‘It is impossible for all men to be moulded according to the same pattern. Every individual’s personality must be preserved. This world would be a dull place if it were otherwise.’ (Fr Aegidius Doolan, ‘Philosophy for the Layman’)
While feeling nervous before an important interview or an initial date with someone we really liked, many a wise mother has advised us to ‘just be yourself’. Feeling ‘at ease in your skin’ and being ‘comfortable in your own shoes’ are a joy to experience. All of us have tasted that experience where things just click, and the sailing is smooth. It is a pleasure interacting with people who are natural and at ease with themselves. It puts you and others at ease. Numerous ‘self-help’ books try to sell you the key to this ‘flow’ or smoothness in your life. They offer guides to finding your ‘true self’ or promise to help you to find your true calling. They all appeal to the inner restlessness in us that is still trying to figure out exactly who we are and what is our true calling. Inner restlessness is a major sign of our times and the self-help writers and book publishers are only too happy to keep offering the next new ‘solution’ for this profitable and ever-increasing market that is driven by anxiety. The more self-help books are published, the more restlessness there is in the world. We all want to ‘just be ourselves’. However, we do not need to pack our shelves full of self-help books to do so. We just need to get back to basics and figure out the truth of one fundamental question.
The solution to ‘just being yourself’ involves the exploration of the question, ‘What Am I?’ as you can not know how to be unless you know what you are. This is where a deep and accurate understanding of psychology can help.
‘What a man ought to do…will depend on what he has the power to do, which is the question for psychology… ‘When do we come?’ ‘Whither do we go? ‘In what shall consist our fulfilment?’ ‘At what must we aim for happiness?’…All these questions are contained in the master-question, ‘What am I?’ (‘Philosophy for the Layman’)
Exploring and answering this question is vital in one’s search for freedom and happiness. This is not an easy task by oneself, yet it is the essential starting point. We need time and space to explore this question and guidance in seeking the answers. Once we have assented to the answers, we can then cultivate our personality based on this understanding and ‘be ourselves’. While most Irish mothers don’t need a long university education to realise the truth in this advice, they also happen be in line with Professor of Philosophy Charles A. Dubray who, in his classic book, ‘Introductory Philosophy’, also encourages us in this endeavour:
‘To be a person is to emerge above the universal determinism of matter, to conquer and not be conquered, to possess oneself…To be oneself is to be one’s own master. Hence let your primary and chief endeavour be to develop in you good habits, good dispositions, and a good character. Always strive after what is worth your best effort. Ascertain the direction to be taken, and, when you know that your efforts are directed toward right and noble ideals, be strong, constant, and invincible. In all things and actions, be a personality, be yourself.’
The message really is that simple – direct your life in accordance with what is noble, good and true and ‘be yourself’. A life in accordance with truth ennobles and cultivates your unique personality. It is a life directed to overcoming those internal and external forces that encourage a hiding of your individuality and the goodness within you. ‘Conquering’ rather than being ‘conquered’ brings your true personality and individuality forth. A person living the truth and cultivating their personality is to be celebrated and encouraged. Attaching yourself and your mind to a transient belief system, like hedonism, materialism, rationalism, or to the latest trendy philosophical fad, only allows forces to mould you into what they want you to be. This is not freedom.
Knowing, attaching yourself to, and loving the truth frees you so you can be your true self.
‘Personality is the perfected form of the person; it is man’s destiny in its individual uniqueness. It is individuality in all its depth, breadth and totality. Every person has the task of perfecting and completing his own essence. It would be quite wrong to say that it is a matter of indifference whether or not someone does achieve this completion and perfection of his individuality. The achievement of his task…not only involves his happiness on earth; it is also upon this achievement that depends his capability to live up to the tasks God has given him to fulfil.’ (Dr. Willibald Demal, ‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’)
You know, even if you register it only slightly, that you want to be more free. We all have had moments of regret in our lives where we stayed quiet and hid rather than allow the goodness and truth in us to shine forth. Do not let the cynicism of the world and the forces working against you stop your attempts to break free. Strive for the good and the true. Endeavour to cultivate and express your individuality. As the Irish singer/songwriter, Luka Bloom, sings, ‘Don’t be afraid of the light that shines within you’.
This advice ‘just be yourself’ is an easy one to make and it sits comfortably with our common sense understanding about life. Figuring out what is good and true is the first step on this path. Exploring and answering the question, ‘what am I?’ is a vital step as well. Figuring out the answers here lays the foundations for freeing yourself. This can take time and support to do so, especially in the world in which we find ourselves today that offers so many flawed answers to these vital questions. If you are looking for an answer to these vital questions, blogs on this website Truth may help. I hope that they can help you in figuring out who you are meant to be and that you can then finally ‘just be yourself’.