The Age of Discovery

Katie ReisNovember 23, 2016The Nature of TruthFeatures

Artwork by Ellie Green

In high school, most everyone walks around trying to be someone they are not.

Almost everyone in high school is self-conscious. I am a student in an affluent public high school in an ideal suburban town where popularity is prized above most everything. Grades are extremely important, and sports perhaps even more so, but it is easy to forget what it means to have real-world problems. From a girl’s point of view, I often see other girls worrying about their bodies, their words, their clothes, their grades, and thousands of other things they agonize over without realizing it. I won’t deny that I am frequently insecure myself. Even though I recognize this, it’s not easy to stand against the crowd and risk being judged by others. In my experience, girls can form an aura of artificiality that slowly encircles them, becoming deep-rooted and ingrained. Often, it’s less about forming meaningful relationships with close friends that you genuinely enjoy being around, and more about building a foundation of friends that you want to associate with because they are suitably ranked in popularity or status among your clique members. You might say things about them behind your back to another friend, but you certainly don’t want to lose the infrastructure of friends so you wouldn’t criticize them even if you don’t like the way they are acting. After all, the more friends you have the more “likes” you will get on your profile picture on Facebook, right?

I am not yet able to relate to adulthood so, as a teenager, everything feels big and important and full of electricity, as if every decision made will have ramifications forever. From one moment to the next, you feel indomitable and vulnerable, insignificant and infinite. You want to recreate moments of invincibility. You never want to feel vulnerable or judged. And yet, almost everyone is simultaneously judging others and being judged. Sometimes life can seem like a mechanical repetition of SAT prep to homework to tests to sports to volunteer work — dull and monotonous — yet you are constantly fearing college applications and the future. Unlike the little kid who dreamed of being famous, I feel the same as everyone else. I don’t feel empowered or important.

Teenagers lie to each other because, in their own minds, it puts them in a position of power. They lie to their parents because it makes them feel rebellious. They gossip about others because it empowers them. They feel superior to the person they are judging. Holding a new piece of gossip turns one into a bearer of powerful knowledge that everyone wants to know. It makes teens feel important. Telling the truth in high school is usually left on the back burner. It’s intuitive to be a liar.

It’s ingrained within us to tell people what they want to hear or what will make us look better, or perhaps more altruistic or compassionate. Being honest with yourself and your friends about your true thoughts and impressions is not inherent to high school society. It’s easy to tell someone what he or she wants to hear, but it is much harder to tell the truth, or at least what you believe to be right.

According to Scottish philosopher David Hume human knowledge can only be based on experience. If we can’t experience everything in the universe, how can truth exist? It can’t. One’s beliefs or opinions are not the truth. However, by sticking to one’s core values and beliefs, it is possible to be true to oneself. This could be as simple as making conversation with someone who is ostracized by others.

Throughout our teen years, almost everyone goes through a time of experimentation. Still, some people hardly ever change while others try on different personas with nearly the same frequency that they try on clothes. Sometimes, spending time alone with a friend seems completely different from spending it with them when they are around other people. Are people who generally stay consistent with their beliefs and personality more true to themselves than people who do not? No. Everyone changes. No matter what you do, in a day, month, year, 10 years, you will change over and over again. This does not mean you are any less true to yourself. That identity changes as you react to people around you, take in your environment, experience pain and joy, turn thoughts over and over in your head, and a million other things that alter your perspective. Your identity is a combination of who you think you are and who other people perceive you to be.

Why are people in high school rarely ever comfortable with who they are? Everyone wants to “fit the look” and be liked and accepted, and some wear a superficial personality they hope will appeal to others in order to attain this. Ultimately, we realize that we are the only person we can make themselves comfortable and happy to live with; it’s important to accept yourself and not change to suit someone else’s idea. Maturation happens when the gap closes between the person you are privately, the person you are one-on-one, and the person you are in public. When the person you believe yourself to be aligns with the person others see, a kind of truth has been reached.

Katie Reis is a senior in high school. She enjoys running, painting, reading, and doing anything outdoors. She plans to pursue some sort of career in the humanities, as she especially loves history and Latin. Katie will be a freshman at Cornell University next fall.