To Thine Own Self Be True

Re-post. Shakespeare and the Bible. Related?

This above all: to thine own self be true.

Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet 1.3.78

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

A friend was telling me earlier today about prospective career plans. A popular topic of discussion among my peers, because contrary to popular belief, students don’t know what to do with their lives at the end of secondary school**(see N.B.) But I’ll refrain, that’s a different subject.

When thinking of advice to give her, I thought of the first quote, but then… something didn’t feel right about it, and I was reminded of the second.

Two of my favourite inspirational quotations, by two of my favourite sources of literature. But it’s only recently that I’ve put them side by side… and how interesting they are indeed.

First, they both start with the superlative “above all.” (*cue song* #songforeverything) Basically, WHAT FOLLOWS IS REALLY REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT. IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT.

Second, the emphasis on one is very different from that of the other. Well, both can’t be true, can they? They can’t both be above all, one has to be higher, more important than the other. But which one? They both seem equally inspiring, it feels as though they should both be the best advice one could give, but at the same time (or at least to me), one ought to cancel the other too.

Okay I’ll get to the point now. “To thine own self be true.” Obviously, the emphasis is on the self. Me. But how do you be “true” to yourself? How do you do that? What does that mean? What does that look like?
See, ever since I read that, it seemed like something so deep, the kind of thing where you go “ooh, yeah, that’s good.” It’s also a great pick me up, but until I asked myself the above questions, I didn’t really know what it meant. This goes for a lot of things, by the way. Product of being challenged by your mentors… *ahem ahem… you know who you are.*

So how do you be true to yourself? Well who is yourself? That’s a huge question in itself, isn’t it? One that I will let you, dear reader, reflect on.

What does being true to yourself mean and look like? Does it mean amplifying who or what you already are? Is it avoiding everything you’re not? Is it trying to make yourself better, whatever that means?


And they’re all about me. You? The self. This is the world’s view. The self. We are so focused on it that there are compelling arguments that altruism doesn’t exist, that every act is egotistic, self-serving. Volunteering, well, some might say that oh it’s just something to put on their CV, or at the very least, to feel like a better person. Giving gifts, it’s to get gifts in return, in some shape or form, etc. (**these are all OPINIONS voiced in a philosophy class**)

So many times, you hear it’s all about success in school, in the workforce. It’s all about how much you have, in money, in the material, in the people you know, in how many people you know. You hear in the media, in counselling, wherever, be bigger, better, faster, happier.

And those aren’t bad things, striving for excellence is… an excellent thing to strive for. Things start getting tricky when your mind is consumed with itself. What can I do to be x, y, or z? Am I too a, b, or c? What if d, e, or f happens to me?

Again, those questions aren’t bad questions to ask, but when you get so caught up in the world with respect to you, without knowing it, your mind is in a rather self-centred mode. And you end up with more questions and less answers than what you started with.

Now. Let’s put that aside for a moment, shall we?

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Emphasis, is on one another. That is the most important thing: other people, and loving them. I also find it interesting that a reason follows the advice, to say why it’s the most important thing: love covers a multitude of sins.

Aside: In Hamlet, Polonius does say two lines later, “Thou canst not then be false to any man,” which could count as a reason I suppose, but I feel it was more to contrast the part about being true, showing that it’s important, as opposed to being an explicit argument that backs up the advice like it does in 1 Peter.

Well, why does Peter say all that? Why should love cover a multitude of sins? It’s not our love that covers a multitude of sins, it’s God’s. His love was, is, and always will be, the purest and most self-less. Christ died on the cross for our sins, out of love for us, and it is that sacrificial and unconditional love that covers our sins.

I used to find it really difficult to comprehend how self-less God’s love is. Surely, surely, He had something in it for Him. (After all, humanly speaking, there’s always a little something that’s in it for us, even if it’s just to feel good.) Glory, victory, something. But God is the most high. He already had glory, he was already praised and worshiped by the hosts of heaven, he doesn’t need our affection. God is the most high, he doesn’t need the triumph over death to declare victory, He is eternal and alive. He could have easily defeated the darkness without coming back for us.

But he chose not to.

He chose to GIVE UP the greatness He had in heaven to come down as an infant that depended on a young woman for everything. Up there, he had the power to FORGE STARS. But he chose to come here, where he would be rejected by an innkeeper, where an entire village cried for his crucifixion, where the very creatures he brought into existence would think Him as their inferior.

For what?

Nothing. He gave everything He had, His glory, His life, His soul, and gained nothing. The glory He gets, he already had, he didn’t gain it. The victory he has over death, he already had, he didn’t gain it. There is NOTHING He could have gained that he didn’t already have. He gained nothing. But He gained us. So what does that say about you?

But let’s take a look at Shakespeare again.

“Above all: to thine own self be true.” But… Who are you? Where is your identity?

If you are in Christ, you are His, and He is yours. You belong to Him because He bought you with a price, and He belongs to you because He gave Himself to and for You. He loved, loves and always will love you, which is why He says to love one another. He loves you so much that He wants his love to spill over through you because He is in you. There is joy in being loved, but there is greater joy in loving others I think (parents, you know what I mean.) Our love is imperfect, impure, and can be slightly self-serving, but can you even imagine God’s perfect, self-less love? That perfect love is fixed on us. On the receiving end, it feels pretty awesome… I say pass it on mates, there’s plenty to go around 🙂

In brief, brothers and sisters, to thine own self be true: love one another.


N.B. The part of the brain that regulates emotion, discipline and is responsible for permanently settling into what we would outwardly call maturity, is most active between 18-23… which is when we’re being bombarded with really important, potentially life-changing decisions. So bombarders: bear with us, we’re doing the best we can. From a neuroscientific perspective, we’re only just working out the kinks.


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