“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
– Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
One of my favorite speeches in literature is that spoken by Polonius to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which includes these well-known words, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
When I think of figures who have written about truth, I think of Mark Twain. He seemed to me to be pretty much skeptical of everyone. Twain was not only unconvinced of the trustworthiness of the powers that be, he didn’t seem to hold most individuals in much high regard either. But, truth was important to him. He could, when making a point, stretch the truth a bit to fit his satirical wit. Still, his humor and skepticism were both fed by his love of the truth.
Twain’s high regard for the truth speaks to me. As he once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Then again, I know I can, in many ways, easily deceive myself – making choices or taking actions that are based on what’s comfortable or what supposedly will lead to the least confrontation in a given situation.
I need to remind myself of the truth – that I’m not as important as I sometimes think I am, and equally, I am not the failure I can at times imagine myself to be. I was put on this earth for a purpose. I am who I am and where I am, given gifts and abilities to carry out particular things that only I can accomplish.
“There is no other man who can replace you in your life, in the arena you’ve been called to” says John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart. He continues, “If you leave your place in line, it will be empty. No one else can be who you are meant to be.”
I will take a bit of a turn here but you will see where I am going. – A friend of mine, Paul, recently wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in reference to our city’s “challenges” with the homeless and begging. Paul beautifully pointed out that if you or I ignore or just look away as we pass by a homeless person panhandling, is the homeless person the only one who loses out? He may not be ready to get off the street; he may be sick or even be a fake. – But I can in fact miss out with my decision.
Truth can be a complex thing. Things aren’t always black and white. But as I step out of my comfort zone, and reach out and give something to a homeless person or engage him in a little conversation, I am the one who gains. No matter what the outcome, I grow a little, understand a little, in addition I could receive something I may not even perceive or completely understand. And, as my friend said, who knows “what God is doing with that opportunity to reach out” and bless someone. In the words of Jesus, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
As I try to be more honest with myself and be more caring towards others, truth can become more apparent. Every day I have opportunities to live my life with purpose. I do have a purpose, and no one else can be who I am meant to be.
I will never stop striving to make a difference, sometimes in big ways, but always and often in small ways; with my family, with neighbors, with strangers.
Truth becomes more apparent as I become who I am meant to be.
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
– Winston Churchill