Neil Thompson’s Lesson for Living – To thine own self be true

The idea that we should be true to ourselves has a long and honourable history, and also has much to commend it. However, much depends on how it is interpreted. A very common interpretation is that it involves being clear what your ‘true’ self is and then acting in accordance with that. This entails digging deep into yourself to find out what your ‘true’ or real self is.

This is highly problematic, as it is based on an oversimplified understanding of what it means to have a ‘self’. The technical term for this is ‘essentialism’, because it is based on the false idea that everyone has a fixed ‘essence’, an unchanging underlying personality or identity. This is what is seen as a ‘true self’ – the ‘real me’, as it were.

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