The form of philosophy most widespread in Ancient Greece, pursued the reduction (among all people, but particularly the ‘ruling class’) of any excessive SELF-CONFIDENCE close to arrogance. It also promoted the development of a critical attitude, to apply towards oneself more than the others. In fact, that philosophical approach was a preoccupation about one’s attitude and behaviour. It was a form of SELF-CONTROL. And it was clear, for the philosophers of the past, that CARE OF SELF is not narcissism.
The <CARE OF SELF> is a very simple notion regarding the spiritual and intellectual work that people should do on themselves. The goal of such a practice is a truly philosophical lifestyle. For this reason, it has nothing to do with despicable, self-referring attitudes like egotism, narcissism and megalomania. In simple words, the philosophical focus on oneself – as a preoccupation to improve oneself (<epimeleia heautou>) – is actually the opposite of any self-exaltation.
Taking care of oneself means working on one’s personality and refining one’s own character. The goal is living better and in full serenity. Therefore, we deem unacceptable whoever spends all of his time devoting energies and resources to personal wishes, ambitions, appetites and desires.
In Bill Withers‘ 1972 song “Lean on me” (see the SONGS section of this site) we find the words <Please swallow your pride / If I have things you need to borrow / For no one can fill those of your needs / That you won’t let show>. Such an attitude needs a <CARE OF SELF> which is far away from any presumption and self-worship.
Taking care of oneself was (and still is), essentially, a spiritual TRAINING. At the end of the preparation, one is less likely to fall prey of self-importance, grandiosity and hubris. So, exercises devised to improve one’s resilience in order to resist temptations always point to a measured and self-restrained behaviour. That is why CARE OF SELF is not narcissism.
Another relevant issue to underline here, is the need to investigate all common places and of being available at reversing old habits, customs and conventions.
Emperors and other rulers were instructed by their philosophical mentors not to show animosity, ever-changing moods, fits of rage. But more than anything, the ruling class was taught not to deem itself ‘superior’.
Tyrants and dictators, after all, were (are) humans, and their easiest mistake has always been to believe they were divine and then forgetting human fallibility. Whenever a powerful personality starts ignoring his shortcomings, that is the moment he starts declining.