According to Plato, Socrates at the end of his life said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Ancient Greek: ὁ … ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτς ἀνθρώπῳ). Or perhaps his statement can be translated as the unexamined life is not a fully human life, for we humans have been gifted with wisdom, consciousness and conscience. To not use these gifts to look at one’s life is to fail to be human. But what constitutes life? For the modern American it is consumerism and the accumulation of wealth and things. American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar who grew up American in a different age and experienced that time as a Black American also saw that life could be quite simple and yet still valued, valued enough to be examined which he did in his poetry.
He wrote in his poem “LIFE” –
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that is life!
A crust and a corner that love makes precious,
With a smile to warm and the tears to refresh us;
And joy seems sweeter when cares come after,
And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter;
And that is life!
(The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Kindle Location 877-883)
Life lived and experienced is more precious than things accumulated. Joy and love are invaluable commodities that do not use up the earth’s resources. As one old friend once said to me, “In the old days, it used to be that we loved people and used things, now in the modern world we love things and use people.” How do we rekindle our humanity?
As Jesus warned:
For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. (Matthew 16:26-27)