In a talk I gave this week to the 160 top executives in a great company, I began with some drawings I had done of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle And William of Ockham. I mentioned what I think of as their greatest gifts to us, gifts we would use in our hour together.
Socrates called us to self examination and self knowledge. He even went as far as to claim that "The unexamined life is not worth living." He taught me that we should examine our beliefs, assumptions, values, emotions, and attitudes on a regular basis, and relentlessly.
Plato clearly expressed the difference between appearance and reality, and pointed out that most of us live our lives in bondage to illusions that constrain us and hold us back, distorting what we're able to know and do in this world.
Aristotle called us to dig deep in order to rise high, and base our lives on the virtues, or strengths, that we can ideally bring to any challenging situation, the chief of which is courage.
Ockham helped us to understand the importance of simplicity. In any complex situation, however complicated, there is a simple core. If we can grasp that essence, we can deal more properly with all the other issues.
For the first time in a talk, I suggested that we could all heed these pieces of advice in an interesting way. We should at some point take some time and do a personal inventory of the general beliefs and assumptions we have about life and work that we may never have examined before and that just might be among those illusions that Plato suggested affect us all. What have I been assuming or taking for granted? Is it really true? Or is it a mere illusion I need to shake free of? This sort of self examination, testing appearances and pursuing realities, will require a dose of Aristotelian courage and may bring us to some simple truths that might be liberating.
It's worth pondering.