Self-expression or Self-assertion?

Jiddu Krishnamurti

I picked a book off my bookshelf this morning, a collection of writings and talks by J. Krishnamurti, a late 19th, early 20th century philosopher/mystic/teacher. Interestingly, Krishnamurti’s origins are in theosophy, a western occultist religious movement that he, as a boy, was groomed as a sort of messiah for, and which he grew to reject (drama!), along with all other sectarian “right paths” to the truth. In his own words: 

“I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.” 

So now you know a little about this guy.  

Self-expression or self-assertion?

Anyway, the Krishnamurti book appeared in my peripheral vision and I grabbed it off the shelf and opened it to a random page. What I found was this, for our consideration: 

“When there is no self-knowledge, self-expression becomes self-assertion, with all its aggressive and ambitious conflicts.”  


How it shows up for me

I can see this in myself. When I am most insecure, with all the attendant doubts, I’m also liable to be the most aggressively confident, a skill that I perfected in business school. I think we call this “compensation”.  

This confession reminds me of a sweet book I read a million years ago called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  One thing that’s stuck with me from The Happiness Project is a story the author tells about herself. She talks about how, because she wanted to come off as smart and all, she would criticize things when chatting people up.   

That new hot restaurant? Yes, it was fine, but their fish was too salty and I think the chef made a mistake putting gnocchi on the menu. That book climbing the bestseller list? I don’t know why people like it so much. I thought the tone was preachy and the plot banal.  

I can see self-expression as self-assertion here. And I can see this self-assertion as ambition towards social standing. In an act of self-knowledge, Gretchen recognized her habit, identified a possible cause, and set herself the task to be more positive in her opinions (as part of her happiness project, get it?). This inspired me and I try to do the same, but still I sometimes find myself reaching for criticisms when I want to come off as more intellectually refined. It’s snobby, isn’t it? And it gets in my way of authentic and creative self-expression. 

“When there is no self-knowledge, self-expression becomes self-assertion, with all its aggressive and ambitious conflicts.” 

What about for you?

Does this quote, this idea, bring up anything in the realm of self-knowledge for you? What might self-expression be, if not self-assertion?