Seeing Ourselves

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

This Above All:  To Thine Own Self Be True


“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.”  This quotation from Wiilliam Shakespeare can be interpreted in a number of ways.  Can we as mere mortals really know the truth?  Which truth, and do we really know our own truths and how we came to our conclusions, our judgments and our feelings?

Truths can be shaded, they can be interpreted in many ways.  The truths in themselves can be very harmful to ourselves and others, if in truth they do exist.  We can follow the ten commandments as written and as interpreted.  They are shaded by our own experiences, the beliefs of our parents and our forebears.  If one were to steal from a very wealthy man and give the stolen goods to a starving man, is this a “mitzve” or a “nevere” (a blessing, a good deed, or a sin)?  If a woman has an illegitimate child, should she be shunned (stoned by biblical interpretation) or pitied and given the assistance to enable her to raise her child with love?  Should a man (or woman) keep the Schabbath as it is written in the good book, or should he go to work if there is no other possibility to support his wife and six children?  Should he fast on Yom Kippur or take his essential medications? 

Is there a truth, how is it seen, how do we know “the truth,” how do we interpret it, is it harmful or helpful to always tell the truth?  If the so called white lie helps the human being who is the recipient of the “skorim” (lie) and enables him to feel better about himself, should we tell him the “truth” come what may?  Will he be a better person if we praise him for a minor accomplishment, encouraging him to continue in any skill he has exhibited, or should we minimize it and have him feel diminished?

How do we see ourselves?  Much depends on our upbringing.  Were our parents loving, did they follow the “derach eretz” (the way of the land), were they conservative, did they tell THE TRUTH  or their interpretation of the same, were they educated, were they self deprecating, did we disagree with them, how much influence did they have as we grew into adulthood?  There is much more.

The truth as others see about us and the way we see ourselves as human beings and how we interpret ourselves and our feelings can differ. The Looking Glass Self by Cooley put forth the concept that we judge ourselves as others see us.  If another person sees you in a particular light, that can have a decided effect upon how you view yourself.  If someone makes grimaces when looking at you, you might wonder what it is that creates that response.

There are many concepts that touch upon beliefs, truths, half truths and otherwise.  “Wie du hinein rufst in den Wald so es dir entgegen schallt”  ( The way you call/shout into the forest will echo back to you).

There are innumerable beliefs and concepts in our lives, in our psyche, in our world, in our individual and group beliefs.  This is so even though our first teachers, mentors, disciplinarians, and much more are our parents.  There can be six siblings and all are unique and different.  Some follow in the tenets, the beliefs, their world and personal views of their mother and father, and some do not, depending on innumerable attributes.  One child may be very religious, eat only kosher, another will eat pork, some may be very close and loving to his or her elders and another will ignore them and apologize for their existence; another will marry an outer Mongolian whose culture is very different from his own, he may with that deed punish his parents, his putative family, enjoy the sexual freedom and excitement that the Mongolian had given him; perhaps he can reject his family in this way, and hold them responsible for their rejection of him, while a third will follow in his family's beliefs, actions, and religious views.  There is so much for which we cannot give an absolute and we can only look in amazement and conjure about why each human being behaves and reacts in a certain way.  What influences created a particular individual or group?  An individual may be shy but appear to be arrogant.  Another may bow when he meets a stranger.  Maybe his culture has taught him that.  What does one person have in common with others and how do they differ and why?  No one can exactly know the feelings of a holocaust survivor, how he views things, how his world, his “Weltanschauung” (view of the world) is different.  Does he believe Hashem (G’d) spared him, or does he believe six million were damned to die by Him, or that there is no deity?  The traumas that he or she has suffered are indescribable, and have an overwhelming influence upon his actions, upon his feelings, expressions, upon his being!

With all of the knowledge and lack thereof, we must remember not to judge others until we have “walked in their shoes,” looked at our feelings,  our backgrounds, our  experiences and “our truths!”


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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