Leading Thoughts
self knowledge
Know Yourself

"Observe all men; thy self most."
—Benjamin Franklin

Here are some thoughts about the importance of self-knowledge and understanding.

If you are going to live the unexamined life, at least don't inflict it on other people.


Know Thyself.

Oscar Wilde
The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Fortnightly Review, February 1891

"Know Thyself" was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, "Be Thyself" shall be written.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Prophets

"Know thy God: [1 Chronicles 28:9] rather than "Know Thyself" is the categorical imperative of the biblical man. There is no self-understanding without God-understanding.

Alexander Pope
An Essay On Man

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Quentin Crisp
The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us.

(427?-347 B.C.)
I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self would be ridiculous.

Richard of Saint-Victor

The high peak of knowledge is perfect self-knowledge.

Lord Byron
Don Juan

How little do we know that which we are! How less what we may be!

Aldous Huxley
The Perennial Philosophy

If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.

Lord Chesterfield
Letter to his son, June 6, 1751

Study the heart and the mind of man, and begin with your own. Meditation and reflection must lay the foundation of that knowledge, but experience and practice must, and alone can, complete it.

Thomas Fuller

No man is the worse for knowing the worst of himself.

Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard's Almanac, August 1740

Observe all men; thy self most.

(6th century B.C.)
The Way of Life

It is wisdom to know others;
It is enlightenment to know one's self.

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Discourses on Art: Discourse 7

And he who does not know himself does not know others, so it may be said with equal truth, that he who does not know others knows himself but very imperfectly.

Walter Lippmann
A Preface to Politics

Our greatest instrument for understanding the world—introspection . . . . The best way of knowing the inwardness of our neighbor is to know ourselves.

(540?-480? B.C.)

All men have the capacity of knowing themselves and acting with moderation.

Baltasar Gracián

Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement.

Peter Koestenbaum

Unless the distant goals of meaning, greatness, and destiny are addressed, we can't make an intelligent decision about what to do tomorrow morning—much less set the long-term strategy for a company. Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves.

Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.

Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Good leaders learn their specific personal strengths and weaknesses, especially in dealing with other people, then build on the strengths and correct the weaknesses.

Arnold Toynbee
A Study of History

Unless we can bear self-mortification, we shall not be able to carry self-examination to the necessary painful lengths. Without humility there can be no illuminating self-knowledge.

Jonathan Swift
Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.

Jonathan Miller
Since finding out what something is is largely a matter of discovering what it is like, the most impressive contribution to the growth of intelligibly has been made by the application of suggestive metaphors.

Ursula K. LeGuin
We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.

Balki Bartokomous
Perfect Strangers
What a wonderful day we've had. You have learned something, and I have learned something. Too bad we didn't learn it sooner. We could have gone to the movies instead.

Louis Johannot
The only reason I always try to meet and know the parents better is because it helps me to forgive their children.

William Shakespeare
Hamlet, 4.5.42

Ophelia: We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

(190-159 B.C.)

I bid him look into the lives of men as though into a mirror, and from others to take an example for himself.

Parker Palmer
Leader to Leader Fall 2001
There's a lot of fear connected with the inner journey because it penetrates our illusions. Taking the inner journey will lead you into some very shadowy places. You're going to learn things about yourself that you'll wish you didn't know. There are monsters in there—monsters you can't control—but trying to keep them hidden will only give them greater power.

(625?-547? B.C.)
Anonymous: What is difficult?
Thales: To know thyself.

(4th Century B.C.)

Know the enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat.

Manfred Kets De Vries, Reflections on Leadership and Career Development
Many people have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror and dealing with the ravages of time. Fortunately, we can be grateful to the mirror for showing us only our external appearance.

When we seen men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.

Nikolai Gogol

It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry.

Jean Cocteau
Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images.

George Herbert

The best mirror is an old friend.

Bud Bray
Quoted in Is it too Late to Run Away and Join the Circus?
The most successful people are those who don't have any illusions about who they are. They know themselves well and they can move in the direction of their best talents. They know the kind of culture they thrive in and how they can benefit from that culture. Unfortunately, most people don't understand themselves. Most people don't want to lose their illusions about themselves, although they say they want to take charge of their career.

Franklin P. Jones
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.

Carl Jung
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

A. L. Kitselman
The words "I am..." are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you're claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.

Quentin Crisp
It's no good running a pig farm badly for thirty years while saying, "Really I was meant to be a ballet dancer." By that time, pigs will be your style.

Henry C. Link
While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.

Anaïs Nin
We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves.

The Sea That Thinks
From the Movie

Insight into oneself is the same as calling yourslef at home; the line is always occupied.

Virginia Woolf
"The Leaning Tower", lecture delivered to the Workers' Educational Association, Brighton in May 1940
If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.

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