What is true?

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It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear. Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?

--Langston Hughes, "Theme for English B"

First let me say that I loved this poem, especially the stanza I quoted above. I know exactly what Hughes means when he says "It's not easy to know what is true for you or me/ at twenty-two..." I'm not sure people ever figure out what's really "true." We think we do, but there's a very fine line between what is true and what we believe to be true. 

"...But I guess I'm what/ I feel and see and hear..." This line's pretty strong for me too. I don't think we really understand just how much our surroundings influence us. Our environment--the people we grow up around, the things we hear as children, all of it has a major impact on who we become when we grow older. I remember reading somewhere in high school about what would happen if two identical twins were raised in entirely different environments. Even though they looked alike, would they have any other similarities? I doubt it. But I don't think that's a bad thing. It just shows how much individuality we really have in this world. 

9 Comments

Brooke Kuehn said:

When i first read this i didnt catch the reference to being twenty two. Just reading that helps me relate to the poem. I think sometimes we feel like we know so much and we want to believe we are right, but we still have so much to learn. I also blogged about how our surroundings influence us. That is very interesting about the identical twin study. I bet they would turn out very very different.

Dave said:

It's interesting that you picked up on the whole idea of our surroundings defining us in the long-term like that. I hadn't really considered it like that. Though I didn't blog about it, I'd read it as more immediate. I was thinking about how where we are at the moment impacts who were are right then. I'm significantly different outside of class, and honestly, what class I'm in at the time, and who is in it with me slightly impacts what and how I'm thinking. As Hughes suggested, everyone is a part of us.

Carissa Altizer said:

I didn't really come to terms with how much my environment affected me until I moved away from Bedford, my hometown, to Seton Hill. My hometown is only an hour and a half away, but the distance was enough. For the first time, I had enough independence and space from where I grew up to question my own personal beliefs. I made an effort to explored both sides of political debates, and I'm still in the process of visiting different churches.

It has been a learning experience, and I have had some very difficult conversations with my family about my personal decisions to think differently about situations. I know that everybody says you learn and grow the most in your college years, and I feel like I'm walking proof of that stereotype. During my freshman year, I had a difficult time going home to see friends and family because I wasn't sure if I accepted the changes in myself, and I questioned how they would react.

Jessie, the quote you picked out is the one that I reread when I read Themes for English B because his words felt very true and honest. If I could change the words around a little...

Bedford, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me talk on this page.
(I hear Seton Hill, too.) Me--who?

Well, it doesn't sound nearly as poetic, but you understand.

Aja Hannah said:

Carissa, I can relate. Though it wasn't travel that prompted me to look further, I did have a similar learning experience. (Or I guess I still am.) It's this effort to explore that a lot of people need, but they have to do it themselves to find their "truth" and once they find it and develop it their opinions are not only informed, but personal and (to me) worth more.

This is a great goal that education has, but sadly it doesn't reach a lot of people even those in college. I also recently went home to talk to friends and family and brought some of my new ideas to share. A lot of them weren't willing to even listen.

Josie Rush said:

As Dave reiterated, everyone is a part of us. It was interesting to see Hughes put this in such an honest way, saying something along the lines of, "There are times you don't want to be a part of me/ Nor do I often want to be a part of you." How true. There are times when the people that we're surrounded by would not be our first choice of acquaintices, but, like it or not, these people are a part of us, too. Hughes phrases this for-better-or-worse-unity perfectly.
Jessie, I've also heard of the study with the twins, and while they may have a few similar quirks, they probably would be very, very different. I maintain that most of the behavorial similarities in siblings come from the amount of time they spend around each other. Yet they'd still be a part of each other. As you said, it's possible to be united individuals.

Dave said:

I really try to avoid letting my environment impact me too much, at least not permanently. I mostly accomplish this by leaving, as soon as I catch myself getting too comfortable.
Oddly, the result tends to be that environments impact me to a great degree temporarily. This is even beyond the altering of my vocabulary to suite my audience (A good percentage of my friends ask too many questions, if my speech is too verbose. Likewise, most teachers prefer it if I don't call them "dude.")
There are words and phrases that simply leave my vocabulary in certain areas, and return in others. I catch myself saying "y'all" within about a day everytime I visit friends in Texas, but it's usually gone about half-way through Oklahoma. I toss westernized Arabic phrases into conversation when talking to people I knew in Saudi, and just the other day I caught myself using the word "whenever" to describe a non-recuring situation, where "when" would have been appropriate...I can be reasonably safe to assume that'll drop from my vernacular as soon as I leave western PA.

While I guess language is only one small part of who we are, I think as an example, it illustrates how subconsciously, our enviroment has a profound impact on us. It's just a lot easier to specifically recognize, as I can't say with certainty what sort of ideas and beliefs I picked up through out all the running around.

Jessie Author Profile Page said:

Aja and Carissa, I wish I could say I've had the experience that you've had since you left home for college, but I still live at home, so I really feel like I'm missing out in a big way. I'm not saying that I haven't turned into my own person since I started college, but it's still really hard for me because I'm constantly being influenced by my parents and what they believe in.
Dave, I wish I could say that my environment hasn't affected me, but I'd be lying. More than anything, I think that my education shaped me into the person I am today. I think your point about how each situation influences us as well is strong. I never really thought of it that way. Little things that happen in our lives really do leave lasting impressions, like illness and stuff like that. As for "everyone is a part of us," I don't think anything could be truer than that. But, as far as I'm concerned, that fits into the whole environment thing, don't you think? Because the people around us and that are a part of us are in our environment.

Jessie: I loved the lines you quoted. They really touched me, too. And about the twin studies: In my intro psych class last year, we discussed them briefly and it was interesting because each set of twins had differing levels of similarities. One set had the same job, the same favorites (food, drink, music, etc), and other similarities I can't remember. Others, however, were only similar in appearance. It really varies from person to person.

Dave: Really interesting point about the people around you inspiring the way you think. I find myself thinking differently when I'm with my brother than I do when I'm with my peers at school, and it varies with each person.

Carissa: I definitely know what you mean. I feel like I'm still opening myself up to new ideas and perspectives now, and it's very enlightening. I'm learning more about what I stand for and what I want in life, and that is totally invigorating, but completely terrifying at the same time. I understand what Hughes is saying here.

And just for fun, a video this discussion reminded me of. Yes, it's from Lion King II... don't judge :P

Jessie Author Profile Page said:

Karyssa, that video really made my day! It takes me back...I love Disney, especially the Lion King...on a more scholarly note, Thanks for the information on the twin study. I remember learning about it when I was a Senior in high school in my Intro to Psych class too, but I couldn't remember the specifics. And I definitely see where you and Dave are coming with about acting differently depending on my surroundings...I admit that when I'm around my parents I act a lot differently than when I'm in school or with my friends.

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