This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Polonius tells his son, Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I used to think being true to yourself meant that you stuck to your guns, you didn’t let anyone or anything sway what you thought or did, you did it your way, as Frank Sinatra sang.

But I figured out what William Shakespeare apparently knew hundreds of years ago. Many people quote the first part: “To thine own self be true,” and leave it at that. Fewer go on with the rest of the quote “And it must follow, as night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” The last part is just as important as the first part. It explains the first part. Being you doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be false to any man. What is needed to never be false to any man is to live according to the truth, the way, which is believing in Jesus Christ.

We can’t justify what we do and what we are by saying it is true–meaning that we would rather stay the way we are than go to the hard work of changing ourselves and be better. Truth is not beholden to any man. Rather we must glorify truth by changing ourselves, if necessary, to conform our lives to truth.

A false way of life is to decide that we’re where we want to be, or that we’ve got everything pretty well figured out, so we’re just going to stay where we are: fat, dumb, and happy, so to speak. There is no staying where we are. We are either moving ahead or we are falling behind. That’s the truth. Continuing to do things that don’t work rather than things that do work leads to failure. That’s the truth.
So if anyone lives in any false way: all the way from laziness to being unintelligent to stealing others’ belongings to taking drugs to cheating on a spouse, and excuses it by saying, “I gotta be me,” the truth is no, you don’t. You gotta definitely not be you, starting right now. “I gotta be true to myself.” Absolutely. That will solve the problem right now, because being true to yourself will clear all that junk out of your life for good. No one can be true to themselves and be false.

The New Testament records that Jesus Christ knew who he was, and was true to himself. Satan–who undoubtedly knows who he is but denies it at every turn–tried to tempt Jesus, after forty days of fasting, to become something other than who he was, but Jesus rebuffed him. He knew who he was and it was natural to be that, which precluded giving in to temptations to be something else. In being who he was, Jesus proved who Satan was. Satan thought he was going to do “a number” on Jesus, but Jesus did the number on Satan. That’s the way it works with people who know who they are.

Most politicians will do whatever is politically expedient. They either do not know who they are and what they stand for, or else who they are is a total waste of time, and what they stand for is themselves, only. They feel that they will have to compromise (mostly that is compromising who they are) to get anything. When people don’t know who they are, or when who they are is unworthy, or they try to prove to everyone else that they are something that they really are not, a horrible mess ensues. Governments are a real and living example of the inevitable problems that happen with people not knowing who they are.

This month, let us take a more significant look at the bigger pictures of our lives. Are we “being who we really are,” or are we “becoming who we should become?” To be who we really are is as easy as falling off a cliff. But, like falling off a cliff, it is always followed by the ups and downs of this life. To become what we really should become is, in many ways, quite the opposite. As a general rule, it is more difficult to do the right things, but doing the right things brings the heavenly rewards of a clean conscience and our growth in Christ-likeness.

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