The examined life

Every individual has a set of beliefs that determine what they do, even unconsciously. It is not in doubt that an individual’s beliefs are influenced by his society and cultural setting. Every society has its own worldviews and beliefs emanating from its cultural principles. These worldviews in turn describe the philosophy of the society which influences that of individual members of the society. Philosophy is complicated and devoid of precise definition, even to renowned philosophers. However, in relation to the topic, philosophy of life, which can also be called worldview, is a set of principles, beliefs and values that guide how an individual interacts with others in the society. In this regard, my philosophy of life is “evaluate it, think it through, or watch it crash”.
I developed this motto, “evaluate it, think it through, or watch it crash”, when I first gained admission into the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I was admitted to study law, and one of the courses we were to do in our first year was, ‘Introduction to Philosophy’. During our first lecture, we were introduced to the different definitions of philosophy. One of the definitions was ‘philosophy as a world view.’ In the course of the lecture, the lecturer asked the eternal questions, ‘what is your philosophy of life?’ ‘Are you living your life without a set of objectives or principles to guide your life?’ These questions caught me off guard. I started thinking heavily about what my philosophy was. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that I had none. But that may be how I felt, but I soon discovered that indeed I had one but had never thought about it, because as the lecturer was later to say, ‘some of us have ideas imposed on us or which we imbibed unconsciously and which is presently ruling our lives.’ Indeed, I discovered I shared the common sentiment that ‘things will take care of themselves’.
With this unconscious philosophy of ‘things will take care of themselves’, I rarely troubled myself over important issues of life, and it made me complacent and carefree. During examination periods when I was still in secondary school, I did not bother reading much. I felt too confident with my natural abilities. I always reminded myself that ‘there is no emergency, no cause for alarm and things will eventually take care of themselves.’ I continuously believed that I should just leave things I ought to do for some time, “whatever whatever, even if things come to the worst, it will eventually settle itself”, or simply put “when we get to the bridge, we will cross it(albeit without any subsequent planning).” Though I was not affected during internal school examinations, it became evident that I did not meet my expectations in external examinations, simply because I did not realise when ‘the drum beat’ changed and things no longer took care of themselves.
Consequently, when I got back to the hostel after the lecture that day, my eyes were opened over the need to take care of things before it gets too late. I started evaluating so many ideas that I could accept as a guide for my life. I remembered the incident that happened to me during my final examinations in secondary school. Before, my school final examinations, I had written an examination where I forgot to read instructions. The instructions made number one question compulsory, and allowed us to choose two more questions from the remaining five. I thought all the questions were elective and I didn’t answer the first question. I was subsequently reprimanded by my teacher, but she marked my script like that all the same. However, during my final examinations, which were marked by an external body, I repeated the same mistake because I was not prepared and went late to the examination. This time around, things did not take care of themselves. My result in that subject did not impress me. With this experience, the lesson was clear, the need to learn from my past experiences and use it to plan for the future became vivid. I saw it as a case of evaluate yesterday, think about the lessons, and use it to plan the future or watch things crash and fail.
So, I couched the philosophy to mean evaluating my past experiences, thinking about the lessons and living through it. I came to see it as a principle of not making a mistake twice or doing the same things the same way over again and expecting a different result. The key term in my motto is ‘evaluate’. It means a conscious assessment about one’s life; the totality of activities we engage in. It can be described as presence of critical thinking; acting on the basis of thorough thinking, and having some criteria to evaluate one’s life, in terms of goals and aspirations. ‘Thinking it through’ entails for me, a lifestyle based on rationality, reasoning and learning to overcome one’s past failures. It is a sure way to failure if one does things the same unproductive way one did it in the past, and expect a different result. To bring my life into conformity with my motto, I developed a pattern in my life. At the end of each day, just before I go to bed, I will lie down and think about how I spent my day; the mistakes I made, the successes I achieved, those that I hurt, the productive or boring nature of the day. At the end of the critical thinking exercise, I will take some resolutions. I will plan for the next day to be better than the previous. I will seek to reconcile with those that I wronged. With this principle, I became a better person by the day. I improved a lot in my social relationship with people. I evaluated things through before taking actions. I no longer acted impulsively. I often checked my manners, to make sure I was not losing the touch of a humble life. In all, I evolved as a critical thinking mind, not taking anything for granted.
However, some self-evaluation cannot just be done on a daily basis, so the principle allows me to plan on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. One of such life pursuits is academic excellence. I plan at the end of each semester. I look at the past semester and the examinations I wrote. I ask myself vital questions like, what mistakes did I make during the last examinations? Did I go to the venue late? Did I mismanage time? Was I unprepared? Then I will consider the extra curricula activities I engaged in the last semester. How did they impinge on my time? Did I had to miss many lectures because of other engagements? How effective was my level of preparedness? How often did I disobey my reading timetable, was it effective? Beyond the examinations, I evaluate my growth intellectually and my pool of knowledge, my ability to reason logically. When I objectively look at these questions, guided by the eternal words of Shakespeare ”to thy own self be true”, I try to provide the best and truthful answers. I decide what aspect of my life needs restructuring. I decide what activities to give up and what habits to curb.
Furthermore, before now, I never evaluated my relationship with my God or my religious growth, but it is not possible to live by this philosophy, without asking yourself someday, how far have I gone in my religious growth? Indeed, the philosophy allows me to assess or evaluate all aspects of my life. So naturally, I got to an advanced stage where I asked myself, if I am merely claiming a religion or if truly I am a faithful. As a common fact, every philosophy one adopts must fall into the uniqueness of the personality involved. The need for a religious or spiritual growth is tied with the concept of growth. It is a necessary thing in life that in whatever thing we do, we must strive to be committed and grow. An atheist has his own right to be so, but a person who is religious but is not different from an atheist, must come to a point where she or he asks herself or himself, ‘on which side do I want to belong?’ Whatever side one chooses, isn’t bad on its own, but the ability to grow in our beliefs is what is necessary. With my philosophy guiding me, I evaluate my religious growth within a span of six months, because personally I believe it is a gradual process.
In keeping my motto, I have come to realise the importance of goal setting. It is not possible to engage in self-evaluation without having a yardstick to do so. When I started maintaining this philosophy, I discovered the dangers of negative self-judgement and the tendencies of living in the past with regrets. There was also the danger of trying to live a life for others, in a negative deceptive way. So I saw the need for goal setting. I discovered I needed a yardstick to judge my academic, religious and social growth. I was able to set goals which I could achieve within a specified period. I was therefore able to evaluate each day in relation to how well it contributed to the actualisation of the bigger goal. I no longer worried about things of the past, but merely felt challenged to set better goals for the future and correct the mistakes of the past. Goal setting has become a part of me, with the attendant commitment and hard work needed to actualise it.
My philosophy allows me to see change ahead and embrace it. In the course of examining my life, I can easily identify when my taste and values change and why. Our values and worldviews change in line with our experiences. When our experiences about things are becoming increasingly negative, we change without even knowing that we have. For example, a person that is constantly rejected by a particular set of people, will not know when she will form the view that all the people in that set are hostile. The need to anticipate change is especially desirable for business people who may have been doing business in a particular way and it’s been working, when that method stops working, those whose evaluation process is regular and adequate will discover it faster and make adjustment than those who don’t, who may notice it when the business has crashed. So for someone who constantly evaluates his experiences, the change will be deliberate and conscious because the person would have taken the particular decision with regards to those experiences. I often evaluate lecturers’ attitude and approach to class and so I can easily predict when an unexpected test is likely to come up. Since I examine my experiences with things and people, I can better say when people’s attitude towards me have changed and when they do something unbelievable am not always shocked, because I would have seen it coming. The level of anticipation and ease with which I predict change has been very helpful to my life.

 

Nevertheless, having a philosophy may seem easy but maintaining it is always not easy. One thing I have come to learn in keeping to my philosophy is being truthful to myself. This in itself is difficult. Sometimes while evaluating my actions, I have come to face one of the most dreaded human attribute, which is apportioning blames to others and other things aside oneself. Sometimes while thinking about my relationship with others, and the bad things I may have said during the course of the day, there is always the tendency of things like, “it’s not my fault, it was certainly Peter’s fault. He could be so annoying”. There are also times when I could be thinking about my level of discipline towards my reading plan, and self defence sentiments will set in, like “ I tried, it’s not easy keeping to that timetable, it’s just too much. The concert was unavoidable, I could not afford to miss it. Chatting with Olubukola was just mandatory, I needed to ask him something and I don’t have credit. That I read one course for just one hour, instead of three courses, is understandable. Some days are like that”. Also, there are tendencies to defend oneself against one’s failure, by claiming that “I did my best. I read hard. The lecturer was just inhuman, he gave me just this score”.

 

To shield myself from the heavy influence of self defence and sentiment, I have come to develop another principle to complement my philosophy. The principle of holding myself responsible for my own actions and seeking ways to remedy it. I don’t accuse lecturers of giving me poor marks, rather I blame myself for earning poor marks and proceed from there to find remedies. In self-evaluation, I have come to understand that no one is watching, no one is listening and there are no judges. Therefore, I must tell myself the truth. I must be brave enough to face my own failures, rather than attributing it to some other things.
In conclusion, my philosophy can be summed up as, “evaluate your life.” I strongly agree with Anthony Robbins when he said, “if you do things the same way you did them 20 years ago, then you have wasted 20 years of your life.” I believe each year should offer something new, each month should be a step forward, each week should change something about the previous, each day should be treated like a gift with its own peculiarities. I believe I should examine my life in the context of the things I have experienced in the past, strive to identify mistakes of the past, and make provisions to correct them. A company need a periodic report where the company’s growth or decline is evaluated and policies initiated for the future. In the same way, every government that experiences the same pattern of failures or events over the course of five years, has a big problem to address. The government in any country should examine its own actions, and plan for the future. However, this is not the end point. The process of examining oneself is useless if there are no efforts to overturn or change the occurrences of the past and if there are no yardsticks to evaluate with. Individuals, unlike companies and governments, often do not engage in conscious self-examination. Individuals should strive to develop their own philosophies along their goals and objectives, and work towards it. They should also periodically examine themselves to know how well they have adapted or followed their philosophy. This has an inherent appeal towards my philosophy, ‘evaluate it, think it through, or watch it crash.’