confidence and humility between thoughtful human beings. Rather, these thoughts are about an axiom behind the questions of what to do and how to be? That as educated persons and persons pursing a good life, we have a responsibility and seriousness to seek or inner stability that is critical thinking and is an awareness of our best self. Often named integrity, I will call it Socratic attitude.

At least one common thread throughout the history and thought of humanity is the call for virtue in our being human. And in most philosophical systems handed down, virtue and happiness hang together tight knit. Makes sense to most of us-yes, a virtuous human being is a good thing for the world and for others. But unless we ourselves, each of us individually, ask what that virtue is in me, we run the risk of a humanity that is at best only balanced between our goodness and our cruelty. My sense of history is that the cruelty and its legacies walk away with the win slightly more often than does the Good.  Have we overcome slavery in America? Well, yes but no. Overcome misogyny? Well, no. Overcome war-making? Well, definitely no. Overcome ecological degradation at the hands of the human need for more?

But the sun does come out. Do we have a history of peacemakers? Well, yes. A public education system? Well, yes, (though perhaps losing the sense of “public” more and more). Great people in health care and research? Well, yes. The right kind of community heroes who care for the forgotten and silenced? Well, yes. A smiling face somewhere in your day?

All this shadow and sunlight is ours. Part of our being, of our awareness, of our daily coffee conversation. In truth, we only have a few choices in sorting out the complexities of shadow and sunlight. We can pay attention but get depressed. We can not pay attention and live life in our culture’s plethora of distraction. We can do neither and just hope for the best. Or, we can take it all on through self-reflection as questions and Socratic attitude.  I am all for the latter. To do this well, know-thyself, a few ground rules are helpful.

One: Keep a Socratic attitude. In the tradition, this is called either Socratic wisdom, or as the same thing, Socratic ignorance. The axiom that we know that we do not know. And since Americans pride themselves in having attitude, let’s have Socratic attitude. That sure, I know the world is not flat and our galaxy is but one of multiple galaxies. I know that if not careful, electricity can shock me. I know to “turn around and not drown” in flooding situations. The Socratic attitude here is that I do not know the unfolding of human relationship and culture-building because it is an unfinished business, influenced by the foreseen and unforeseen and influenced by thoughts yet unthought. I often speak of humility. Be humble in knowing your true self or knowing the self of an other. I have limits knowing the unfolding of my own life as do you. Embrace that. That is the occasion to allow for self-reflection and life-long questioning of your relationship to self and life.  When shadow prevails, this attitude shows itself as strength and as being hopeful.  When sunlight shines, this attitude shows itself as gratitude.  Sincere questioning as the world impinges its shadow and as you shine your light onto the world.  And the great part? The questions do the hard work. Answers can come and go, but that you take self-responsibility to question yourself is the good that brings the Good.

Two:  Maintain a short list of questions that help you analyze your life as it moves forward.  If sincere to Socratic attitude, we need to check into our stable place for adjustments and realignments-like good car maintenance or the redrafting of a good college essay.  A really important point here: no one gets to tell what this place safe, stable place should look like or sound like! Being unduly conditioned and influenced removes your agency, and your agency is what the world needs. You are the master and poet, the Walt Whitman of who you are!

The questions are yours to bring, too. Keep a short list and tackle only question at a time. Here are a few starter suggestions. Just ensure your questions keep you focused on the connection between your true, best self and the less than best world around you. Maybe ask,

1. How am I interconnected to others?

2. What is my core virtue for being a good person?

3. What is my gift that will bring satisfaction to me and goodness to others around me? 

4. What are my limits?

5. What are my energies to take on and make for a better world?

Remember, one question at a time with lots of time for analysis and thought.  Giving yourself this gift of self-reflection find its rewards in a simpler, more focused life, and a life less attuned to the bells and whistles of consumerism and political discord.  A life that keeps the shadow in perspective while you photosynthesize growth with all that sunlight.

Go Humanities!

About Post Author