Adapted from Anne Sheppard, “Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art” Do we need other people in order to understand ourselves? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
To understand ourselves is not an easy thing to do. From ancient times, the question of knowing ourselves has been the focus of many philosophers, such as Socrates and Buda. They argue that, even though you cannot arrive at perfect answers, you should keep asking yourself, “Who am I?” The lessons of the ancient philosophers have truly helped me to develop my moral values and know myself, through meditation and inner awareness. However, there are other ways to gain self-knowledge: one way is to ourselves by striving to understand others. Khaled Hosseini’s characters, Amir and Baba, in “the Kite Runner” provide mirrors for me. Also Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” – the authorized biography of Apple’s genius – allows me to see inside the façade of the public Steve Jobs, and gain some understanding of myself.
The relationship between Amir and his father, Baba, in “The Kite Runner” allows me to better understand why my own father was like he was, when I was growing up. In Afghanistan, before Russia invaded that country, Baba was a rich and powerful businessman. As a real man in a man’s world, Baba feels embarrassed about his almost effeminate son: Amir reads books, wins poetry competitions at school, is hopeless at soccer, and (at 12 years of age) he cries during a Buzkashi tournament when a horseman falls off his horse and gets trampled by the other players.
My heart goes out to Amir who worships his big powerful father, even though his father doesn’t seem to love him. However, I can also feel sorry for Baba: he’s a highly respected bear-killing man, a leader in the male-dominated Sunni Pashtun tribe; yet he has not been blessed with a courageous son that he can be proud of. The empty space between Amir and Baba gives me insight into how it was with my father, when I was a child. My father, like Baba, was a product of his culture – caring more about his leadership of the eight siblings in his family, and his image as a businessman, than taking notice of his children. Like Baba does with Amir, my father largely ignored his children. But I can understand his behavior better now, through understanding Baba. My father was a good man, like Baba, operating within the norms of his Korean culture – and, in my father’s generation, it wasn’t normal to stay home and play with his children.
I’ve experienced another insight about myself, through getting to know Steve Jobs better, from Walter Isaacson’s biography. I’ve always had a very negative mindset against arrogant rich men who seem to think they own the world: acting as though they are above the law, and uncaring about the welfare, happiness or dignity of those around them. Steve Jobs always seemed to be one of the worst. As a brilliant man, and a perfectionist, he had a reputation for treating everyone around him as though they were idiots, unless they could match his talent or see everything his way; also, despite his acquired wealth, he didn’t seem to spread any of his money around to help other people.
However, after I read Walter Isaacson’s biography, I came to understand that Steve Jobs grew up knowing he was especially chosen by his adoptive parents, and – to them – he could do no wrong; in fact, he was so indulged that he grew up with the conviction that he was the one who always knew best, about everything. Growing up in such an unconditionally ego-supporting home environment, it is no wonder that Steve Jobs believed himself to be always right (even about taking no medicine for his cancer), and superior to everyone around him that could not match his visionary thinking. After getting to know Steve Jobs so well, I understand how his upbringing was largely responsible for the arrogant, sometimes mean, person that he became. Perhaps, by understanding Jobs, I can now be less negative about other rich and powerful people, expecting that they too might be how they are because of home-life factors in their upbringing.
As Lao Tzu said, “He who knows other is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” Through coming to understand Amir’s father, and Steve Jobs, I have come to a better understanding of the way my own father was, during my childhood, and also I can be more tolerant of arrogant rich – or brilliant – men, like Steve Jobs. By attempting to understand others in our ideologically and materially divided world, we can strengthen our moral values, and become kinder and fairer in our treatment of others. It is a pity that the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, and Kurds – in the Middle East – cannot seem to learn such a lesson, instead of spending their lives killing each other for their mutual misunderstandings.