To thine own self be true

Perhaps feminists’ favorite moral admonishment to women and girls is Be True to Yourself.  Solomon II touched on this in his post Drive Thru Boyfriends:

She does the same thing when she’s sad, lonely, happy, up, down, in, out, excited, needy, afraid, strong, weak, depressed, moody, joyful, exhilarated, stressed, etc. Any and every reason is valid because she’s being “true to herself”.

In the right context, the slogan has mildly positive value.  Someone who already has strong morals and great capability can benefit from the self assurance embedded in this piece of folk wisdom.

However as a primary philosophy the slogan is merely the codification of childishness.  They may as well come out and tell women and girls:  don’t let anyone tell you what to do.  For some reason, feminists are eternally fretting that women and girls won’t be sufficiently self centered.  They are constantly reminding us how selfless women are, and that they really need to “take some time for themselves”, or “follow their hearts”.

They appear to presuppose that women lack the capacity to be selfish, or that they are innately less selfish than men.  Reality stubbornly refuses to agree.  So if I may offer some words of comfort to any feminists reading this blog;  don’t worry, women (as a group) are now being immensely selfish!

While self-centeredness is unfortunately on the rise across our society, we do still teach selflessness to men and boys.  While women and girls are in one room being drilled in “being true to themselves”, girl power!, and it’s all about you!, boys and men are in another room being taught “your word is your bond”, “there is no I in team”, “duty, honor, country”, and “man up”.  Churches fortunately still tell men they have a duty to God and their families.  For example, organizations like Promise Keepers have been created to reinforce men’s sense of duty in response to women’s increasing failure to keep their promises.  Some day churches may even create a group focused on telling women they need to keep their promises too.  Or not.

It is worth noting that Shakespeare himself wasn’t being serious when he  wrote his famous line for Polonius in Hamlet, and even then he had a very different meaning than feminists have twisted it into today:

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.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

As the study guide enotes explains:

“To thine own self be true” is Polonius’s last piece of advice to his son Laertes, who is in a hurry to get on the next boat to Paris, where he’ll be safe from his father’s long-winded speeches [see NEITHER A BORROWER NOR A LENDER BE].

Polonius has in mind something much more Elizabethan than the New Age self-knowledge that the phrase now suggests. As Polonius sees it, borrowing money, loaning money, carousing with women of dubious character, and other intemperate pursuits are “false” to the self. By “false” Polonius seems to mean “disadvantageous” or “detrimental to your image”; by “true” he means “loyal to your own best interests.” Take care of yourself first, he counsels, and that way you’ll be in a position to take care of others. There is wisdom in the old man’s warnings, of course; but he repeats orthodox platitudes with unwonted self-satisfaction. Polonius, who is deeply impressed with his wordliness, has perfected the arts of protecting his interests and of projecting seeming virtues, his method of being “true” to others. Never mind that this includes spying on Hamlet for King Claudius. Never mind, as well, that many of Polonius’s haughty, if not trite, kernels of wisdom are now taken as Shakespeare’s own wise pronouncements on living a proper life.

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31 Responses to To thine own self be true

  1. Badger Nation says:

    Haha! I had never considered the Shakespeare quote either way, fun to see its true meaning elucidated. Also funny to see contortions over “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

    In any case, I prefer “know thyself” as a slogan – unfortunately most people don’t.

  2. Richard Kern says:

    I remember finding out what a shitbag Polonius turned out to be and realizing what he really meant. Goddamn I love education.

  3. Justin says:

    Polonius’ advice is sheer buffoonery.

  4. Hearthrose says:

    I always thought the better advice was “know thyself” (Socrates). If you take time to know yourself, you’ll know where you are weak, where you need improvement, what motivates you – and then, from that standpoint, you can make changes, take action, eat a sandwich *before* you go grocery shopping…

  5. Steve says:

    I just a got a little smarter having read this.

  6. Anthony says:

    Even in its current meaning, it’s sound advice if you read it properly. “To thine own self be true” – don’t lie to yourself. Don’t delude yourself. Kill the rationalization hamster.

    Solomon recently wrote about meeting an honest slut. She knew she was a slut, and was honest to herself about it, and also to Solomon (and presumably other men). I’ve dated a woman who is very similar – I was her 90th. Knowing the one I dated (we’re still friends, 9 years later), I’d bet that Solomon’s honest slut is happier, and better-adjusted overall, than most of the women who pretend that they want commitment but bail as soon as the going gets tough, or tell other lies to themselves and their men.

    If you are something you don’t like – a slut, a drunk, a spendthrift, a flake – it’s going to be a whole lot harder to change that if you won’t admit it to yourself first. Be true to thyself.

  7. Thag Jones says:

    Yeah, I’ve read this before and it does need to be repeated. The Socrates “know thyself” is also misused though and turned into Oprah-esque self-help naval gazing, not true honest self-assessment, which most people are woefully inadequate at these days. It all ends up being taken more or less as that unbelievably idiotic command of Aleister Crowley, “do what thou wilt.” That seems to be the “philosophy” of nihilistic post-modernism. People like to feel and sound clever but more often than not just end up looking even more stupid than if they’d just been honest about their chocolate box philosophy.

  8. Badger Nation says:

    Apologies for the station break, but Ferdinand Bardamu (In Mala Fide) has posted the photos, addresses and contact info of Julian Assange’s Swedish rape accusers. Roissy has also written at least two posts concerning the case including revealing their names.

    This is serious sh**. Two patriarchs of the manosphere have crossed over, from dedicated but little-known commentators to central pieces in worldwide intrigue. If the first-world authorities are really after Julian Assange, Ferd and Roissy could be getting some calls, subpoenas or mysterious website outages. In the interests of keeping clean, I doubt I’ll be commenting there for a while.

  9. Octavia says:

    Shakespeare’s works can have various meanings and the meaning an individual chooses can be reflective of what that person values.

    Ultimately, one being true to oneself doesn’t necessitate that the needs of others must be considered. It’s wonderful when it happens but caring about someone else is a choice. There are usually repercussions for making negative choices. However, that does not mean the person choosing isn’t automatically being true to him/herself because others in society are not pleased with a decision.

  10. Thag Jones says:

    Shakespeare’s works can have various meanings and the meaning an individual chooses can be reflective of what that person values.

    Actually, it’s not as subjective as all that. Shakespeare has a few general themes running through all his work and the meanings are found in context, not by taking one little phrase and making it mean what you want to try to make yourself sound edumacated.

    Ultimately, one being true to oneself doesn’t necessitate that the needs of others must be considered.

    Did you really just say that? This isn’t all about narcissistic pandering to your every selfish whim.

    It’s wonderful when it happens but caring about someone else is a choice. There are usually repercussions for making negative choices.

    Uh, I don’t see how one statement follows the other here at all. Yes, caring about someone is a choice in a sense, but I don’t choose to care about my kids, I just care about them because I’m programmed to care about my own offspring. It’s part of the human spirit to care for others and actually, unless you’re a psychopath, impossible not to do so. As for the second statement here, no shit Sherlock.

    However, that does not mean the person choosing isn’t automatically being true to him/herself because others in society are not pleased with a decision.

    Who said anything about “society”? If you go against natural law and the human spirit, you are not being true to yourself. True also means in tune, balanced, level, accurate and honest. Once upon a time, social norms helped a person to stay true.

  11. Thag Jones says:

    Missed italics here:

    It’s wonderful when it happens but caring about someone else is a choice. There are usually repercussions for making negative choices.

  12. Any other fans of Whit Stilman out there? From a classic scene at the end of The Last Days of Disco:

    Des McGrath: “You know that Shakespearean admonition, “To thine own self be true”? It’s premised on the idea that “thine own self” is something pretty good, being true to which is commendable. But what if “thine own self” is not so good? What if it’s pretty bad? Would it be better, in that case, *not* to be true to thine own self?… See, that’s my situation. “

  13. Tarl says:

    Elusive Wapiti has a great quote posted today:

    rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence… individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become licence. Duties thereby reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to be undertaken in the service of the common good.

    …if the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to respect and pursue them fades from the common consciousness

    We may note in this context that women are taught (selfish) rights, men are taught (selfless) duties.

  14. Octavia says:

    To Thag Jones (based on your comments on December 8, 2010 at 8:04 PM):

    A: I agree that “Shakespeare has a few general themes running through all his work and the meanings are found in context…” Now, regardless of what Shakespeare intended, once a work is in the public arena, the creator of that work does not have complete control over how others will interpret it and/or use it. Someone’s interpretation and use of a work or part of it can be revealing of what he/she values. Dalrock, in this case, is using Shakespeare to advance his critique of feminism, as he sees it. On the other hand, there might be others who would read that passage and remember it as something their grandparents said to them.

    B: The instances when choice isn’t an issue are rare. Some of the things some people choose to do might be unpalatable to others but that doesn’t negate the reality of choices existing. My statement isn’t an endorsement of narcissism. It’s a statement of a fact. (And…it’s possible to state a fact without being narcissistic.)

    C: I brought up society because it’s relevant. The choices available to a person do not occur in a vacuum. Things that are perfectly acceptable in Society A might be punishable by death in Society B. Even the concepts of “natural law” and “human spirit” vary by culture and within cultures.

    As for social norms, if someone’s on the “wrong” side of a norm, there is no beautiful once upon a time fairy tale. The “good ole days” weren’t necessarily good for everyone. Therefore, one can be true to oneself, without actually being a sociopath (aka as having an antisocial personality disorder), and still not be within the good graces of a society. I’ll refrain from providing examples, as I don’t want to be construed as acting like a shrew. (See how I brought it back to Shakespeare…That was great. I’m going to pat myself on the back because I’m so damn narcissistic.)

  15. Omnipitron says:

    “We may note in this context that women are taught (selfish) rights, men are taught (selfless) duties.”

    WORD!!!!!

    Notice just how many women on this blog speak about their duties (Thag, Terry, Susan Walsh, Grerp, Hope) and how many men do the same (quite a few to list here). While I’m not a Christian, there are some statements that stand out to me when I did go to church. Check the fruit on the tree, yeah?

  16. @ Octavia:

    At the risk of sounding stupid for not getting it, I must ask a question:

    Are you saying that choosing not to care about others is a choice equal in value to choosing to care about others?

  17. I ran into an excerpt of this article while reading a volume of Opposing Viewpoints this week. Apparently there is a growing movement of feminist homeschoolers who want to shield their kids from the rampant “classism, sexism, racism, and good old mean-spiritedness” to be found in public schools. Traditional gender roles are supposedly reinforced in school, and compassion is nonexistent. Interestingly, many religious homeschoolers would say just the opposite on some of this while agreeing with a few of the points raised.

    Anyway, tucked into the article every few paragraphs were statements like this one:

    Namely, this one: Can women trade their careers for their families without sacrificing a few of their feminist values—the very values that inspired many of them to homeschool in the first place? It’s no wonder that punk feminist moms like Kim Campbell, who has homeschooled her kids for seven years, occasionally feel like walking oxymorons.

    The authors seem concerned that these womens’ emphasis on what is best for their kids will interfere with their ability to be true to feminist principles. Because feminist principles are more important than what’s best for the kids.

    Too much focus on ourselves is deadly to those in our sphere of influence. Yes, we should take care of ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. But there is a tipping point , a place where we take it too far. Feminism generally preaches that we should live in that place because our feelings reign supreme.

    Feelings are so fickle that it’s dangerous to run around being true to them. As Omnipitron pointed out, living up to our duties is a Christian virtue. Sadly, many churches teach parishioners to worship at the altar of feelings rather than the clear bedrock principles of Scripture.

  18. Thag Jones says:

    Now, regardless of what Shakespeare intended, once a work is in the public arena, the creator of that work does not have complete control over how others will interpret it and/or use it. Someone’s interpretation and use of a work or part of it can be revealing of what he/she values. Dalrock, in this case, is using Shakespeare to advance his critique of feminism, as he sees it.

    No he isn’t, he’s criticising feminists’ use of one phrase taken out of context. Obviously the creator of a work doesn’t have complete control over interpretations, but that doesn’t mean some interpretations are simply wrong. Anyone can take anything and twist it to support their own delusions, and that’s mostly what misinterpretation reveals.

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  20. Octavia says:

    To Terry@breathinggrace: “Are you saying that choosing not to care about others is a choice equal in value to choosing to care about others?”

    For me, it depends on the circumstances. Some would focus on how not caring is a form of neglect. They rarely stop to assess how the choice to care might actually be enabling another person’s bad behavior.

  21. Thag Jones says:

    Octavia, I think you’re confusing caring with false compassion.

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  29. David Howard says:

    Kinda like “an eye for an eye”; really not about blinding people but more about being fair. I have used this to actually argue AGAINST the death penalty (believe it or not)

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