Achilles sacrificing to Zeus, from the Ambrosian Iliad
‘Just be yourself’. We’ve all been advised in this way, when we’re feeling nervous about something, or facing a new challenge. It’s worse than useless, as a piece of moral advice. It’s as futile as the teacher who tells her pupils to ‘use your own knowledge’. The teacher’s role is to impart knowledge that pupils did not previously have. It is also to instil self-discipline so that her pupils will not be stuck in the circular trap of ‘being themselves’.
The conceited, pompous Polonius offers this advice to his son Laertes as he returns to university: ‘To thine own self be true’. Having promoted such licence, he sends spies to check up on his son’s behaviour. That’s our situation. Fatally weakened by the widespread idea that freedom means following the whim of the moment, we are at once licenced to do whatever…
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