Know Thyself, Quarantined Soul!

Photo by Sebastian Palomino on Pexels.com

Accurate self-awareness is a sign of good psychological well-being.  Most schools of philosophy argue for the need to “know oneself” in order to live a good and flourishing life.  Here are examples from some of the world’s greatest thinkers:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, famous Chinees war strategist.

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates, famous Greek Philosopher

Here is one from a book I’m reading now that I just love:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, American author

“I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.” – Michel de Montaigne, French Essayist

And let’s end with a good old American Hero who understood human nature than most modern psychologists, Benjamin Franklin:

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

These last few months of quarantine have helped me spend some time reflecting on who I am and what matters to me.  I thought I would share them with all of you to perhaps spark a little interest in using whatever time remains in our social isolation to do the same.  Here is a little insight into the soul of Dominick Hankle.

  • I like people more than I ever thought I did.  I’m an introvert by nature, but too often people think that means I don’t enjoy being with other people.  I love being with people, but I don’t like shallow surface engagement with them.  I like deep conversations where we get to know one another at a whole different level.  I like that conversational intimacy where you get to know someone better than before you sat down over that glass of wine.  I miss seeing several people who I can have those conversations with and will treasure them more after this is over.
  • I enjoy laughing and drinking wine.  I am indeed a man of Christian persuasion and I am committed to my belief and practice of the Christian faith, but I certainly cannot claim to be a puritan.  There have been a few nights where I have been able to drink a good bottle of wine with limited friends and family and I cherish those moments.  Wine and laughter, as well as the occasional off colored joke do not make me less of a Christian, they make me more human.  I thank God for reminding me I am merely a human being in such a pleasant and unconventionally Christian way.
  • I love my family.  Certainly, this seems obvious, but a man my age often reflects on life and ponders “What might have been.”  I’ve been with the same woman for about 30 years.  We have grown up together, we have loved each other, fought with each other, and at times hated one another, but we’re still together.  Being with her is a constant in my life that I would regret losing if it were to ever happen.  I do indeed love my wife.  I’m also blessed to have all my children still living with me, and that’s good.  Sometimes the five of us are sitting together in one room just laughing and enjoying being a family and that feels good.  Quarantine has reminded me of just how much I love these people.  I’m glad we are a family.
  • I love to learn.  I’ve read many books since our quarantine and it has been a wonderful experience.  I’m learning another language and revisiting statistical analysis so I can still think critically through the myriad of data my studies in psychology throw at me.  I have discovered that my love for learning is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because we live in a world where there is always more to learn so I have so much to explore to keep me busy.  It’s a curse, because it reminds me that I don’t necessarily fear death itself, rather I fear that I will die without studying and learning all the things I’m interested in knowing.
  • I have been reminded that life is meant to be lived intentionally.  I’ve spent many days doing a number of things that served little purpose in regard to what I have discovered my life is meant to be.  We need to reestablish our lives so that each moment the tasks we engage in serve two primary purposes.  First, the tasks must be aimed at helping us achieve and actualize our life purposes.  What we do must reflect the very thing God calls us to be.  The second purpose for what we do must be to love and serve other people.  Each time I engage in an activity I ask myself, “Does this help me be the man God created me to be and does it help me love those he has placed in my life more fully?”  With these simple questions, I can instantly evaluate whether I’m using time in a way that matters.  Relaxation itself can be either useful relaxation or a waste of precious time.  There is a difference between idleness and rest, its important we know the difference.  This time reflecting on my life has helped me learn what that difference is.

Anyway, these are just five things that I’ve learned about myself over these days of quarantine.  Make some time to sit down and ask yourself how you can use this time to be more self-aware.  Time and circumstance will come and go regardless of how you feel about it.  Perhaps times like these are meant to help us use our situation to be more than we ever imagined we could be.

When All Else Fails Sing – What we Can Learn From Italians Who Defy The Virus

Human beings need one another. Our hearts ache to connect with each other and when we can’t we do everything humanly possible to feel as if we’re connected, even if it’s for a brief moment. People need people and we’re seeing how badly we need one another more and more as we’re being asked to keep away from other people to avoid spreading this dreaded virus. While self quarantine is an important discipline, we still ache to engage our fellow human beings and it seems when we can’t do that not only do our bodies feel as if they’re under siege but our souls do as well.

This desire to connect with one another at this difficult time is being beautifully expressed in Italy. News stories around the world show videos of Italians singing to each other over their balconies as they wait out this terrible experience of self quarantine. You can watch one of these videos here. While the disease caused by this virus is bad enough, the emotional strain caused by isolation is just one more factor eating away at our human spirit. The Italians have found a way to overcome this tragedy and connect to each other through one of the most uniquely human activities one can perform. They are singing songs of hope to one another.

As I watched these videos I started to think how important it is to find ways to connect with one another during this crisis. Psychologists have done numerous studies that demonstrate the importance of human connection. Children raised in orphanages who seldom receive human touch struggle developmentally and sometimes succumb to death. Studies exploring social isolation find that the same pain centers associated with physical pain in the brain are active when an individual feels isolated and socially excluded. We need one another and when we can’t connect to each other we suffer physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. So the question we need to answer is how can we remain connected with other people when we’re being asked to socially disengage?

I think we need to be mindful that while many of us will be with other people because we’re quarantined with family members living in the same house there are those who live alone that won’t have that same opportunity. They may be single adults, older individuals, or people with illnesses. People who are self quarantined and living alone will feel isolated in a more profound way than those of us isolated as whole families. However, they don’t need to feel alone if we just do some simple things to stay connected to them. What can we do?

First, make phone calls to people you know who are living alone. Check in on them, ask how they’re doing, and see if there is a way you can get them anything they need. Most likely just hearing your voice will be enough to lift their spirits so they can press on another day. Phone calls are simple gestures of care that too often get pushed aside by our texting habit. During a time when people feel alone, the sound of your voice might be a better choice than the “ding” of a text.

Secondly, use Skype or some other video conferencing application to connect with those left alone. We need to see another human face, its a very important part of how we feel connected to people. Often just seeing another human being’s face gives us a sense of comfort and connectedness. Try and make that a reality through Facetime or Google Hangouts. We have the technology to connect with one another so lets try and make it happen for those who feel left alone or isolated without any option to be with people. In fact, there are numerous free video conferencing websites that a number of you can use to get people together, use them to create a virtual social gathering.

Lastly, connect with one another over social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. all provide some sense of connection to others. I have a friend who lives about 8 hours from me. Unfortunately he isn’t able to get out much because of his health issues. However, he spends a significant amount of time on Facebook when he can’t be with other people and often he and I engage in chats as well as share pics and memes with one another to the point where it feels like we are in the same room. In fact, after a number of shares and chats we often just call one another to talk about what we’re doing on social media. Even the most minimal engagement through technology can help us feel connected to others.

Nothing can make social isolation perfect and nothing replaces face to face human interaction. Most days we lament the fact we don’t connect in person with other people and remain disconnected through social media. However, maybe social media and technology can be the one thing that helps us keep those living alone feel connected to other people. Maybe this situation will help us reignite the desire to get off the screens we hold in our hands and actually visit with one another when this virus is contained. Ultimately, if none of this works, maybe we can learn from our friends in Italy and let that primal human expression that bubbles up within us emerge from our vocal chords. Maybe, just maybe, we need to sing. When all else fails, sing to one another and let one lonely soul cry out to another through the gift of music.