Another school year has started. This year’s freshmen class is finally making their appearance on campus. And thankfully so. As routines begin to start up, the “advice to freshmen” type articles are slowly finding their way off of my news feeds. I will not miss the cliche nature of these posts, but I will miss the reminder of one of their most frequently overused points: Be yourself.
Selfhood. What a strange thing. I would guess that many of us would say we know ourselves better than anyone else. After all, we spend more time with our self than with our friends and family. But, to really know oneself is not a very common or simple thing. For Dr. John Crosby, the first step to knowing one’s self is knowing that you are a person. Most fundamentally, this means understanding the person as a subject and object. The subjective component is that which is overemphasized in the modern world. Through it, I experience myself in my individuality. This includes how I uniquely perceive and interact with my environment. Then, there is the objective component, typically dreaded by the modern ear. Who wants to be seen as a mere object or known in a restrictedly universal way anyway? But, this objective selfhood is essential for Crosby.
The objective vision of selfhood is what allows me to be able to make conclusions about myself from my human nature. Particularly for our interest, it allows me to say that because I am human I have a consciousness and thus can make intentional acts that do indeed give and reveal my very self. Dr. Crosby says, “the ‘cause’ of the intentional act cannot remain hidden to the acting person” (1).
Why is this valuable to freshmen?
This is the very component of the person that allows you to give of yourself and begin to form new relationships. This ability for intentionality allows our subjective component to be more authentically present to ourselves and others (2). If I approached you with an outstretched hand to introduce myself, you would be receiving me in a much more authentic than if you did not meet me until we were sitting in the classroom and the professor forced us to share our name, year, and major. The mark of intentionality here shows that I am genuinely interested in you as an individual. In this intentional self-presence in introducing myself to you, we are free to act wholly as ourselves.
This objective side of personhood allows each person the capacity for transcendence. For Dr. Crosby, to see something in a transcendent light means to see it “against the background of this mysterious infinity” (3). As lofty as that sounds, it simply means that the objects of our intentional acts are thus illuminated by their being in objective reality. The person knows the value of their object apart from their own self. This means I can recognize the good of the other in a way that is not dependent on my own view of them. Their goodness transcends my own subjectivity since they have a value in the objective sense. In a daily living experience, this allows us to recognize goodness far beyond our own limitations. In perceiving goodness it can then become the object of our intentional acts and thus we can strive towards it.
Once again, this great capacity of the soul may seem irrelevant in regards to our beloved and often wandering and lost freshmen. But, this capacity of transcendence coupled with a capacity for intentional acts gives persons an opportunity to engage in very beautiful relationships. The relationships that can be fostered from acting out of this view of the person are not those that are just happening for convenience or by coincidence. These relationships have the capacity to be truly personal and thus reach into something of that mysterious, transcendent infinity.
In being oneself, our relationships no longer have to be narrowly limited into our own subjective likings and dislikings. Rather, our relationships gain the ability to be founded and formed upon things with transcendent value: namely truth, beauty, goodness. These relationships become avenues to the person reaching the fullness of their humanity. By reaching into what is beyond themselves in light of the other, these friendships can become virtuous in the truest sense.
As great as this sounds, we have to be free to not be afraid of being seen as “judgy”. To the modern ear, anytime correction or analysis of behavior enters into relationships, it is automatically deemed as judgmental. According to Dr. Crosby, “If others were always only understanding me as I understand myself, avoiding on principle any critical assessment of me--- presumably so as to be ‘non-judgmental’ in relation to me--- then they would leave me confined within my natural limits and would do nothing towards helping me to surpass these limits and to surpass myself” (4). Since we are able to intentionally choose another, we also have the capacity to choose the person, beyond their behavior and attitudes. This allows for criticism to be a loving matter of friendship and not an awkward tribunal like encounter. The freedom to reach beyond the immediate feelings to be critically seen in terms of one’s objective capacity for goodness is not easy to reach but can be aided by the comfort of authentic friendship.
While this view of the person is certainly not very common among today’s culture, it is a possibility that is left wide open, especially to freshmen. The joy of new relationships allows for a fresh start. Friendships can speak of what is eternal if we allow them to be penetrated by the light of truth that shows our fulfillment in what is virtuous. Dr. Crosby says,
“We can understand how it is that we serve as the ‘custodians’ of the truth about each other as persons and mediate to each other the truth about ourselves only if we recognize the legitimate way in which we can objectify each other” (5).
If we allow ourselves to intentionally act in friendships guided by a transcendent light, an even greater self is to follow: a self that is always in pursuit of what is wholly true, good, and beautiful. So please, be yourself.
(1) Crosby, The Selfhood of the Human Person, 149
(2) Ibid. 151
(3) Ibid. 164
(4) Ibid. 154
(5) Ibid. 157