One of Nelson Mandela’s quotes on “Our Deepest Fear” is oft quoted by people who are either striving to seek their own potential or need the reassurance that expressing themselves and their individual talents is acceptable in society. However, I’ve recently had a bone to pick with the quote; the issue isn’t with the quote itself, because I think it’s a marvelous encouragement, but it’s with the idea of the quote. As someone enamoured with the ambivalence of human thoughts, Mandela’s exhortation immediately caught my attention. Perhaps in Mandela’s day and experience, this quote would have made perfect sense and have been perfectly applicable to unlocking untapped potential within those familiar with the quote. However, modern society has become warped to the point where it is simply too difficult a task to “let our own light shine.” Some may scoff and call me cynical, but looking at it from an experiential point of view, how many times have we felt insecure about doing something outlandish yet totally self-expressive? It is not a natural tendency to feel insecurity; we should, as he said, manifest the glory of God within us, yet the shackles of society have prevailed over our individual freedom to express the gifts that God has endowed us with! In today’s world, the easiest way to succeed is with subtle tact. By neither showing too much of one’s talent nor too little, one can safely gain the connections cardinal to one’s intended goal.
For instance, if I were to make exhaustive use of my entire vocabulary in a piece of work, it would end up being more harmful than productive. Sure, one may make the case that it is a good way to flex my literary might as well as find more ways to improve on methods of employing overly complex diction, but it would most likely portray me as pretentious and snobbish in the eyes of the general audience. It sunders any chance of really connecting with the reader, no matter how relevant the message is to his life. And so I plod on, using whichever words seem correct at the moment that I’m writing and praying that I haven’t gone overboard. It is because of this tact spent on wording my thoughts that I have garnered praise (some of it fake, to be sure) for my writing ability. Yet I have not made full use of my potential; do I encourage my peers any less to attempt literary exploits of their own? It may be, in fact, the opposite when they realize that I am just an average person capable of orchestrating work after work with diligence and composure. There is no need for me to fill myself up with braggadocio and claim the heavens for myself in recognition of my own talent.
However, this is not to prevent anyone from declaring their works before the foundation of the universe. We each have our own brand of achievement and some of us were, indeed, born for that kind of stardom. If actors, rappers, and teachers didn’t have that firm confidence in their own achievement, who is to say that they would be as successful as they are now? Mandela was one of these bright lights, doing phenomenal works in the humanitarian vein. He was but one; we each have our own potential to live up to, our own gifts to utilize, our own passions to embrace, but how we approach it is the key to blossoming or wilting. There are cases where I do find it necessary to flaunt my persona and I can safely say that there are also instances where doing so led me down treacherous paths. Mandela had the right heart when saying these words because of his own life’s experience, but in a chaotic world where emphasis of individuality is met with either applause or distaste, I do believe tact, paired with the light within each of us that we do indeed fear, is our greatest ally. The world is capable of serving itself, having done so for many years without modern civilization’s hand wreaking havoc upon it. What truly makes the difference is how we serve the world with our words, our thoughts, and our lives. Playing small may not serve the world in some instances, but in other instances, playing small is just enough of a role to preserve the balance in life’s rotation.