I just finished reading “How to Live -or- The Life of Montaigne” by Sarah Bakewell. Renaissance writers were obsessed with the question of “How should we live life?” Michael Eyquem de Montaigne, considered to be the first “modern” individual was no exception. Reading about his discovery of Skepticism, and more specifically Pyrrhonism Skepticism, had an intellectually rejuvenating effect on me.
I’ll save you the history listen of the philosophy of Skepticism, but I’ll share the end game.
“All I know is that I know nothing, and I’m not even sure about that.” – Pyrrhonism Skeptism Saying
This group of philosophers enjoyed using a one-word response to any and all questions — “epekho” which is Greek for “I suspend judgment.”
There is an incongruent nature of modern society. The complexity of all that surrounds us increases daily; specialists reign supreme and generalists go hungry, yet everyone has an opinion on everything. How is this possible? Further, we place this expectation upon ourselves perhaps without even realizing it.
What do you think about global warming? How about immigration reform? Our criminal justice system? Nuclear Power? Chinese-American international relations?
These are complex issues about which very few of us have spent much time researching or learning. Further, it is possible that there are an infinite number of answers to these increasingly complex scenarios, yet there seems to be intense pressure to select the “right” answer from two available options. However, as social creatures, we take our social cues from our peers and if everyone else has an opinion on “everything,” I guess, I will too. I find this exhausting.
I think we’d all reduce our stress levels if we weren’t incessantly holding ourselves to an unobtainable standard of having an answer to everything. Say “I don’t know” or even “epekho” – I suspend judgment.
Extend this further, as the Greek Skeptics did, so our reactions to events in our lives. We are obsessed with categorizing events, moment by moment, as “good” or “bad.” We have no idea whether being laid off from our jobs is “good” or “bad” — time will tell a story that is guaranteed to be a vastly different than the one in your head today, you know this. The consequences of the events in our lives — caught in traffic, late for an appointment, underperformed during a presentation, closed the deal, received (or didn’t) the promotion — are never really clear to us at the moment.
Might it be refreshing to try to react with “epekho” in response to your day’s events?
I’m not sure we realize the damage we doing to our psyche when we hold ourselves to an omnipotent standard. I challenge you, for just one day, to “suspend judgment” . . . take the weight off of your shoulders, let the universe unfold as it should, and reveal the consequences to you. We are not the judge and jury of every detail of our lives, so why do we burden ourselves with the weight of that illusionary responsibility. And we certainly don’t have to be the expert of the world’s most complex and pressing issues. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have an opinion, I’m simply reminding you that it is not necessary. You can even be very informed and still epekho (suspend judgment).
Try this for a day. Tell yourself “I don’t know” . . . “I’m not sure” . . . “I guess we’ll see” . . . “I can’t wait to see how this plays out” Take the chains of the obsessive need to categorize every minute detail of your life into categories of “good” and “bad” from off of your shoulders. Rest your mind and watch your stress level plummet almost instantly.