Today is November 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you honest with yourself?” American author Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”
Arriving at this conviction Emerson is referring to requires an honesty with one’s self. Accepting that ‘envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide, and that one must till the ground upon which they are given” requires a deep awareness of one’s self.
One such example comes from baseball legend Stan Musial. Towards the end of his career, Musial, one of the greatest baseball players ever, had his worst season as a professional, hitting seventy-six points below his career average. Musial then went to the general manager of his team and asked for a twenty-per-cent pay cut from his salary of a hundred thousand dollars. When prompted as to why he did that Musial simply responded: “There wasn’t anything noble about it. I had a lousy year. I didn’t deserve the money.”
This theme of being honest with yourself is found throughout history by those who figured out a way to navigate the chaos. For example, Nelson Mandala said: “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
But being honest with yourself is hard work. As George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones noted: “Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” If that is true for you then perhaps another question to ask in today’s reflection is ‘why do you find it difficult to be honest with yourself?’
Ludwig Wittgenstein spent a lifetime working on facing the truth and being honest with himself. Regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, Wittgenstein, according to Jonathan Beale in "Wittgenstein's Confession," a New York Times article from September 18, 2018, “was by most accounts a deeply sincere and unsparingly self-critical man who spent much of his life in a struggle with self-transformation.”
Echoing sentiment that others before and after proclaimed, Wittgenstein wrote in 1938 “Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.” Beale wrote that Wittgenstein’s “vision of the authentic self is perhaps always beyond reach, like the exemplars of authenticity with which he was familiar through the writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Authenticity throughout the history of philosophy is often conceived of as an ideal to which we should aspire, but that doesn’t prevent it being a useful means for self-improvement.”
As you go about your daily grind today, reflect upon the role of authenticity and consider asking how often are you honest with yourself?