"The fact is that for most of us, it is hard work to become ourselves: those true selves we not only long to be, but actually are. It is in truth a religious endeavor, this becoming what we are meant to be. It is our life's sacred work, really, because it usually takes a lifetime full of fits and starts, of beginnings and endings, of successes and failures and wrong turns, to get anywhere close to where we want and need to be."
It reminded me straight away of another quotation, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, about God's calling for everyone, which was given to me when I started my ministry training:
"You must give up everything in order to gain everything. What must you give up? All that is not truly you; all that you have chosen without choosing and value without evaluating, accepting because of someone else's extrinsic judgement, rather than your own; all your self-doubt, that keeps you from trusting and loving yourself or other human beings. What will you gain? Only your own, true self; a self who is at peace, who is able to truly love and be loved, and who understands who and what [s]he is meant for. But you can be yourself only if you are no one else. You must give up 'their' approval, whoever 'they' are, and look to yourself for evaluation of success and failure, in terms of your own level of aspiration that is consistent with your values. Nothing is simpler and nothing is more difficult."
It's about having integrity, which I have written about before on this blog. Acting with integrity, being true to yourself, involves thinking for yourself. I love the Abraham Lincoln quotation: "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light that I have." This implies making a judgement about what you believe to be right and true, and then sticking to it, no matter what anyone else thinks. Take Jane Eyre as an example. When she discovers that her master, Mr. Rochester, has a wife still living, she has a hard choice to make. She was desperately in love with him, and wanted nothing more than to live with him and be his love, but she knew that this would be morally wrong; as she says "Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as these, when body and sould rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be." I admire her so much for this - she could so easily have followed her heart and stayed with her master. But she knew that is was the wrong thing to do "And there I plant my foot." To Jane, integrity meant self-respect, and following the dictates of her conscience in defiance of her wishes and desires.
Well that was in 1847. What about today? How can anyone behave with integrity, become their own true selves, in our complex modern society. To my mind, the answer is clear - the attempt must be made. Two politicians have died in recent years, Mo Mowlam and Robin Cook. Both were spoken of as having personal integrity. What does this mean in the wider context of our society? I believe that it means exactly what it always has - acting in accordance with your beliefs in what is right and proper, not matter what the personal cost. In Robin Cook's case, this meant resigning from his post of Foreign Secretary because he believed that the war against Iraq was an unjust one. In Mo Mowlam's case, it meant speaking out against the government when she believed it was doing the wrong thing. Personal integrity is not cheap - it means refusing to compromise when you are told to do something that you believe in your heart is wrong. It means following your principles, at whatever personal cost. It means putting what you know to be right about what you would like to happen, and above the approval of 'them'.
It is the surest way to become your true self that I know.