Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Self-Knowledge Through Toothpaste

Some people get neater as they age, others sloppier. I was but a moderately organized youth, by my standards today, and I think my fastidiousness began as a reaction to the collegiate miasma in which I found myself. Yet one act of slobbery has always irked me: spilling toothpaste on the sink. "How does this happen?" I would wonder. Do they put too much on the brush or perhaps they miss the brush entirely? Does it ooze out of their mouths?

Furiously I would scrub away, sink after sink, year after year, finding more and more evidence of man's depravity. Gels and pastes, Colgate and Crest, spilled everywhere. Everywhere I would find the blight, besides its omnipresence at home. I never expected what has transpired this week.

On Saturday I spied some on the recently cleaned sink. Then Sunday on the floor, and then Monday on the rug. Tuesday outside the bathroom where only I had wandered. Then today on my bathrobe. I could no longer deny the truth that through all these years the toothpaste fiend was I!

Not all habits are so easy to spy, alas, but aging is a process of self-revelation. New circumstances and types of relationships teach you about yourself. You realize the types of things which bother and delight you, of course, but less obviously you see patterns in your emotions. Am I always grumpy after doing or receiving favors? Do I not like to hear of a certain person's success, complaints, or recreation? Do I get annoyed when people invite me to events, and when they don't? I really need a lot of praise, don't I? Gee I brought that up again today?

These are the sorts of questions we usually see psychiatrists ask on television and in the movies, but they really do seem of genuine self-inquiry. It's curious to me why such knowledge is so difficult to acquire.  It cannot be forcefully recognized or brought about by will or fiat, but has to evolve in the mind. It cannot be studied, but only seen. How strange and terrifying a fate that man might not know himself. If he simply could or could not, such would be easy to accept. But to possess the potential and be unable to cultivate it with any precision is surely a gift of curse. Indeed nothing may be so terrifying as the sight of someone who cannot recognize something about himself.

Finally, one wonders to what such recognition truly owes. Maturity, intellectual virtue, exertion, peace of mind, restlessness, revelation? Does one need philosophy to know oneself? Some examine themselves reflexively, others reluctantly. Some avoid it all together no matter the consequences. They're not all pleasant sights, these observations, and many are outright troubling, but one feels stronger and fuller in the examination. You look back at a former self which seems to have survived despite itself. He looks innocent and childlike. As its alternative is terrifying, it too is exciting and energizing to learn things great and small about yourself which, while not quite so literally as toothpaste, are right under your nose.

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