Of interrogating self

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 18 Jul 2017 10:57:36

By Vijay Phanshikar,


“The failure of architecture to create congenial environment mirrors our inability to find happiness in other areas of our lives. Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of distinct tendencies which in other domain will lead us to marry wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the
tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.


“In architecture, as if so much else, we cast around for explanations to our troubles and fix on platitudinous target. We get angry when we should realise we are sad and tear down ancient streets when we ought instead to
introduce proper sanitation and street lights. We learn the wrong lessons from our griefs while grasping in vain for the origin of contentment.


“The places we call beautiful are, by contrast, the work of those rare architects with the humility to interrogate themselves adequately about their desire and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical
plan - combination that enable them to create environment that satisfy needs we never consciously knew we even had.”

  • Alain De Botton,
    in chapter titled ‘Self-Knowledge’,
    in his book ‘Architecture of Happiness’
    (Penguin Books, Revised Edition 2014, Paperback).

    This statement makes it obvious that every human activity -- in thought or in action -- has its origin in the inner being. Alain De Botton might have been talking of architecture, but actually goes beyond the confines of just architecture and travels into an arena of thought -- proper thought!
    And the author concludes that any good architecture, like anything else, is a product of the thought and action of rare kind of people who have the courage to ask themselves some questions -- serious questions: ...the work of those rare architects with the humility to
    interrogate themselves adequately about their desire and the tenacity to translate their fleeting apprehensions of joy into logical plan... !

  • Interrogating self! That is really a key expression, a key action, too, on part of
    everybody, howsoever great or ordinary. It is not easy, of course, to interrogate oneself. It is certainly not easy to ask questions to oneself when things appear to be all right. For, when questions are asked when everything appears all right, there is a pre-supposition that there still could be something that may not be right. Opening oneself to the possibilities of a flaw or a failure, as Alain De Botton suggests, is to be considered an act of high humility.

  • Humility, thus, becomes an essential
    condition for good thought and action. It is a trigger to making distinction between what may be right or what may be wrong. It is an acceptance of one’s fallibility. It denotes a willingness to treat oneself as a work in progress. And when such humility operates on the mind, every thought and every action can be interrogated.
    This self interrogation can also be termed as introspection, a process in which a dispassionate examination of the inner shenanigans of one’s personality is conducted ruthlessly.
    This is one process that asks us to make clear-cut distinction between emotions and decipher those accurately. The expression Alain De Botton gives is simple: ... expressed through materials of distinct tendencies which in other domain will lead us to marry wrong people, choose
    inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful
    holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.

  • And then he adds: We get angry when we should realise we are sad and tear down ancient streets when we ought instead to
    introduce proper sanitation and street lights. ...
    What a powerful and fine observation this! It is a true description of what goes on in human mind on countless occasions. We do get angry when we should be sad, and we do choose wrong people or wrong ideas when we should be avoiding them. And that happens because we do not interrogate ourselves.

  • Why? Even when we know the ugly
    consequences of many of our thoughts and action outside the realm of “humility” as Alain De Botton states, why do we still indulge in those?
    The answer is both, simple and complex.
    Basically, we do not ask questions of ourselves because we do not think that we could be wrong. In other words, we are so arrogant that we do not give in to a possibility that we could be wrong somewhere.

  • But then, when things are tending to go wrong, as we all know, the inner voice speaks. It wants to wake us up. It wants us to listen to its crying for wisdom. But our arrogance -- the perfect anti-thesis of humility -- blocks our inner ear that can hear the inner voice. With that advantage of the inner voice gone, we forget that we need to ask questions -- to ourselves. This is a universal human nemesis.