letter #019 | dear younger me: sapere aude. (dare to know.)

sapere aude.
(dare to know.)

Letter #019

September 30, 2023

dear younger me,

The first class I took in college was called Core I: Enduring Questions of Humanity. One of the first readings in that course was an essay called, “What Is Enlightenment?” by 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

In the 9 years since I first read that essay, two lines have persisted in my mind...

in today's letter, we'll explore:

  • what is enlightenment? daring to know.
  • thoughts on having a tough week
  • why ignorance is not always bliss
  • untitled honesty
  • sometimes it's just hard and that's okay.
  • "i'll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear." ~nina simone
  • this week's ✨ glimmer gallery ✨

what is enlightenment?
daring to know.

"Enlightenment is man's release from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is man's inability to make use of his understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere aude! "Have courage to use your own understanding!" —that is the motto of enlightenment."

Kant goes on to give examples of this ‘immaturity,’ of not being able to lean on one’s own understanding. Such examples include leaning on "a book which [tells me what to think], a pastor who has [a] conscience for me, and a doctor who will judge my diet for me."

Kant continues on to express how a lot of people don’t even realize they’re held in this sort of mental and intellectual bondage, and how it can be difficult to “work [oneself] out of the immaturity that has all but become [one’s] nature.” He talks about the difficulty of becoming "free." Leaning on the rules and laws laid out by others, and following the path that people have set before you and walked for generations before, is all easier than confronting and going against the status quo.

What often holds people back is not just fear of change, but fear of isolation. Of standing independently (see: alone) with one’s beliefs.

Many of us, myself included in some ways, would much prefer to continue to stay close (in some ways, shackled) to the lives paved out for us by others rather than follow our own understanding and walk a different path into uncharted territory.

I always find it fascinating that very few of our problems and experiences are really…new. People were still wrestling with the same issues (in different contexts) nearly 250 years ago when this essay was written and before that, too.

on having a tough week.

I don’t want to use blanket statements and broad assumptions, so I’ll speak personally here:

Candidly speaking, this week kicked the shit out of me. It was just…tough, and very emotionally intense.

So I didn’t want to write a letter under the guise that things are always great. Is there always something to be grateful for? Absolutely. But sometimes, things are just…hard.

I realized through a few experiences this week, how difficult it is for me to follow my own understanding. These experiences helped me see how much I still live in fear of not just others’ opinions, but of their approval or disapproval, of who I am and what I do.

why ignorance is not always bliss.

There was a very personally significant opportunity and decision I wanted to make that became available during a time when I had already planned something with someone else.

But, I have been irrationally hesitant and nervous to hold a conversation about making the necessary schedule change to accommodate the personally significant event I'd rather attend.

This experience really frustrated me because it showed me how much I was still tethered to this desire of not disappointing, of not disturbing the status quo, and of not upsetting, even when it’s at the expense of myself and things that hold deep significance to me.

"This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!"

There are a lot of things I feared in regard to holding what could very well be a difficult conversation with this person about this seemingly small change. Will this person stop speaking to me again because of my choice? How would another prolonged absence from them affect me this time around? Will those effects bleed into and affect our other mutual relationships as well?”

The part of the enlightenment quote I like the most is when it points out that our immaturity is “self-imposed,” and not due to a lack of understanding (of what you truly want), but due instead to a lack of resolve (or firm decision), and courage.

Sapere aude translates to “Dare to know” and I don’t know, man, it just seems like sometimes (a lot of times 🫣), it feels safer to just not know...what could happen if you chose the uneasy path. There is a reason the whole “ignorance is bliss” quote became a cliché!

And while it seems like doing what we've always done is the easier option, I think, in most instances, that it’s not the best long-term strategy for living a fulfilling life.

In the case of this situation, if I were to just reschedule my personally significant event for fear of not upsetting someone else, if I make that choice, how does that affect my own courage? My own trust in myself to follow what I truly want?

It wouldn't bode well. And beyond that, I’d say it'd actually erode the trust and courage I have in following through with what I truly want.

untitled honesty.

Sometimes I feel a bit unsettled, especially when I have to talk about myself in a business or professional setting because I feel like people observe all of these external things about me (where I grew up, my businesses, scholarship, etc.) and proceed to place me on this sort of ‘pedestal,’ of being this “exceptional” person. I don’t always like that title because, at the end of the day, I’m still a person.

For one, I feel like that kind of title and labeling leaves little room for making mistakes and two, I feel like it washes away some of my humanity to others.

If I am considered by you to be “exceptional,” “extraordinary,” or “different,” how can we relate to one another? If you assume we’re on these totally different levels/spheres/planes of living, and I am placed into this "other" category, I worry that it creates a barrier between forming true connections with others.

My main issue with these "connection barriers" is connected to my own recognition of how utterly freaking lost I feel sometimes trying to navigate my life and its experiences. I deal with fear a lot, I deal with self-doubt and temptation, and I cry on a weekly basis.

Also, if I’m being honest, sometimes I feel like the external success I’ve experienced in life so far, has in some part, was borne out of feeling like I had to prove myself to others, or from operating against the way I thought about myself at my core.

I wonder sometimes if I would feel as much of an urge to be as ambitious as I am, and to go after as much as I do, if I felt wholly secure, loved, and safe enough just being who I am, in my most ‘unachieving’ and unassuming state.

sometimes it's just hard and that's okay.

I know this has been a bit of a different type of letter today.

A part of me wanted to rebel a bit against the super-positive, always optimistic tone that these letters tend to take on and just honestly let you know that sometimes, it’s just hard and that’s okay. If you’re in the trenches and it feels like you’re barely treading water sometimes, it’s okay. I do too.

As my gratitude practice entered my life at the end of last year and I started sharing about it with people in person and online, I think a part of me felt pressured to always look on the bright side of things and be encouraging and positive.

But what’s existed much longer than this gratitude practice is the issue I have with not showing up as authentically as I can for where I’m at at the time.

Yes, I believe it’s great to practice gratitude—tomorrow will be my 180th day of writing in my gratitude journal since December '22—and I do think gratitude journaling can help a lot.

But I think what also helps is a sense of empathy, of being able to reach a hand out or give somebody a hug and just be like, “Yo, I know shit sucks right now, but I’ma be right here with you til it doesn’t anymore.”

I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to hear something like that and just get a nice hug this week.

If you were looking for something like that this week, too, allow me to take a moment to tell us both that:

“Things are gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay. And your life is gonna be okay. And it’s really all right that things don’t feel ‘up’ right now. Maybe they haven’t for a while now and you’re wondering when or if they ever will. While I can’t speak to that last part definitively, of when things will get better, what I can say, is that, here, you’re safe. Here, you’re loved. And here, you don’t have to be perfect, or be happy, or positive, or successful, or beautiful, or fit, or thin, or anything else to be worthy of that love. I love you fully now, just as you are, in this moment. You don’t have to be or do anything to deserve that.”

That helped me even to write, so I hope that if you needed to receive similar words from someone this week, I hope it helped you, too.

The last thing I wanna say in this letter is in regard to that sapere aude (dare to know) quote that I really like.

"i'll tell you what freedom is to me:
no fear." ~nina simone

As someone who spent many years living in fear, I want you to know this:

When it comes to stepping out on faith to try something you think could change your life for the better, dare to know if it will, with an honest effort of trying to bring it into fruition.

When it comes to sticking with something you’ve failed at time and time again and you have just an inkling of faith that this time, it might be different, dare to know. (Dare to try again.)

And when it comes to the journey of overcoming something that feels harder than hard, when you know what the right thing is, yet every part of your body wants to move against that, dare to know what it feels like to finally round that corner or reach that other side if you do what you know is right vs. what you feel like. (I know this one's so much easier said than done.)

Know that I’m in your corner, always.

If you’ve sent me a letter reply and haven’t received a response back yet, I’m truly sorry about that. I always feel pressured to respond to emails with such formality and that can slow down my response times by months, honestly. 🥺 But I’m going to work on writing everyone back this week. Also, you’re now able to text me a letter reply below!

Lots of love and hugs to you and yours.

✨ the glimmer gallery. ✨

The glimmer gallery is a weekly collection of moments that made the good times better and the harder times bearable.

Have any thoughts about this letter? Did anything resonate with you?

Just write or text me a reply to let me know. It makes my day to hear from you and I respond to every message.

Dear Reader,

I hope you had a nice day today, and if not, I hope, tomorrow's better for you. Thank you for being here. Your support and presence in my life mean a lot and I don't take either for granted. I hope you feel courageous this week, and I hope with that, comes something good.

Have a nice week.

With love,

Amahni E. Yarber


PO Box 814, Chino Hills, CA 91709
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