Friday, April 25, 2008

The Trouble With Being Myself

Yes, the title is from a Macy Gray album (which contains these two amazing songs, among others, so give it a listen).

After several days of working on final papers and one heckuva portfolio, I've had a lot of downtime today. I've basically been enjoying the quiet time, listening to music, reading, and reflecting. Specifically, I've been thinking of the challenges and rewards that face those who try to be completely authentic (or as close to being completely authentic as can be achieved). "Authentic" is a bit of a weighted term, though. I guess what I mean to say is that it is a challenge to truly be yourself, especially in a society that is catering more and more often to the group than to the individual. This post basically follows the same theme of my previous posts about individuality and fitting in, but those were mostly about society's faults in accepting the individual. This is more or less about the individual's choices in being him or herself.

First of all, we have to understand what is meant when people say they are "being themselves." What is authenticity? What kind of people do we think of when we think of the most authentic people we know? Obviously, giving in to every elemental desire is not "being yourself," because convictions and inhibitions are also part of who you are. Also, saying every thing that pops into your mind is not necessarily being authentic, either. Sure, you may be honest, but honesty doesn't exactly have to equal rudeness (this is something I struggle with, by the way).

I personally believe that one of the defining characteristics of a true individual is a disregard for the thoughts and opinions of others. I don't mean a disregard for their feelings, nor do I endorse not listening to logical, thought-out opinions even if they contrast your own. What I mean to say is that if the thoughts and opinions of others influence your behavior in a major way on the sole basis that they are the thoughts and opinions of others (and not because you believe them to be true on your own), then you are lacking authenticity. I think this, personally, is the only way to live and be content. The only One whose opinion I hold as an influence is God. Of course, I am also influenced by people who are also followers of Christ and who care about me spiritually, but even with them I have to make sure that my own understanding of God (if it is Biblical) takes precedence, lest I do things for the wrong reasons. Those wrong reasons could be anything, from wanting to fit in to wanting to appear more different than I actually am. If you change who you are for the approval of people, you are making people into an idol.

But of course, I'm making this sound easy, and it's not. There are many challenges to being an unapologetic individual. One of them is, of course, that you won't fit in as neatly as everyone else, and might even get envious of people who do. But more than that, the temptation to want to hide who you are will also come, and it's hard to deal with. There are definite times when I've felt I should "tone it down" or perhaps not say my opinion just to make conversation go more smoothly. But what's the point of smooth conversation if you can't speak your mind? What's the point of toning it down if you best represent yourself by tuning it way, way up? Maybe I'm sounding a little extreme here, but I'm just starting to realize that being disingenuous really doesn't have any perks. Yeah, life is easier when you don't have to deal with weird looks and arguments and awkward situations, but at least that kind of life is honest. People may not like you if you are who you are, and that can be especially painful when they are people that you wish liked you. I suppose in the end it just takes confidence, and this is where a relationship with God really comes in.

If you know that there is a powerful, loving, merciful, perfect God who loves you just the way you are -- with all your personality quirks, struggles, ideas, feelings, and (most importantly) faith in Him, then how can you hide that person? Wear it on your sleeve -- all of it! Be careful, of course, to not put yourself in harm's way (at the same time, remember that they can only hurt your flesh), but don't avoid subjects -- be they trivial or important -- just because you might be the odd one out. This life only happens once. We are to be lights to the world and represent what God has done in our lives, and keep our focus on eternity when we will finally get the chance to completely be the creations God intended us to be. But how can we represent God and His work if we can't even represent who we are for fear of what others think?

There is a lot of trouble with being myself, and I pray I don't become too arrogant while standing up to that trouble, but I am happy to face that trouble for the rest of my life. If I am true to God and myself, then nothing else matters. This should conclude my posts on individuality for the time being. :-)

Peace, everyone (and yes, that's a picture of me. Can't quite get to the point of showing my whole face online, but at least I'm being myself). :-)

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