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 really quite a beautiful statement—if not corrupted by baser, self-centered, self-serving objectives. More often than not, I hear this quote used to build a case for doing your own thing, making yourself happy, looking out for ol’ number 1 (yourself). The emphasis is generally on being and doing what makes YOU happy.
There’s a couple of problems with that interpretation of “to thine own self be true.” What if what makes you happy makes everyone around you unhappy? What if, at your core, you’re a real scoundrel? Should you be true to that, should you be content with being a scoundrel?
In the New Testament, a man named Nathanael came to check Jesus out. He had heard good things about Him, and frankly, he was skeptical, even critical. As Nathanael approached Jesus, Jesus acknowledged him with these words, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” That’s a pretty high compliment for a guy with such a negative attitude! What exactly was Jesus commending? I think He was saying that Nathaniel was genuine, he was not pretentious, he did not put on airs. It wasn’t so much that he was a “good man,” but that he was real; he was transparent; he was true (not false). And Jesus can work with that! And in Nathanael’s case, He did. Nathanael became a follower of Christ.
Being true to yourself is being honest with yourself, not hiding from the truth about who you are, not shrinking away from the effort it would take to improve and change. Being true to yourself is the opposite of self-deception. Don’t tell yourself what you want to hear simply because it makes you feel good. The New Testament describes self-deception like this: “Do not merely listen to the word [of God] and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Self-deception, then, is when we read the Word of God, but don’t follow through. It is not only lying to yourself, it is non-action when you know to act. It is knowing, but not doing.
Some might dismiss the whole notion of keeping promises to yourself by choosing not to make any promises (similar to the “I don’t make any resolutions so I won’t break any resolutions” attitude). That’s no answer, though; it only creates a whole different set of issues—lethargy, complacency, laziness, and ultimately, death. If we’re not growing, we’re decaying (aka, dying).
Finally, being honest with yourself is the basis of integrity. If you can’t trust yourself, how can anyone else trust you? It occurs to me that if we were all “true to ourselves” in this respect, then there would be no broken commitments, no forsaken diets, no abandoned promises (to ourselves) to put spouse or children first, to complete tasks, to exercise regularly, to be faithful, to be a good employee/boss, etc., etc., etc. If we are true to ourselves, then when we “commit,” we follow through—because we don’t lie to ourselves.
Being true to me—being trustworthy—is the basis of integrity. “…and it must follow…thou canst not then be false to any man…” If I can trust me, then you can too.
Are you true to yourself? Can it be said of you that there is nothing false in you? Do you keep promises to yourself? Share your wisdom. Leave a comment.