“If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” (Aldous Huxley)


As I walk among humanity each day, I am struck by the vast number of people I meet who have little self-knowledge and this is particularly rampant in the millennial generation. My own theory for why this happened starts with the self-esteem movement of the eighties and nineties that the public schools established. I think the goal was worthwhile but the methodology was flawed from the outset. It was just an illusion that everyone saw through but no one dared to challenge. I didn’t raise my kids that way and they turned out to be perfectly functional adults but a lot of other kids grew up in a surreal world of high praise for little achievement, congratulations for making it to school and whatever grade they wanted just to make them happy.

I was raised differently and I believe it was better. I failed a lot and I dealt with the consequences of my bad choices. I still had a wonderful childhood that I wouldn’t change for anything. I won a lot too. In grade school I owned Field Day. If I didn’t come home with five blue ribbons, it was a disappointment and I felt bad. I dealt with my failure by running some more to get better for next year. I tried harder so I wouldn’t have to feel bad again. I guess the other kids didn’t try as hard as I did because I won more than I lost. My competitive nature led to greater achievement and the realization that hard work was required for good things to happen to me.

After college I wanted to come back and work for my dad but he wouldn’t let me. He said I wouldn’t appreciate the family business unless I worked somewhere else first. So he sent me off to New York City to get my sales training. I got a lot more self-knowledge there but it wasn’t much fun. I was made to realize that I wasn’t that smart or good looking or funny or as charming as I thought I was and that happened during the first cab ride from the airport. It was all downhill from there. I got verbally abused for being a rube every day and I had no choice but to stand there and take it. I had a couple of friends but they were going through a lot of the same growing up process too so we just drank beer and tried to forget. It was the worst of times and the best of times because I gained more than I lost.

Self-knowledge is painful at times because none of us is perfect and the selfish illusions we prefer are much more pleasurable. I have no illusions about myself anymore. I know my talents and my weaknesses. Writing is my strength, speaking is my soft spot so I write more than I talk. Hard work and being responsible is required for me to be happy. I am bad at being lazy. Truth is very important to me and dishonesty is my mortal enemy. Faith in God keeps me going and shows me the way to live but I have no right to impose my beliefs on anyone else. It’s not my job to judge others without immediately exposing my own hypocrisy for not being perfect myself. It is my job to help everyone I meet and be transformed by my faith into a better person. My life will always have meaning as long as I am passionate about God’s purpose for my life. I don’t get to take days off from being faithful and I wouldn’t want to, even if I could. I spend each day helping children achieve their own version of self-knowledge and shrinking their illusions slowly but surely. What more could I ask for than to have plenty to do, with unlimited potential to help others and all the God-given ability to do just that. He made me who I am and I do everything I can to show my appreciation for the great life I have been given.

The more we realize about ourselves and the more we are honest about our failings, the better chance we have of being happy. Illusions are the most deceitful form of selfishness and they will only lead us to the darkest corners of our existence. I have yet to meet even one person who comes close to perfection and is fully self-aware. I know of one but He died to fulfill His purpose and give meaning to mine. I thank Him every day and then I go out and try harder to achieve a better life. My life will never be perfect but it will always be the best I can make it.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 Responses to “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” (Aldous Huxley)

  1. stormy1812 says:

    I always seem to be the odd woman on the fence on this one. I agree that self-awareness is so huge and why I work to be as much (my pitfall is that it ends up being almost too self-aware and becomes self-criticism – it can be a fine line!). I also agree that so many people are not remotely self-aware and that there has been “coddling” if you will and it’s created issues, but it’s tough for me to say that all of the “coddling” has been terrible. I feel like there’s a balance to be struck here. I don’t agree that every player or every team should get a trophy for participating because, as you’ve indicated, that gives the wrong impression of what happens in life. Life will not always be fair, not everyone will win every time. Just not how it goes. I do think that it’s possible to give all the kids a green participation ribbon, while first, second and third place winners get the blue, red and white ribbons respectively or trophies for the teams that take first, second and third place. To me that gives the nod of “hey you tried and that’s better than not trying” and yet still indicating that in order than to get more than just a nod for participation, you’d have to try harder or try a different sport, etc., where you will be successful. To me it seems it is important to send the message that it is important to participate and to at least try because that’s at least a step in the right direction BUT there’s also a need to do more than just try in order to be successful. There’s definitely a way to build up that self-esteem and self-reliance without damaging self-awareness and, quite frankly, reality. I got participation ribbons when I didn’t win, but I also know that it meant I didn’t win. If I wanted to win, I had to do more. It’s certainly not an easy task. Great writing! 🙂

    • grhgraph says:

      Like I said, the goal of self-esteem is a good idea but reality is a much better teacher. I didn’t get mad when the smart kids got better grades than me, I just knew I had different abilities like sports to even the score. If we really want to help kids improve, we should help them find the thing they do best, whatever that might be. My kids never liked sports at all so I got them into performing arts and they excelled there. Even then we never offered false praise for just trying. If they didn’t make the effort necessary to get what they wanted then they got nothing out of it but more often than not they worked hard and did great. The point of the story was to tell the truth about achievement and how much being self-aware is part of that. Whatever happens in life we get what deserve, in most cases. The illusion of success isn’t worth anything.

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