Essences Vs. Appearances

Who are you? No, I mean, who are you really? Are you the labels that may, over the years, have been ascribed to you – first by your environment, and then, also by you?

When are you most ‘real’? And who knows the ‘real you’ best?

Are you the ‘realest you’ when you are at home, alone, when the rest of the world seems to have fallen asleep? Are you whom the people you live with, insist that you are? Or, do the ones you actively choose to love, and to maintain relationships with – your closest friends, for example – are they the ones who know ‘you’ best?

The ‘true’ ‘you’. By definition: the version of ‘you’ that is in accordance with fact, with reality. But, the thing is, we each perceive ‘reality’ through our own eyes, processed via our own individual minds. We are all, for various reasons, in our own unique ways, crucially unreliable perceivers and narrators.

In a world that does not (in theory) consider God, we must concede to the fact that all realities are subjectively determined. Then, the most popular, the most popularly recurring, versions of reality are decided as being ‘truth’. The sky is ‘blue’. But some cannot see the colour ‘blue’. It does not exist for them; they might instead insist that the sky is always grey. But we take the most popular view – that which tells us that the sky is blue – and we take this as being ‘true’ [points for rhyming?]

Likewise, we say that people with abnormal psychological conditions – say, those who are prone to seeing what we term as being ‘hallucinations’ – as being detached from ‘reality’. But, see, this is a ‘reality’ that is intersubjectively decided, an implicitly democratised ‘truth’.

What if things had been different, then? What if the world had been populated mostly by people who could not see ‘blue’, and who insisted that the sky is perpetually grey, even on cloudless days? What if there had been seven billion of these grey-for-blue-seers, and only one person who saw the sky as being ‘blue’? Would the latter’s view be true, or would this person become abnormal, in our eyes, as a result of circumstance? Maybe we would come to say that he suffers from some sort of adverse ophthalmological condition.

Mutatis mutandis for the example with the psychological abnormality: what if we all started seeing ‘hallucinations’, all except for one person? Statistically, this one person would become the abnormality. Reality, when God is not considered, is simply that which most of us see, and which we can implicitly, strongly, collectively agree on.

So, back to truths about people: who knows ‘you’ [best]? Is the ‘realest’ version of you the one that the majority of people who know you are known to tell and retell? In a world that does not consider God, there is no other way to arrive at a truth. There are only human eyes, human minds, human perception (which are, by nature, limited, prone to error, etc.) – and there are only, from these, a series of popularly-decided convictions.

Where ‘truths’ are only decided and determined by the people, there is allowed much room for biases – a whole plethora of them, actually. A person’s vices may be seen as being virtues, as a simple result of the environment they situationally find themselves in, and vice versa for vices with virtues. You may find your ‘likability’, among other things, shifting drastically, based on changes in the people you find yourself surrounded by.

And if we say that people are the most ‘real’ when they are alone… well, this necessitates our looking-over-the-fact that we are who we are in relation to other people. Humankind: an intrinsically social, eusocial, species. Some people are more extroverted than others, though. Some people rely more on others, for their sense of self-identity. And our personalities are all made up of varying personas – which emerge and hide and develop in light of (social) circumstance. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

[It is in our nature to care about what others think ⁠— in particular, we will naturally seek validation and approval from those whom we love and respect, and from those whom we want to love and respect us. This is okay. But we cannot lose sight of the objective… that is, Objectivity. We must care about things like our place in society, and about our reputations and such, in decent measure. But once we have what is necessary, from this, I think we need to step back and remember how crucial moderation and balances are…]

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It

All these facts, together, do beg some highly pressing questions, for us. Is there an ‘essence’ of truth, to any of us: one that is undeniable, one that does not change based on all such demographic considerations? We do all find ourselves changing much, over time, yes, but at any given moment, is there some sort of a solid and discoverable ‘truth’ to us? Might it be a thing of averages – between everything you say about yourself, combined with what your loved ones may say, and with a pinch of what those who might dislike you say of you?

We each see others through ourselves. We are known to be unfair perceivers and judges; to be given to projecting; to be given to irrationality, and to heightened emotions that may ‘warp’ our views of people. [Well, is there even an objective ‘truth’ there, to warp, to begin with?!]

Objectivity fails to be a reality, where one does not consider God. God’s view is the only objective one; holistic, just, all-knowing. So the ultimate ‘truth’ of you is whom God knows you to be. And as He tells us, He judges us by our intentions – that which is inward and private, the stuff of the heart. It matters not, to God, if you are a prince, or if you are a pauper. These are all things that concern appearances, in the grander scheme of things. It does not matter how many people approve of you, nor the opposite: these are all mere appearance-based considerations. God knows your essence, though, even if every other man alive rejects the things that are objectively true, of you. And you certainly have much control over who you are: you regulate your thoughts, generate intentions, allow them to translate into behaviour.

On an exclusively human level, maybe it is true that the closest one can get to the ‘truth’ of oneself is by reviewing what one does. “You are what you repeatedly do”. Of course, even these considerations can be tainted by things like illnesses, which can hinder the ability you have, with which to do certain things. Ultimately, your intentions are what count the most.

God knows who you are: what you have begun with, the decisions you have made, in light of it all. You are the state of your heart, and this state is determined by factors that concern intentionality: decision-making, your pursuits of virtuous activities, what you do, and why. 

God’s Truths are the only real ones – even if every person alive comes to disagree with them. So why chase the positive regards of fellow men in such ways? Just like you, you see, they are all biased, flawed, and altogether unreliable, when it comes to matters of Truth.

So trust your Creator; fear and serve Him, and Him alone. His Word is objectively True, immortal, while the words of men are finite, limited, attempts at truth… attempted by all these minds that each find themselves affected by various half-truths, in all of these similar time-worn ways.

Also: I think it is very important for us to pay attention to whom we are with, when we feel our best – not necessarily the most euphoric, all the time, but the most unified, comfortable in ourselves. We need not feel anxious about filtering ourselves too much, before them, and nor are we overly anxious about impressing them. They just feel like… home, somehow. They care for us, and for our growth. The best of our companions are the ones who bring out the best in us; in our character, and on a spiritual level, first and foremost. You may look into their eyes, and see the best of you, reflected back.

These people are the ones that, I think, are most worth holding onto, most worth deeply investing our time and energy into our relationships with. 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

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