by Camille Moffat
One of my favorite plays is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Not the actual version The Bard wrote, which happens to be too damned long. But the truncated version most of us have seen either on the stage or in a movie. British actor Kenneth Branagh directed and acted in his own production of Hamlet. Branagh being Branagh, opted to do the whole play. Like I said, the original version is too damned long. People couldn’t sit still that long 500 years ago at the Globe and they still can’t. I know when I watched it—with all its pomp and grandeur—I nearly slipped into a coma.
I can’t stand Branagh, anyhow. First of all, any man who ditches Emma Thompson for Helena Bonham Carter is, by definition, a jackass. Secondly, he has no lips. Never trust a man with no lips.
If you want to see a really exceptional production of Hamlet (and you should), I suggest the one with Mel Gibson. Now THAT’S art.
But, to get to the point, let us refer to the play. The scene I quote includes Laertes—the brother of Ophelia—and his father, Polonius, counselor to the king. Laertes is about to leave town for France. His father stops him to give the young man some sound advice. He has several tidbits of wisdom to impart, but the one that concerns this essay is the following:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst be false to any man.”
Simply put, be honest with yourself, and if you do, you can’t be dishonest with other people. Few of us can claim 100% personal honesty. I can’t, anyhow. But this is a lofty goal and one rightly pursued. I have found, over the years of studying our species, that the biggest liars I’ve known are the ones who are absolutely determined to lie to themselves. They even lie to themselves about the fact that they’re lying to themselves. And, if this goes on long enough, it is more than possible they will slip away on a raft, floating on an endless sea of deceit.
It has been my unpleasant experience to know a genuine psychopath. The real thing. Coming to grips with this reality was beyond difficult. It was agonizing. But here was a person who could lie with personal impunity—it troubled his conscience not at all—and shrug it away if he were found out. The reason it never troubled his conscience is, simply, because he doesn’t have one.
Very creepy for the rest of us who do have that inner voice of rebuke keeping us in line.
I have given my children two pieces of advice I deemed important: #1) The day you can litter without feeling bad about it will be the worst day of your life, because your conscience has stopped working properly and the next wrong will be worse. And #2) People who lie take the risk of evolving into people who believe their own lies.
I’ve known plenty of these people, too. Been related to more than a few.
Socrates warns us that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m not suggesting we emulate Socrates. The Athenians killed him for a reason. He was a pain in everyone’s ass. But he was right about the unexamined life not being worth living.
It’s important that we take time on a regular basis to examine our lives and, most especially, examine our lives and ourselves truthfully.
That’s not easy. In fact, it’s a discipline and it requires a great deal of courage and personal integrity. How honest can we be with ourselves? Do we have to tell ourselves little white lies here and there just to get by? Just to be able to live with ourselves?
Sometimes it happens. Sure, you’re a terrific spouse. LOOKING isn’t a crime.
Well, no it’s not. But you did more than look, didn’t you? You thought and imagined and desired. Also not crimes. We’re human beings and moral weakness is our lot. But don’t lie to yourself about it.
We get the wrong change at the store or at a restaurant. We got more than we should have. Not our problem, right? A cashier blundered and she or he can just deal with it. We didn’t make the mistake, right?
Of course, right. But it’s still stealing. Just be honest with yourself.
The time comes when every moral being should stop, seek a quiet place within himself (or herself) and seek truth. But not every “moral” being does. In fact, “immoral” beings are doggedly determined to do the exact opposite. The fewer they know of their own truths, the easier it is to live with themselves.
Who are you? Really? And I mean the ”you” no one else knows. The secret you. Are you honest with yourself?
Am I honest with myself? Mostly. I hope. More now than I have been. Less willing to hide my truths. This doesn’t mean I’m obligated to SHARE my faults with the whole world. This means I have to face them myself, and accept what’s there. What’s REALLY there. Not what I WISH were there.
People who routinely lie to other people also routinely lie to themselves.
But if we can learn—if we can be determined—to be honest first with ourselves, we’ll find that being honest with the other people in our lives will come naturally.
Know who you are. Examine your life, your soul, the reality of you. It’s imperative that we all do this and do it regularly, or face the unavoidable consequence of blurring the line between reality and fiction; between truth and deceit. Of either losing ourselves or finally finding ourselves.
A frightening task. But honesty truly is such a lonely word.
© Camille Moffat 2016. All written material on this website is fully © copyright protected by Camille Moffat, all rights reserved. No part of this website's written material may be copied, redistributed or remanufactured in partor in whole by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior written consent of Camille Moffat