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Toward Knowing Thyself

16 questions to help you know yourself better.

Leon Brooks, Wikimedia, Public Domain
Source: Leon Brooks, Wikimedia, Public Domain

Most people would like to “know thyself” better. Alas, we go to the grave with incomplete self-knowledge, but perhaps these questions will help a bit.

I encourage you to write your answers. Then keep what you’ve written in a private place that you’ll often see, perhaps privately, on your home screen or nightstand.

1. If you had a day to spend as you truly want, what would you do, hour by hour?

Example: "Nothing special: Eat my favorite breakfast, take a walk while looking at flora and fauna, and think about a love letter I’d write, platonic or otherwise, then write it and send it before my self-censor might make me chicken out. I’d do some work, then enjoy my favorite dinner, take another walk, write in my journal, and go to sleep.”

2. If I gave you $10,000, to whom or what entity would you give it?

Example: “I’d give it to a poor person whom I sensed would use the $10,000 to help make a bigger difference in the world.”

3. What’s something you’d love to say on CNN or to the New York Times?

Example: “I’m alternatingly disappointed and angry that the media often valorizes less worthy people than, for example, scientists who delay so much gratification and who work tirelessly for a lifetime to prevent and cure our diseases.”

4. What’s the one task you’d do better than anything else?

Example: "Using statistics to improve our predictions about what government spending will yield the greatest net benefit."

5. Think of the person, real or hypothetical, whom you’d get along best with. What would their core characteristic or two be?

Example: "S/he would be brilliant and rational yet kind to me."

6. What makes you happiest? What does that suggest about what you should do?

Example: "Watching a movie that makes me laugh, cry, and think."

7. What makes you most content? What does that suggest about what you should do?

Example: "Walking, perhaps while listening to music on my iPhone."

8. What makes you saddest? What does that suggest about what you should do?

Example: "Seeing society give more positive attention to relatively not-contributory people while ignoring some of the most contributory. Perhaps write a letter to the New York Times and CNN suggesting they profile such people."

9. What makes you angriest? What does that suggest about what you should do?

Example: "Prioritizing redistribution over merit. Realistically, only people with great power can do much about that. This is the era of accelerating belief in the wisdom of additional redistribution."

10. If I filled a room with the wise people who know you the best, what do they agree are the one, two, or three words that best describe you?

Example: "Brilliant and out-of-step."

11. What’s the one thing you want to spend more time on?

Example: "Speaking my truth, knowing when it’s wise to do so, if only anonymously, and when it’s wiser to remain silent."

12. What’s the one thing you want to (or should) spend less time on?

Example: "Cooking."

13. What’s a positive statement about yourself that you should embrace?

Example: "Standing up for unpopular principles despite suffering as a result."

14. What’s a negative statement about yourself that you truly should accept, even if you can’t improve?

Example: "Most people dislike my personality and views, so I'm wise to spend more time solo."

15. If you were totally honest with yourself, what’s a positive and negative thing you’d say about yourself?

Example: "I'm wiser and more ethical than are most people but less physically attractive."

16. If you were to commit to one thing to improve your life or contribution to your sphere of influence, what would it be?

Example: "Work longer hours in the service of improving my sphere of influence if not the world."

I read this aloud on YouTube.