Today is April 14 and the Navigate the Chaos question is: “how often do you think about life’s big questions?” For those who learn to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, they understand the value of asking life’s big questions on a frequent basis. While this entire Navigate the Chaos series challenges readers with a daily question for each day of the year, today’s reflection involves a look into the value of doing so.
Modern humans, known as homo sapiens, appeared approximately 200,000 years ago when the earliest known anatomically modern human skeletons were found in places like Omo and Herto in Ethiopia. They represented people with slender body types, high foreheads, and reduced brow ridges compared to Neanderthals or earlier human ancestors.” Many human societies transitioned from sustaining on hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals, thus enabling the growth of civilization. The emergence of civilizations created the establishment of various forms of government and culture around the world. This development ultimately permitted people to unify within regions and eventually form states and empires.
For those last 2,500 years or so, empires had philosophers, sages, and teachers who provided wisdom, knowledge, and observations to guide others on a life well lived. The art of living well, has been and remains, an art. While there are countless books, articles, and other resources examining the huge questions of philosophy from the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and statesmen, here are six “pearls of wisdom that stand up today as guidelines for living wisely and compassionately.” Each statement is followed by a question to reflect upon.
· Heraclitus - considered the most important pre-Socratic Greek philosopher noted: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
o How often have you thought about how you change over time?
· Pericles – a prominent and influential Greek statesman and orator during the Golden Age of Athens observed: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
o How often do you think about the implications of your actions and the imprint they might have on those closest to you?
· Socrates – like Plato, often considered one of the founders of Western logic and philosophy proclaimed: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
o How comfortable are you declaring that you do not know something to yourself or to others?
· Plato – like Socrates, often considered one of the founders of Western philosophy said: “The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”
o How often do you reflect upon the amount of material you have collected and if you really need it all?
· Aristotle - a Greek philosopher also considered one of the founders of Western philosophy wrote: “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over the self.”
o How often do you consider victories over your previous self, more important than declaring a win against someone else?
· Epictetus - a Greek sage who was born a slave but gained his freedom, moved to Rome, and began to teach philosophy declared: “Make the best use of what’s in your power and take the rest as it happens.”
o How often do you make the best use of what is in your power and then take the rest as it happens?
How often should individuals ask themselves these huge questions of philosophy? According to Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, as often as possible: “It is when times are good that you should prepare yourself for tougher times ahead, for when fortune is kind the soul can build defenses against her ravages.” To emphasize the importance of practice Seneca referred to “soldiers who practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes, they won’t grow tired.”
Noting the significance of practicing the art of living well, sociobiologist Edward Osborne Wilson, often nicknamed "The Darwin of the 21st Century," argued that “The real problem of humanity is we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.” Individuals need to be honest and smart, Wilson stated, so that “we can answer those huge questions of philosophy put forth thousands of years ago: where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?”
From Seneca’s call to Wilson’s observation thousands of years later, there has been a constant in the universe for individuals to practice self-reflection and ponder the huge questions of philosophy. How often do you think about life’s big questions?