Song Stories From the Edge: Track 11 – The (un)Examined Life

I have a tendency to overthink things. (I explain the idea slightly more eloquently in another song I wrote, called “Validation” from the album Moratorium.)

The view from 185 Webster St. Boston, MA

The view from 185 Webster St. Boston, MA

The final year we were in Boston, we lived in a small apartment that was part of a brownstone building dating back another century or so. It overlooked the harbor and gave us quite the view of the sun setting over the manmade mountains downtown. You know, the kind of scene that brings life into perspective.

“The (un)Examined Life” was inspired by that perspective, found with unusual clarity on the third story of 185 Webster St. as I battled another evening of mind games with myself. The hammer smashing the magnifying glass is my attempt to get rid of those complications and lay hold of the simple thankfulness that makes powerful people.

Portrait Herm of 36adfa0b81aba24d46d5d18017fa94e8

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I love this quote and the way it convicts people out of mediocrity and thoughtlessness. It’s a good foundation for philosophical thinking.

Cornel West, a modern American philosopher and professor, added his own spin, saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living, but the examined life is painful.” When you actually choose to fight your own apathy and engage in tough questions, you simultaneously open yourself up to disappointment and despair. To question is to revolt, and typically that involves some sacrifices to your comfort. That’s why a lot of people would rather just keep from examining things… which leads us to a conclusion of sorts.

Samuel Clemons, better known as Mark Twain, did his fair share of examining life; often making comical observations that demonstrated a philosophical insight and social commentary that few (next to Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame) have been able to replicate. Twain said, “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.”

Leave it to Sam Clemons to remind us to examine life, but not to the extent that we fail to actually live it. That’s the kind of life I want.

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