Sound advice: to thine own self be true

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By Rev. Michael Duncan

We are often told that, if our lives are to matter, we must be selfless, always putting others first.  It’s good advice, but being selfless in a healthy manner is possible only when a person knows him/herself.

Be selfish.  Take some time to think about yourself; figure out who you are.  Only then can you be a person capable of putting others first.

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius gave his son Laertes good advice:

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 man.

It’s sound advice, but it is impossible to be true to one’s own self unless one first knows one’s own self.  Who are you apart from your job, your family role, and your relationships? Knowing yourself allows you to be who you are and to be adequately armed for whatever comes your way.

Do you recall the story of David and Goliath (I Samuel 17:38-50)?  King Saul was so impressed with David’s willingness to face Goliath, that he offered the young man his own armor.  It was quite an honor ... a sign that David had arrived.  I suspect the armor was too large and too heavy, but that is not given as the reason for what happened.  David did not face down Goliath wearing the king’s armor.  Scripture states that David “tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them (the armor).”  David couldn’t fight this battle with another man’s armor, with another man’s courage, or in another man’s name.  He faced Goliath as David, the David he knew, and with the weapons he had tested and, therefore, knew.

Be true to yourself.  Engage the world with the resources you have and know.  To be successful, you do not need to be anyone other than who you are; but you must be who you are—not who you pretend to be.

Knowing who you are and being willing to be that person is one of the surest ways to reach a goal that eludes many—to be happy.

One’s happiness is not determined by circumstance, fortune, people, or place.  Happiness is determined by our response to those things.  Our responses are determined by who we have become.  Who we have become is determined by that to which we have given ultimate allegiance.  We will not find happiness in:

Companions, including spouses.

Jobs, no matter how much they pay or how much prestige they bring to us.

Fraternities to which we belong.

Causes we undertake.

Material possessions.

Happiness is found in us, or it is not found.

In the book Candide, Francois Voltaire tells the story of Candide, a young man in search of happiness. Throughout the story, Candide finds himself moving from misfortune to fortune and from fortune to misfortune with lasting happiness always beyond reach.  As the book ends, he meets a wise older man who owns but 20 acres of land from which he provides a living for himself and his four children.  He tells Candide that it is “our work that keeps us free of three great evils—boredom, vice, and poverty.”  The old man had found that for which Candide had searched—happiness; and it came from knowing who he was, what he needed, what he had to give, and with being satisfied with enough.

Perhaps coming to know one’s own self in order to be true to one’s own self... perhaps finding the secret to happiness is possible outside of a relationship with God.  Perhaps . . . but it has not been my experience.  For me, self-knowledge came both from looking inside myself and from looking outside myself to God.

I commend Jesus and his teachings to you.  I do so not because the Bible says he is Son of God, Savior, and King.  I do so because I’ve tried him and found him worthy of my life.  May it be so for you, as well.