Socrates on Self Confidence

This is going to be a rather weird post. At the bottom is a 24 minute video, I guess 9 years old, about an accident Greek philosopher who died (after being forced to drink Hemlock – as in picture)  in 399 BC.
deathofsocratesAs the presenter Alain de Botton says, Socrates, despite his ugliness, is the only philosopher to have been given the honor of a fridge magnet!

The Socratic path to self confidence is to have confidence in our own beliefs and not be swayed by the opinions of others. He believed humans were like sheep, that we passively follow each other. We assume others, particularly those that lead us, know what they are talking about – we trust those in authority.

Whilst we may question the bit about trusting those in authority, the bottom line is we rarely take action and challenge authority. How many of you have been arrested because of your beliefs – I certainly haven’t?

We imagine others must know what they are talking about and have the skills to deliver – especially if we lack self confidence ourselves. There is a pressure to conform, to act within acceptable social norms.

Socrates had the advantage of living in a time when he could readily go up to those in power and question them – as he questioned everyone. Unfortunately he had the disadvantage of living at a time and place when those who fell foul of their Government for what they said and did were executed (although sadly there are still too many countries where that is still the case).

Socrates wanted everyone to scrutinise what we believe, he believed everyone has a duty to reflect on our life:

“an unexamined life is not worth living”

socratesSeveral of my posts here have centred on how our belief system can feed into unhelpful thoughts and undermine our self confidence. My advice on challenging beliefs came down to taking stock, start questioning, change habits and stepping out of your comfort zone.  On the challenging beliefs post there is a great quote :-

“Just because you’ve believed something for a long time doesn’t mean its right. It just means you’ve believed it for a long time!”   Craig Harper

So I totally agree with Socrates that challenging our beliefs is a very important thing to be able to do. But I also recognise it can be difficult. The Socratic method boils down to:-

1) Write out a belief as an emphatic  statement

for example – If I am well paid I will enjoy my job

2) Find an exception to the statement you have created

Some people are miserable and well paid

3) If you have an exception, then that statement is unsound or imprecise.

4) Change the original statement to take the exception into account.

Being well paid is no guarantee I will enjoy my job, but there is a possibility my enjoyment may increase.

5) Keep looking for exceptions until find a statement that you are unable to disprove.

Now you can find exceptions to most statements and two people can come to “watertight” statements that are polar opposite by following this logical sequence. But that’s not the point.  What is more important you can demonstrate to your own satisfaction why you believe something.

If you work out for yourself why you believe (or not) something – whether its in God, your ability to cook a meal or whether a person likes you – then it gives you confidence to stand up for that belief. If your belief is simply based on following everyone else (or the opinions and beliefs of parents, peers, teachers or others) then its not so trustworthy.

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Top photo from Wikipedia, bottom by bencrowe on Flickr

Lance March 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

An excellent thought provoking post, thanks!


Lances last blog post..Bansko Tourist Information: Interview

chicago window treatments March 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm

It is ridiculous how timeless Socrates is. I wonder what all the great philosophers would say if they were living today. I wonder how they would modify their ideals?

Donna | Green Living March 22, 2009 at 3:14 am

Excellent article! It’s so true, people are like sheep. I’m not sure what’s more influential, laziness or insecurity, but people seem all too willing to let others do the thinking for them. It drives me nuts when I see it around me, but I’m not always so good at questioning my own beliefs either. Thanks for a great, thought-provoking article.

Donna | Green Livings last blog post..Self Sufficiency

Rowland March 25, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Nice post, but I’m not sure I totally agree. Reasoning out things for yourself is a lot easier said than done – I’m more of a “let sleeping dogs lie” person, to be honest. I mean, Socrates was killed for a reason…

Rowlands last blog post..DE BOTTON TO THE BOTTOM

mercola April 2, 2009 at 8:12 am

Question everything. This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading Socrates’ works.

mercolas last blog post..Toxic Additive in Shrimp May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

Taking Care April 21, 2009 at 3:20 am

I trulky enjoyed this video. I didn’t know Socrates was put to death. I learned quite a few new things from this post. It was good to hear that Socrates had a strong opinion on people thinking for themselves. I am a strong believer in self reliance and the need not to make seem absolute that which is only possible or even probable. I loved the information shared here. Thanks so very much for the post.

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