Five Suggestions for Living Well
(After Nearly Dying)
Socrates once said that ethics is a matter of learning how to live well. He also learned how to die as well as might be possible by holding himself responsible for his behavior, something that leaves many people today speechless during times when no one accepts responsibility for their worst actions. The truth is that learning how to die is the best way to learn how to live, a seeming paradoxical piece of wisdom I have found works in terms of my own life. Death grabs my mind and heart and forces them to focus on what matters most—what we invest our lives on given time’s deadline.
These days we don’t have commandments, even ten, because we rebel against anyone telling us anything, even to wear our seat belts when driving a car or helmets when on motorcycles. We live in times when the new golden rule is doing unto others before they do unto us, thus taking care of ourselves while neglecting others. The best I can do, then, is offer five, hard won suggestions for how to live better as individuals and in groups. My suggestions came after laying flat on a bed in the intensive care rooms of a hospital, having gone in for “minor surgery” and ending up in septic emergency. Sorry, I did not have a near death experience. But I had something better—a week of looking at the bright lights overhead without my cell phone or laptop and reflecting on my life.
Socrates reportedly said through his interpreter Plato that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I took that advice seriously and examined my life like I had never really done before while in that hospital recovery room. And I can honestly say that through this experience I have learned a few things. What I learned was also reinforced when after a number of biopsies searching for cancer, I understood that to live well requires the inner realization that one’s life is indeed limited. No cancer was discovered, but my lesson was that living in six month cycles between biopsies taught me to focus on what is most important and to do so in short intervals, not putting off tomorrow what could be done today.
So here are the five suggestions for living well. Take them or leave them, but unless you have spent a week in an intensive care room (sometimes I think we all do this just by being alive), ignore them at your own risk—or go off to some rustic cabin in the woods and like Thoreau decide what it is you value most so as not to live a life of quiet desperation.
1. Keep it simple (it will get complex all by itself).
2. Know yourself (many conspire to take this away from you).
3. Be kind to yourself and others (somebody has to).
4. Seemingly small things matter most (there are no small things).
5. Take care of your soul (even if you don’t believe you have one).