Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Being Yourself Sucks!

Everybody tells you to be yourself. Society proclaims that if you just be yourself, everything will work out. We get fed this crap from the moment we're born, as in the Disney animated movie Aladin in which Robin Williams (as the Gene, disguised as a bee) actually tells the unconfident hero, "Bee yourself!"

Why this repetitive brainwashing? Because it is what we want to hear. We want to believe that who or what we are will be celebrated by people everywhere, if we're just honest about ourselves. Now while we all may want to believe that, none of us really do. Perhaps we might at first, but it doesn't take long to rid ourselves of that delusion.

By the time we reach kindergarten (if we're lucky enough to retain our innocence of that long) we discover something called "teasing". And another wonderful social tradition called "bullying" follows closely in its wake.

Teasing and bullying are hurtful, but they aren't unnatural. If they were, they wouldn't have survived so long. Each teaser and bully is just another person who lacks confidences in the value of their selves, and seeks to boost that self-image by making others look less valuable (if you can't raise the bridge, lower the river) or by shifting attention toward someone else so no one will be watching them.

Perfectly natural I say, and hurtful as hell. So we all learn in short order not to reveal who we really are to anybody, least of all ourselves. It doesn't start out that way. It is nothing more than Pavolv's dogs really. We act, others react. We associate the hurt with certain kinds of behavior and avoid that behavior. We look around and see what brought about praise to others and try to copy their behavior, mannerisms, and eventually manners of thought so we can garner the same rewards.

In time, we have created such a shell of falsehoods we can't even tell who we are anymore. That's what the teenage years are all about - "finding yourself", which you wouldn't have to do if you hadn't gone and lost yourself to begin with!

Now if you have a child with a physical or mental "defect" - something real, not just a made up difference amplified by a bully's taunts - well now you've got a real problem. Here's this worthy kid who is NEVER going to be treated kindly (or at least not equally) by his peers because he really isn't equal, which simply means he is not the same as them.

No two of us are completely alike, of course, and normality is just the mean average of everyone's abnormalities, but it truly is a mean average. Slide too far off the top of the bell curve, and you become a target for every bottom-feeding insecure taunter who wants to use you as a ladder rung to claw one more soul closer to the summit.

In paradise, everyone can "be yourself", but not in this world. Fact is, you can only expose parts of yourself in different contexts, and some parts you can never show. But then again, why would you want to? We all have dark thoughts and deep secrets. We're all ashamed of this or that (or at least we should be!)

We can show one face in public, another in private, one to our friends, one to our family and a third to our mate. But there are some faces we can't even show to ourselves. We don't dare, lest the very cogitation of some inner truth may risk knowledge of it slipping out through some cracks we haven't yet figured.

This is the real world. And so, we learn to play different roles. And for some of us when we are 3 or 30 we start to question our part in the Grand Scheme. We go beyond asking ourselves who we really to acknowledge facts about ourselves we wish we not really true.

And in so doing, we grow a pain inside - a feeling of being trapped, limited, constrained by our roles. And we break out, we make changes, we risk frienships and careers, marriages and even perhaps our lives - all to kill the pain of acting as we aren't and not acting as we are: the double-edged sword of insincerity.

When we brave souls (or selfish souls, depending on who wins and who loses as a result of our actions) open up to the world to reveal our inner natures we shoot ourselves in the foot. Why? Because we aren't content to be who we really are - we want to embody the ideal self we've always held inside!

To compensate for the confinements of living a lie, we imagine an alter ego for ourselves: the person we'd like to be. But this Perfect Being or Super Hero is just another fabrication that bears little resemblance to the truth. And yet, it is that shining avatar that provides us with the motivation to break out of the false shell we have been wearing for all those previous years.

Without that false image, we could never muster the courage or determination to risk it all to stop being who we aren't. And that is the key to another door of tragedy. Rather than really trying to be who we are, we go through all the heartache and devastation of ripping off the old skin to try and climb into a new one that is equally false!

It may takes us years or even decades (if we are lucky enough to realize it at all in our lifetimes) to grasp that we have simply exchanged one confining role for another. But by then, we've established a new career, new friends, perhaps even a new mate and family. And even if we see the fallacy of trying to live as our utopian creations, are we really willing to go through all that loss and torment again? How much can life ask of us?

Well, each of us has to answer that question for himself or herself. Who are we really? All differences between ourselves and our shining avatar aren't equally uncomfortable. After all, should we not aspire to become better beings, and is not one of the best ways to do this to practice being the kind of person we'd like to be?

True enough. But be realistic. Go back to the serenity prayer "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference." Don't just apply this to obstacles in your life, but to assessing your own nature as well.

In the end, all of life is a compromise. There is no black and white; there is no cut and dried. Only by embracing shades of gray and perpetually re-evalutating contexts as we change and grow can we maximize the expression of our natures, minimize our deceptive presentations, and find the best balance between being ourselves and acting in consideration of others.

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