What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is harder, because you will always find those who think they know is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
My whole life, it seems that I’ve been lurking in the umbra of fear and doubt because of what other people would think of me. I definitely had a happy childhood days, most of it were spent around other kids from the neighborhood. Playing hide-and-seek, balay-balay (play house), and other games filled those moments with ineffable laughter and joviality. When my family moved to San Jose, I was left with my sister every time my mom and dad left for work. My sister then became my ready blanket when my childish fears enveloped my imagination with eerie phantasm of ogres and witches perching on the kalachuchi tree outside our apartment, especially during midnight. Greater than this kind of fear, what pierced me most then was the fact that I never really had playmates to call my own. I was surrounded with people who were older than me, the nurturing kind who would shield me from troubles. I never had known trouble until I was eight. It seemed to me that I lived in a world far from what the normal kids would have to experience. And I wondered where this fear emanated from.
The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are wary to disappoint them.
In studying history, they say that the past is quite essential because it helps us determine how a certain event shapes the present and the future. It holds true similarly to people. Being rooted to the past helps us understand more of what we would become in the coming years. I waited. I confronted the demon that adumbrated my path as I struggle to move on. The years of shadowboxing left incessant blows that almost bruised my soul. Still, I wondered where this fear emanated from.
It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.
Self-effacement. In this present time, it has always been a challenge for each one of us to shroud ourselves behind the veil of humility. Of nothingness. Every time I received an outstanding award during elementary, I would refuse to attend the commencement exercise for one reason. I always knew my name would be the last one to be called. I hated to go up the stage last. Not until high school when I was forced to throw myself in the dingy race of climbing to the honor list. It felt good being on top. It felt good when people feel good seeing me on top. But what was there to see on top? Nothing. I may be strangled with accolades, and yet, these become empty praises, as ephemeral as the sampaguita buds that withered days after it adorned my neck.
There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all.
What of the titles? What of the praises? What of the positions? What of the power? What of the distinctions? Why would we chase after elevating ourselves among other people? What, just to prove that we are better than them?
Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right.
This lustful desire to gain recognition and to achieve something beyond our capability tend to snatch us from seeing and knowing the truth. Some people seek outside themselves. Worst, they look at the mirror and see a different reflection. Not of themselves but a feign image of their own whims and pretensions. Some people measure their worth through the diplomas they earn and the material possessions they acquire. When one is a teacher, he’d probably think that academic title defies merit. That the true passion and compassion do not satiate the students’ thirst to become a whole person which is far greater than feeding the mind with worldly knowledge. What good is there in knowledge and distinction when the return of such desires is nonchalance and arrogance?
A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.
I have been living in fear and doubt. And I finally realized that this fear and doubt emanate from the uncertainty of the future and the conformity to the panoptic kind of environment I live in. There is no utopia. And to eliminate these threats, I only need to look inside myself. I only need to trust myself.
(n.b. The texts in italics are taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”)