Changing What’s Expected – When Introspection Becomes A Norm

The value of deep introspection for one’s life is enormous. Learning to listen to your own instincts and have some degree of trust for them (obviously not going overboard) is extremely important for a rich life. You can’t have a fulfilling existence without it, unless you have attained some kind of enlightenment through the so-called ego illusion.

But I’ve come to think that how we treat introspection as a culture and as a people says a lot about the state of our civilization, our culture, and our development.

How we regard introspection (and self-understanding, self-trust, etc.) should be a very important question. Now that we’ve mostly agreed that human rights, rule of law, etc. are givens, we should hold the value of introspection much much higher.  And we should judge ourselves as a collective culture or civilization against how well we do this.

Let’s look today at how well we do this. Most people barely think at all about the importance of introspection. Rarely are we encouraged to do it.  Rarely do people guide others towards internal motivation – instead we are pushed towards being externally driven which is a big problem in the opposite direction.  Our elders are supposed to be the ones that know better. But they seem to be clueless about the importance of this norm, despite the fact that many wise individuals that came before them weren’t (like Emerson, Marcus Aurelius, etc.)

Emerson saw this as a big question as the industrial revolution transformed traditional life.  I think that the digital age now brings us to the point where it is imperative to ask this question.

Norms and standards change in society. Today, slavery is unconscionable but was perfectly acceptable hundreds of years ago.  It is tempting to think that the norms we have today must not be all that different from the norms we will have centuries from now. But this is probably wrong. Our time today is only special and uniquely perfect relative to the past – not to the future. There is always room for the future to be much better than this.

What does self-introspection becoming a norm actually look like?

  • Authority figures like parents, teachers, mentors, etc. teach the young to be introspective, to understand themselves, to listen to themselves, etc. 
    • Authority figures today, for the most part, are telling young people to do this or that thing according to the personal beliefs or notions of that person as though their own experience is applicable to everyone. Mostly this has to do with their own insecurities, particularly as they believe the society around them is falling apart.  We should see this behavior for what it is; misguided, harmful, and not what should be expected from those that are passing on a world to the young.
  • People judging other people, in part, by how internally driven they are rather than externally driven.  
    • People encouraging or even pressuring others to engage in introspection and self-cultivation. Today the way people judge others has to do with the idiosyncrasies of any given group.  If one group expects something of people, it judges them based on that. Again, it’s about being externally driven. But people should be judged based on how well they cultivate themselves, which requires introspection.
    • Or, sometimes, people assume nobody should judge anyone about anything. But this doesn’t exist in practice and those that advocate it don’t practice it nearly as much as they’d like to believe. Judgement can be okay if it’s the right kind of judgement. And the right kind of judgement would be – self-cultivation and introspection: good, externally-driven and sycophantic: bad.  It just doesn’t need to be that much more complicated than that.

When this becomes a norm, we will probably see lots of problems solving themselves including the ones that worry us the most in our societies today.