The Authentic Self: Facing the Person In The Mirror

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.

In beginning to read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I came across this quote. All through school I was told about this book, but never struck gold and read it. In being amazed at the quote above from the first chapter, I knew I had a winner. This would be an excellent read.

Of course, I havent read the book yet so I cant really unpack the quote I cited in the context of the plotline. However, I think this quote came right on time for me. The mere substance of the quote compels me to think about its relevance in all of our lives, especially my own.

In looking specifically at the quote, I believe it is true that we ask people questions that only we can answer. I believe this is one of the realizations that I have discovered about myself. I always ask people questions. Sure, there isnt anything wrong with this. However, when do you begin to trust your own answer? We have to trial and error to grow, right?

Recently, my father told me that at my age I will make decisions that arent the wisest and I should take more heed to what he tells me. Yes, I will agree to an extent. I think there is wisdom sometimes in listening to someone older than yourself. Nevertheless, wisdom doesnt always come with age. So, it becomes up to us to decide what is best for us. We can be advised all day and night, but it up to us to sort through the advice we are given. We are the authors to our own lives. One person’s experiences may not be true of yours.

The life we live is the life that we live. Yes, we all come from various situations and circumstances but we can definitely say that we have a say about our lives. Im not saying that living life is easy. It isnt. Life is hard and can be hard. I know all about it. Life is forever unraveling in a milliom different directions. Nonetheless, we have to trust ourselves in whatever decisions we choose to make.

A few months back, I was invited over a friend’s house to get my hair braided. As she was preparing dinner she told me how she was seeking her authentic self. She wanted to be herself, no strings attached. She told me about her trips to Philly and how the Muslim man’s beard, the Muslim woman’s abaya (long concealing dress) and niqab (face veil) was just a trend. It didnt neccessarily mean piety or righteousness. She insisted that one must also be righteous internally, no matter what one wears. She told me how she would be invited to all-women gatherings and these women would gather to simply gossip. As a mother of two small children, she told me that it is important to always strive for the authentic self. Never strive for anything less than your true self. This struck gold to me. In going back and forth in wearing the traditional dress of Muslim women, she openly told me that she is struggling. She wanted to do it for God and God alone and not for the sake of the community. I think many of us negotiate our personalities for the sake of our communities. So, is it worth it? Should we compromise ourselves for the community? Is this going against our authentic self? This is really important to me. When does a person remain an individual or negotiate it to fit-in with our communities?

I believe these are the biggest questions that I frequently ask myself. In this pursuit of trusting ourselves, we must maintain our authentic self. We must determine when we should either compromise our individuality for the collective. Maybe this issue isnt as simple as I have made it, but it is important to think about. These are questions that we have to ask and answer ourselves, as Ralph Ellison would say.

When do we begin trusting ourselves?

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