The fourth part of love is seeing and being our true self. I say true self because we seem to be in love with comparing. We are either comparing ourselves to others wishing we were not ourselves or we are comparing others to others, wishing they were not themselves. The thing about comparing is that we are always comparing what we don’t know about others with what we do know about ourselves. The same could be said about comparing others to others. It is unfair to the self. I believe that each one of us has been given a unique true self that is beautiful in its own way. Much harm is done to this true self when we try to suppress, change, or stay unaware of it in others and ourselves. The essence of sin, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, is the alienation of the self from the self.
Fred Rogers said, “What matters most is what children feel about their uniqueness once they do begin to realize they are different from everyone else. How each one of us comes to feel about our individual uniqueness has a strong influence on how we feel about everyone’s uniqueness–whether we grow into adults who rejoice in the diversity of the world’s people or into adults who fear and resent that diversity.”
When we try to change from who we really are we become divided, and often end up very frustrated when things do not turn out as we planned. The same is true when we impose a different self on others. We often view them as defiant when they do not act the way we want them to. We are either not accepting who we or others really are. We do it because we think it’s the only way to be loved and accepted by others. People stuck on the self-love side are the ones that want others to change. People stuck on the other-love side of the spectrum want to change themselves. This is done to make sure that no one will inconvenience them or make them accept differences. To see people for whom they really are means that we have to work through any incompatibilities or choose to ditch them altogether. This reminds me of a story that M. Scott Peck shared in his first book, The Road Less Traveled. This story also works as an example of love being humble.
Peck shares how he was leading a couple’s group therapy session. He was shocked to hear one of the husbands proclaim that the “purpose and function” of his wife was to be, in essence, the 1950’s housewife. This struck Peck as very sexist and he wanted to know what the other members thought. Maybe their answers would show the husband how unreasonable he was being. One by one they each described their spouses as the holders of their happiness and well being. None of them saw their spouse as an individual with a purpose of their own. They were basically expecting their spouse to be an extension of their ego or purpose.
Peck told them he knew why they were all having marital problems. He warned them that as long as they all viewed their spouses in this way they would continue to have marital problems. Being quite confused and needing a little guidance, the group asked Peck to define the function and purpose of his wife. He stated, “The purpose and function of Lily is to grow to be the most of which she is capable, not for my benefit but for her own and to the glory of God.”
You see, we need to let people be who they truly are. We need to humbly encourage them to be who they need to be. At the same time we need to become who we truly are or the same unhappiness will follow us. A good example of this is my own story, during high school and the first two years of college. I was always being someone else in hopes of being liked. I was a wrestler, a country farm boy, conservative Christian, arrogantly virtuous, extroverted, and I tried to emulate the other aspects of my friends’ personalities that I thought was cool. None of it worked for me. I either failed or ended up very frustrated. Most of the time I was an emotional roller coaster. It was not until I started to discover who I really was and began to be content with myself that I became truly free. Free from expectations, frustrations, and depression. It was all self-imposed because I was trying too hard not to be myself. As the chorus goes to a song by the band Audioslave, “To be yourself is all that you can do.” How do we know if a trait or action is from our true self? If the fruits of its labor is love then it is our true self. If our actions are done out of fear then that is not our true self. This includes actions afflicted on others or ourselves. Actions done out of love come from the true self. The true self will not be fulfilled with anything but the truth. It’s the truth that will set you free.
As I have said before I had to discover my true self. Being our true self starts with knowing ourselves. I already mentioned a helpful tool to discover our talents with the book Now Discover Your Strengths. Here are a few more things to consider in our journey to help you discover your true self. I am going to state these as opposites, not that one is better than the other, but because a person is not usually both. However, there are always exceptions.
Male or female? (It is not always as obvious as one might think.)
Heterosexual or homosexual?
Introvert or extrovert?
Laid back or constantly on the go?
Organized or unorganized?
Literal thinker or abstract thinker?
Auditory learner or visual learner?
Type A personality or type B personality?
I could go on with more examples but you get the picture. Many people have made it their life work to delve into what makes us unique. Dr. Mel Levine has dedicated his work to showing us how we all learn differently. Dr. Howard Gardner has written about the multiple intelligences found in all individuals. Psychotherapist, Dr. Marti Laney, has taught about the differences between introverts and extroverts and how one is not better than the other. These are just a few examples of the large number of professors, doctors, psychologist, and researchers that are trying to understand why we act the way we do.
Another thing to consider in your journey is ethnicity and where you were born. Both play a huge role in how one interprets and interacts with the world. Just look at the history textbooks of the many different countries and you will see that major events in history are portrayed with different interpretations.
There is so much that can be discovered about our true self. We are unique and only we can be ourselves. All it takes is the courage to be our true self and not whom we wish we were or who others think we should be. This journey of self-discovery, once started is a life long process.
The other thing about all this self-discovery is that it can help us humbly observe others. As long as we never assume we know for sure the aspects of that person’s true self, then we can use our knowledge to humbly find ways to nurture their true selves. We can ask the same questions about others and humbly proceed from there. After a while we get a pretty good grasp on their true selves and what they need to be nurtured. Do not forget that the reason you are doing all this self-discovery is to also know how to humbly nurture your own true self. However, we need to have a balance between nurturing our own true selves and nurturing the true selves of others. That brings us to our fifth and last part of love.