Friday, February 7, 2014

To Thine Own self be True...as long as it's convenient for everyone else

I'm reading Hamlet with my Seniors right now, or rather watching it and discussing it. Sidebar note: Any teacher that asks their students to "read" Shakespeare needs to be drug out to the woodshed. Shakespeare was a PLAYWRIGHT - he wrote plays. To be performed. On a stage. With actors. For viewing. He was not, and never has been, a novelist. He did not, and never intended, for students to read his dry manuscript from a piece of paper. It's fine to study Shakespeare, even take an act or two and have the students do a reading of it. But do not assign it as the ONLY way to understand the text. How dreadfully boring.

But I digress...

In Act I, the famous lines "To thine own self be true..." are spoken by Polonius as he sends his son Laertes off to school again. A lot people think the lines were spoken to Hamlet or about Hamlet, but this is incorrect; they are simply from Hamlet. Polonius actually gives Laertes a whole slew of good advice:

And these few precepts in thy memory 
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, 
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Nor any unproportion'd thought his act. 

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar: 
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, 
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel; 

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment 
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Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware 
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, 
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee. 
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; 
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. 
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Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, 
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; 
For the apparel oft proclaims the man, 
And they in France of the best rank and station 
Are most select and generous, chief in that. 
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Neither a borrower nor a lender be; 
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

This above all- to thine own self be true, 
And it must follow, as the night the day, 
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Thou canst not then be false to any man. 
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!


Great advice and all of it pretty easy to follow, except the last bit: This, above all - to thine own self be true. What a great line. Too bad it's impossible.

What's this you say? Impossible. Perhaps that's the wrong word, it's more likely improbable. We say that we want this for ourselves and for others, but that's not what we really mean.  Here are a few examples:


  1. To thine own self be true to your religion - as long as your beliefs don't conflict with my beliefs of which then if I am a prophetic Christian (in particular) I will beat you over the head with the damnation of hell until you believe as I do OR God save your soul as it rests in its own fiery pit. (Don't get too excited about this example, I am a Christian and I do share the word. I just don't feel the need to CONDEMN people that don't behave as piously as some think they should, or even people that sin in their own way because I'm not perfect - funny thing about me, I think that is actually GOD's decision to make this choice.)
  2. To thine own self be true to your sexual preference - as long as it is heterosexual and in no way infringes upon what I think it is an appropriate marital relationship because at the end of the day, what you do in the privacy of your own home, or even in public places that I probably don't frequent, is going to disrupt my life in some way.
  3. To thine own self be true to your education - as long as it fits in this tiny little box of the expectations of the business corporation that has set down a diatribe of standards that ARE IMPOSSIBLE to meet (yes, impossible here) and in no way encourages your own thinking with regards to your interest, particularly in high school where the basics have actually been at least exposed (adding, subtracting, writing sentences) and you should be developing an interest that just might lead you into a happier life after school - but we aren't allowed to do this. We must beat you over the head with the Pythagorean theorem or sentence patterns until you hate numbers and words. 
  4. To thine own self be true in your career choice - as long as it will be enough to buy you the flashy lifestyle of the 1% because if you aren't able to live this way you must be a failure at life. And we'll be sure to make sure you understand this with every commercial, television show, and movie ever put out.
And the list could go on and on and on. Poor Shakespeare. He thought he was setting forth a wealth of valuable advice, but was ignorant of the future. It is my greatest regret to realize that we live in a world where being true to one's self is often a farce. We must meet the daily demands and expectations that challenge the very inner ethics and morals of our beliefs, no matter what they may be. And there are those that say things like, "If your job is causing you ethical or moral problems, just quit." Sure thing - are you going to pay my bills and keep my family in the lifestyle it has become accustomed to - you know, roof over their head, food on their table, clothes on their back? No. You're not. I am. Because at the end of the day, being true to myself comes a very distant second.

So, how do we survive this conundrum of advice from ol' Bill? Is it possible to remain true to one's self in a world that demands we deceive at every turn? I'd like to give you an answer to this, but I can't. I'm caught up in the daily mess of meeting and fulfilling everyone else's expectations. I'm sending this question out into the cosmic void of cyberspace hoping maybe one of my readers has the answer.

Give it your best shot my fellow deceivers to the world, and if you find a moment where you do get to be true to you - relish it!

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