“Trust yourself. Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Be yourself. Imitation is suicide.”
~ Marva Collins
Marva Delores Collins (1936-2015) was an American educator, born in Alabama, but spent most of her teaching career in Chicago. Concerned about the quality of education available to black students from impoverished families, Collins started the Westside Preparatory School in 1975 using her personal funds and ran it with her daughter for the next 30 years.
As a retired educator, I found myself identifying with her story, despite the fact that our circumstances were not similar. Throughout my career, I happened upon many educators who, like Collins, were deeply dedicated to the well-being of their students. It is from this perspective that I reflect upon her words. I am drawn to this short quote because it consists of six short, yet powerful exhortations – each in a separate sentence.
As a person in the autumn of my life, I know that living well is synonymous with continuous learning. I need to know facts that are new to me, skills that will serve me well and new understandings that will enhance the daily living that I do. Collins tells us, “Trust yourself.” Often, a lack of confidence will supply daunting obstacles in the path of new learning. Certainly, there are people who are my intellectual superior, but I need to trust enough in my abilities to set out to learn new things in a deliberate way. Establishing self-trust is a crucial first step.
“Think for yourself.” Sometimes people rely on other people’s thinking because they don’t trust their powers of analysis, and sometimes it stems from a desire to be in agreement with what appears as the current wisdom. Either way, it is a denial of self. No matter our level of education or type of life experience, we all have the ability to apply reason to any and all circumstances. If we are to grow beyond who and what we are at the moment, we need to think habitually for ourselves.
Next, Marva Collins exhorts us to, “act for yourself.” We make many choices of action every day. Are we choosing well? Do we attempt to please others and fit into the expectations of family and social group? If we analyse a situation and decide on a course of action based on our values and moral compass, then we act for ourselves. To act in this way is the freedom of choice. The flip side of this coin is the acceptance of the consequences of our choices. In other words, we must act in a way that is true to ourselves.
“Speak for yourself.” Do I seek the asylum of the majority by appearing to communicate on behalf of that group? Do I legitimise my ideas by identifying them with those held by others? If I do, I’m no better than a mindless fool who lacks the intestinal fortitude to speak my ideas and claim ownership of them. I need to shed my fear that I may become unpopular in the process. It is an essential part of personal growth.
As well, we are encouraged to, “be yourself.” To thine own self-be true. If I follow all of the preceding precepts, I will be myself. I need to trust who I am and respect the process of becoming. I will make mistakes. I may become mired in a rut that discourages personal growth. The path to becoming a better person is never without obstacles and setbacks. I need to be sure that I do not make the mistake of selling myself out.
Finally, Marva Collins shares this truth, ” Imitation is suicide.” If I spend my life sculpting myself into an imitation of the majority or the most popular or the most successful, then where can I be found? There are people in this world who are amassing fortunes by selling their wares based on the appeal of ‘imitation’. If I wish to be ‘cool’ or fit in, then I must buy the latest fashions and colours – or the latest technology. I would rather impress someone by who I am than by what I wear. My soul is the greatest of all treasures, and it must be nurtured as the unique entity that it was created to be.