January 2, 2003


It's not only the most difficult thing to know one's self, but the most inconvenient.

Josh Billings

I am not going to talk about the kind of censorship that governments do to us. I am concerned with what we do to ourselves.

All philosophers seem to agree that it is a good idea to know yourself. It is something that very few people accomplish, and those who do accomplish it, do it late in life and have probably just scratched the surface of their own character. That is because it may well be the most difficult task that you can undertake, because your own mind has a big stake in your not accomplishing it. Usually, the only people who undertake the task of trying to understand themselves are people who are in so much mental pain, that it may well be the only way to rationally deal with that pain. Sometimes these people become psychologists, psychiatrists or psychoanalysts, because the self understanding that they have achieved is a very valuable tool if they intend to understand someone else. In this way they put the work of gaining self understanding toward earning a living. Shrinks with little self understanding push pills or advice, or just listen.

The first, and most difficult, step in self-understanding is to stop censoring your own thoughts. This is tough because censoring our own thoughts is something that all of us, without exception, have done for all of our lives. It is so much a part of us that we aren't even aware that we are doing it. Like walking and talking, it is automatic. We are all born as hungry, sexual, loving and hating human beings. Then our parents and culture tell us what and who we are and what and who we are not supposed to be. Making the task even more difficult is the fact that when we stop censoring our own thoughts, we invariably find thoughts that, if turned into action, would make us totally reprehensible human beings; or worse, savage animals.

I am not suggesting that YOU stop censoring your thoughts. Nor am I suggesting that you are some sort of savage. All that I am saying is that if you want to know yourself, that would be the first step. Be forewarned that if you decide to not censor your thoughts, it is important to first be convinced that you are not responsible for your thoughts, only for your actions. Rape is a reprehensible act, but thinking rape is not. In all probability your inner self is telling you now that if that is what it entails, you might not want to know yourself. It is good advice, and you might be better off if you didn't try to understand yourself. The vast majority of people do very well with very little self understanding. I include, as a part of that majority, many people who many of us admire. They includes Nobel laureates, presidents, congressmen, superstars of the stage and playing field, Olympic champions, as well as the rest of us. They also include most psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists. There are, however, many who do have some self understanding. Some have more than others and, for the professional who deals with the mind, it can never be enough.

Next column

Return to the Psychology Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page