Friday, 30 October 2009

To thine own self be true...if you can bear it.

It's amazing how far we go to be "nice" to each other in ways that compromise what's best for all concerned.  Here's a short tale of how we get it so wrong...

A couple of weeks ago I hired a contractor (let’s call him 'the man') to address a few niggling problems in my house and redecorate a couple of rooms.  A nice young lad ('the boy') arrived as part of the crew.  We got talking and it turned out he is actually a trained picture framer from a small Eastern European country who has come to Britain to find work.  Unfortunately he hasn't been able to find a job in his field.

One day the man came across the boy painting chairs (for peanuts) at an antique store.  He recognized his potential and decided to help him get on his feet by hiring him for double the money and finding him an apartment.  The boy was very grateful and tried his hardest to do a good job, but the trouble was (and is) he is a terrible decorator!

A few days ago the boy got a job offer at a posh framing gallery.  However, he feels indebted to the man for giving him his first break and can't bear to be unkind by telling him he has found a more suitable job.  The man is equally stuck, as he has recognized that the boy has no talent as a decorator, but can't bear to fire him, as he now feels responsible for him. They are both trapped in a vicious cycle of being 'nice' to each other rather than being truly kind to themselves.

When Shakespeare wrote, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" it wasn't just a hollow sentiment.  It is at once the simplest yet most complex task of being human.  But who are we if we never rise to the challenge of being true to ourselves?

Once, when facing some tough life decisions, a stranger struck up a conversation with me and said, as if reading my mind, "Our greatest challenge in life is to follow our own heart even if it means disappointing others."  I try to live by that creed, but often fall short, as it is deeply ingrained in my psyche and in our culture to be on guard against hurting others.  I wonder how different my life might be had I been braver and more honest with myself and with others?

Back to the man and the boy.  Can the boy bear to follow his heart into an appropriate job and risk disappointing the man?  Can the man risk disappointing the boy by releasing him from a job he is not cut out to do?  I will watch the drama unfold with bated breath.  My hope is that the heart will win, but experience tells me it could go either way.


  1. Maybe they will read your blog!

  2. Well, it is a difficult one. If you always live following your heart, you will get accused of being selfish. Like I often get told. :) even though I try my best to make friends happy, there will always be someone I will disappoint. You just can't win sometimes!

  3. Some time has passed since you posted this. Any news?
    Many mishaps come from miscommunication. There are so many thing we could avoid just by expressing what is going in our minds!

  4. Gabriela, thanks for all your comments. It' so nice to get other people's thoughts on the things I write about. So, about the two people in the story above, in the end I sort of cheated and had a chat with the man and the boy was set free to take the picture framing job. It didn't work out, and I ended up giving the boy a few odd jobs to do so he could earn a little money while he kept looking for work. A couple of months ago he got hired by the best known framing company in London and we remain friends. He and the man are still friends too, although the man has sort of dropped off the radar recently. He still has some jobs to finish up for me so I will call him soon - thanks for reminding me!