To Thine Own Self Be True
I hate when quotes lose their context.
Take Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” The poem has the singularly memorable line: “Good fences make for good neighbors.” But the poet is not for making boundaries in the poem. In fact, he jokes with his neighbor farmer about the futility of building walls: “My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.”
Tell that to Sarah Palin, not to get political, but I do love The Atlantic.
Shakespeare gets misquoted often. People say Shakespeare said, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare did not say that, he wrote it for a character in a play to say that. Macbeth says it in his final act. He just lost his wife and armies are coming for him. All his plots failed. Of course he’s a bit pessimistic. No need to claim Shakespeare’s worldview contains a meaningless existence.
I write this to bring up the Miracle of the Mundane’s
“To Thine Own Self Be True”
This one doesn’t need much context honestly, but the writer in me (my wife would say the dork in me) will provide it anyway.
It’s the scene in Hamlet when Polonius gives his son Laertes the “off to college speech,” before Laertes leaves Denmark to study in France. Polonius tells Laertes “To thine own self be true.” This holds a great importance in my life.
I did not know truth until I got honest with myself, (which I did here).
When I first admitted I was an alcoholic, I remember feeling like it was the first true thing I ever said.
Polonius’ speech doesn’t end there.
He continues to say that if you stay true to yourself, you can’t be false to any man. This is an important closure to the quote. I spent so much time trying to be someone I wasn’t, succumbing to peer pressure that:
Life was a changing room, where nothing that I tried on would fit.” (full article here)
Getting honest with myself solved my identity crises. Staying honest with myself keeps me honest with the world.
I have a series of posts bouncing around my brain concerning honesty. How I am honest today in spite of myself. How I often surprise myself by doing or saying the right thing even though my mind tells me otherwise. I’m thinking of calling them the channelled series — as in, the St. Francis channel of God’s peace series. More to come.
Polonius covers a few other recovery cliches in his advice to Laertes.
He tells Laertes to “Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.” Translated to recovery, he is saying “take the cotton out of your ears, and put it in your mouth,” to emphasize how important it is to listen.
Polonius also tells Laertes: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried / Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” He might as well be saying, “Stick with the winners.”
What I love about cliches is the deep truth that exists in them if you can forage through the stigma that they are cliche. It’s like meditating on the sentiment expressed in a Hallmark card instead of tossing it directly in the recycling bin when you realize the sender was too lazy to even sign his name.
If there is a slogan or recovery cliche you’d like me to expand on, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to oblige.