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Saturday, May 16, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True

I've always heard people should be "true to themselves." That statement covers a lot of ground, especially depending on the environment in which they develop, the prejudices they have acquired, and the circumstances in which they find themselves when attempting to be truthful. Some find the"truth" easier than others due to privilege, either inherent or self acquired. Others desperately search for their definition of personal truth without ever really applying any constant, honest behavior in their lives. Probably the inspiration for the idea of self truth came from Socrates: "Know thyself." As many quotes go through changes, so did this philosophical advice as evidenced in an allusion from William Shakespeare. The popular origin of being true to one's self may be found in Shakespeare's dramatic English literature.This occurs in Hamlet when the character of Polonius prepares his son Laertes for travel abroad with a speech in which he directs the youth to commit a "few precepts to memory." "This above all; to thine own self be true And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any men. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee..." By William Shakespeare Hamlet In the play, while on his journey, Polonius searches for cause and reason. He does not simply accept facts as facts; he seeks to discover the truth on his own. He goes into great length about Hamlet's madness and its relation to love and truth. He then seeks to "try out" his theories by testing Hamlet's sanity through a slew of probing questions. Sometimes, the demands of other people and the confused expectations of ourselves - the messages about our responsibilities toward others - can create a tremendous, complicated mess. We can even convince ourselves that people-pleasing, going against our own nature and not being honest, is the kind, honest thing to do! But, doesn't integrity embrace the highest concepts of truth? In other words, by honoring and respecting ourselves, we will be true to those around us, even if we displease them momentarily. Once we allow someone else to define who we are, we lose our ability to discover and grow inwardly. And, it can become impossible for us to then discern a truth from a lie. After accepting lies so long, finding real truth takes time and can become a very difficult journey of self discovery, a journey some stubbornly refuse to begin. Accepting truth requires change while accepting those changes in our lives is very difficult. To walk in truth, however, gives great strength and sets pertinent boundaries. If we do become honest with ourselves, we are able to love ourselves with all of our imperfections, knowing that our concept of truth is a work in progress for our entire life and that it constantly requires change. Truth, as it applies here, means we live a life centered around values that we think are important and that we implement in our everyday lives. Too many people believe that inner truth has something to do with monetary value, career, or social status. Don't we find blatant liars in the richest, most socially well-groomed professionals? Of course we do, just as we find them in every strata of our society. The truth that we must develop is something everyone has. The problem is merely that many people haven't realized what their value is, especially in modern society where there is so much pressure to be "normal" rather than "unique." Ask any collector of anything which of the two-- normal or unique-- holds more value. So, when we are tempted to lie or deceive, we must weigh our decision against our values to be certain that social pressures are not solely responsible for making our decision. Not to pick fights, but today, how many beautiful young women and handsome men cover their natural bodies with tattoos because tattoos are in fashion or vogue? Some do not consider that they could not pass such values to their own children. The payoff in knowing ourselves is that the more we know about ourselves, the higher our self esteem, and the less negatively influenced we become by those around. In fact, we become role models as other people start feeding off our self assurance. This process of self identification is not without certain pitfalls."To thine own self be true" has become the crutch of lazy self-discoverers, a cliche for those too weary or foolish to press past the average and mediocre. "I give up! This is who I am," they confess. "This is me, warts and all, and I embrace it." This attitude is essentially conforming to a stagnant life without needed change. But what about the inevitable puzzles we all encounter and our inability to move beyond what we already have learned? How can we be true to something we don't have an answer for or a reference to? The key is identifying these problems and seeking new answers. Isn't this truly what every philosopher has sought? Wisdom is knowing first that there is a considerable amount of knowledge that we simply cannot know. Yet, it is human nature to deny that which we do not like and become self-deceived, rather than admit a fault or shortcoming. This false sense of "knowing thyself" is self-deceit. We must be solely true to ourselves but true to our best selves, selves constantly seeking new ways of problem solving. To throw up our hands in despair at the first roadblock to understanding is the ultimate surrender. However, after stalemate, doesn't truth actually mean admitting our ignorance at times? That, in itself, is an honest, respected action. In defense of a lie, I believe lies can be an underlying force of change. Lies can be masks as links to what Plato called the Ideal-World. He described a perfect ideal world that exists in the minds of all people. That our minds are separated from our bodies since they can exist in this perfect state. But if we could have an Ideal-World then wouldn't the Ideal-World have an Ideal-World? And wouldn't that second Ideal-World have a third Ideal-World? Confused yet? Consider the state of racial civil rights in the United States as it progressed through the 1800's, the 1950's, and today. Ideally, our truth tells us that no inequalities based on race should ever exist. Yet, though one earlier ideal has been bettered by another later ideal in our history, we all truthfully know inequalities still exist. Do we wear a mask to hide ourselves from the Ideal-World? And is this deceitful mask a part of an inner truth that some will never accept-- racism is wrong in any form. The blatant masked lies of many others have led to greatly needed changes. Yet, reality shows us that today is no Ideal-World in race relations. And, consider the warped inner truth of the racist who would gladly associate with Beyonce Knowles or Denzel Washington. In this respect, lies can effect change. The wise identify the masks and see beyond their disguises of truth. We should not be true to the selves who urge us to settle for the simple status quo or, worse, make excuses for it. Likewise, we must not be true to the selves who enjoin us to make excuses or blame others for our own lapses, difficulties, and failures. Here is a very meaningful poem that blends with the theme of "being true to yourself." I have read it in many places on the Internet, so I am taking liberties to share a couple stanzas with you. Many thanks to the author, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, for the use.

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive. Please read the entire poem at her site. You will thoroughly enjoy it and, I think, be blessed by the message.
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