Socrates was a classical philosopher, born around 470 BC, in Athens Greece. Although he is credited as one of the founders of Western Philosophy, nothing written by him actually remains extant. As a result, we largely know of his ideas from the writings of his pupil – Plato. His dialogues are thought of as one of the most reliable sources about Socrates’ life and philosophy. We have no way of knowing whether they’re accurate or not, but Socrates still gets credited with a lot of cool ideas.
Socrates believed that everyone has the ability to construct well thought out opinions. He didn’t see any worth in following the crowd and said that all individuals must think for themselves. Hence the famous quote:
‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’
Socrates wanted people to abandon blind belief and really reflect on our lives – after all, just because you’ve believed something for a long time, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right! You just might have believed it for so long that it’s become ingrained rather than truthful.
I think the perfect example would be someone with a low level of self-belief or esteem. Just think of the many examples of how bullying at school has affected people later in life. If someone is told everyday at High School that they are overweight, stupid, or worthless in anyway – it becomes incredibly difficult to ‘change the record.’ Socrates point is that all too often beliefs have been introduced and not properly challenged.
I also think of examples of people believing that they can’t do certain things. ‘I can’t run’ or ‘I’d never be able to learn a language.’ Socrates is all about challenging these beliefs, taking stock, challenging beliefs, changing habits and stepping out of your comfort zone.
Recently I wrote about losing the last bit of ‘baby weight’; although this was a small amount of weight compared to the amounts some people lose, I would never had achieved this if I hadn’t challenged the way I was thinking. At times trying to lose weight seemed utterly futile as the scales remained the same whatever I ate.
Someone told me that ‘bodies just decide the weight they will be and nothing can change that.’ Instead of really challenging that, I just nodded blithely and stored the information away as more evidence of why there wasn’t any point in going to the gym.
Socrates would’ve given me a good slap.
Of course, he then would’ve told me to question all of these ideas logically in order to determine their validity!
In teaching, the socratic method of question is often used in order to encouraged dialogue with the students. It’s actually one of my favourite games with the younger children: I begin the lesson by making a statement that is abundantly false and see how quickly they challenge me. They usually find it amusing that I’m being an idiot and enjoy correcting me. But actually – they are challenging statements instead of just accepting nonsense and Socrates would be proud.
As the New Year begins, I think this is a great time to actually challenge your beliefs and think about ideas that need to be kicked to the curb. Is there anything limiting you in life? Anything standing in the way of happiness? It’s time to ditch preconceptions and focus on reality.
Socrates would want you to do the following:
1) Summarise your belief in a simple statement.
e.g. I can’t lose weight as I’ve had two children.
2) Find an exception to that statement.
Lots of people get back to their original weight after having two children.
3) If you can find an exception, then the original statement isn’t that accurate!
4) So change the statement taking the exception into account.
Losing weight after two children is difficult, but there must be a way that I can succeed if others have.
5) Keep repeating stages 1-4 until you reach a statement that’s actually decent.
e.g. I’m a total kick-ass Mama with two amazing children and I’m not only going to lose that weight but I’ll look better than before! So there!