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On the True Self

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Do a web search on “true self” or “finding your true self” and what you will see are lots of articles with the word “myth” in the title. No, the search results are not lots of myths about people finding their true selves. Rather, the results are about how “the true self” is a myth.

It’s clear, from a scientific viewpoint, that there is no such thing as a true self; yet, in our folk psychology, the self looms large, especially the “true” one, whatever that is. So, I have to conclude that, though the true self is a myth, it is a myth that adds something to our lives. What is the value-added?

Isn’t it interesting, for example, that folk psychology tends to point to a person’s “true self” as good, ignoring the possibility that the true self is actually bad. Even evil?

For example, when someone who is addicted begins to fight an addiction, we say that the person is returning to their true selves. We don’t tend to consider the opposite — when someone is using drugs heavily — as expressing a true self.

So, in our folk psychology, a true self is a moral self; healthy self; a striving self; a communally agreeable self.

In addition, studies indicate that our folk psychology also teaches us that everyone has a moral core of goodness. Those we know. And those we don’t know. Those in our group. And those not within our group.

So, it appears that even though the true self is a fiction, assuming that their is a true self is a valuable fiction.*

After all, very few of us agree with the British curmudgeon Quintin Crisp, when he said, “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”

Don’t we hear that as cynically humorous, yet we know instinctively that such a sentiment is physically and psychologically dangerous for anyone to have? Rather than accepting failure, we want for ourselves and others that we strive for that . . . true self. You know, the good one!

As we consider those New Year Resolutions, it is wise to first think a bit about what we are resolving to do. No, there is no true self to find. There is, however, a more healthy you who has been right there all along.

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