The Unexamined Life

Apparently quoting Socrates in his trial defense, Plato wrote in The Apology of Socrates, “For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me.” Written about 399 B.C., Plato’s The Apology, is an account Socrates’ trial speech responding to the charges of not recognizing the gods recognized by the state, inventing new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens. “The unexamined life is not worth living” was part of Socrates’ defense of his discourses about virtue, his own self-examination, and his reflections on the political discourse of the day. He challenged the collective wisdom of his day and even claimed to challenge and question his own life and thought processes.

Entering 2021, I wonder if the biggest issue we face in ourselves, our networks, our society, and our government is the unexamined life. When 2020 began, no one could have predicted the events of the year we would experience. In the new year, once again we have no idea what to expect, but what we can do in 2021 is examine our own lives more closely. A discipline that I want to develop in the new year is the nightly examen. A nightly examen is a way to review our actions throughout the day, acknowledge where we responded to God’s grace, and where we chose to do otherwise. St. Ignatius of Loyola popularized a practice within his religious order called the examen, a twice daily practice that included something similar to this five-step version:

1. Become aware of God’s presence. Notice that God is present through the good and the bad.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Slowly review your day acknowledging the many blessings received.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. Acknowledge where you fell short of even your own standards and where you failed to respond to God’s grace.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask God to help your resolve to be better tomorrow.
5. Look toward tomorrow. With hope and joy, rest peacefully knowing that God is present with you.

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