What does it mean to truly know and understand yourself and other people?
Our approach to that question is affected by the culture in which we live. And we might look to the knowledge available in our culture for assistance in answering the question.
The study of human psychology is one place to look. Have you thought about your id recently? Or your ego or superego? These concepts, initially promoted by Sigmund Freud, were not helpful to me as a young man desperately seeking to find out who he was.
While I’ve found some of the insights in the literature on human psychology helpful, they haven’t answered the essential questions of my life.
Jungian psychology, and related philosophies, have explored the dark places of the soul to find a deeper truth. My observation is that often people are no more aware of who they are at the end of that kind of process than they were at the beginning, even though there is an intelligent way to relate to darkness in our life.
For the past fifteen years, I have studied the Enneagram. It is an intriguing system of personality types. It identifies psychological tendencies in people and divides them into nine major categories. It is fascinating to notice the predictable ways people behave based on these tendencies.
But at the end of the day, are any of us really a personality type? Does that tell us who we are? Or does it introduce us to the reality of another person at a soul level? Whatever insights the Enneagram brings, there is something distasteful about pegging other people—or yourself—as a personality type.
Whether it is the Enneagram, Freudian analysis, or any other study of human psychology, so much of what psychological experts present seems random—an intellectual structure imposed on the human experience rather than an enlightened understanding born out of the experience. But the randomness of much of what is presented in the study of human psychology is not the only problem.
Imagine this. As a person from an earlier era, you come across an old car sitting in the high grass of someone’s backyard. The car is so old that it does not run. It has broken down.
Imagine you have never seen a car before. You do not understand what they are for or what they do. As you inspect the vehicle, you wonder, Why is that wheel over the seat? What are those pedals for? Why does it have a mirror?
What might prevent you from knowing what you are looking at? For one thing, the car has broken down. It is not moving, so you might not even realize that the car was built for a purpose it cannot currently fulfill—to drive down the street.
The other major problem is that there is no driver! And if you didn’t know that the car was meant to have a driver, how could you understand what it was or what it was for?
Most attempts to understand human psychology are like that: they are driverless, as if there is a driverless vehicle, and we are supposed to figure out how it is made, what it is for, and how it works. The manufacturer designed the car to have a driver in the driver’s seat. That is how it is made. That is how we are made.
You and I are not designed to be driverless cars. And who is the driver? Religion might attempt to provide an answer. Some religious answers are more credible than others. But still, whatever the belief might be, what is the actual experience of the driver driving the car?
For us as human beings, the driver is the Self. We might distinguish it as Higher Self to make it clear that it is not just the human personality—it is not just a part of the car.
The experience of Self is the experience of who we are. And from the perspective of Self, we can see, know, love, and understand our human experience. We can see, know, love, and understand each other. We can drive our car and get to where we need to go.