2012-06-18

Courage and Being Who You Are

I have written previously about fear, but avoiding fear is really only half the battle. It's a great thing to strike fear from your heart; it's even better to live courageously.

One context in which I see this nearly every day is the simple act of being comfortable in one's own skin. You are who you are. Do not apologize for who you are, not ever. Simply being you, lumps and all, is one of the greatest and most important aspects of the human experience.

I strongly doubt I need to expound on the many benefits of accepting yourself and being who you are. If you have any respect for your own identity at all, then you already know what the benefits are. Those of you who aren't fully convinced that being you is a wonderful thing need only consider the fact that you have good friends and loving family members who happen to really like who you are. So, even if it's not perfectly obvious to you, it's readily apparent to the other people in your life - the ones who matter, anyway. If you respect their judgement at all, then you have to admit that you're pretty great. Own it.

The Fear of Being Who You Are
People fear their own identity for all kinds of reasons - some valid, and some preposterous. Regardless of a person's underlying reasons for this, the outward behavior that results takes a few painfully obvious forms.

One particularly nasty one is something that might be termed building a consensus of scorn. Leveling is a widely understood psychological phenomenon that self-haters like to engage in. But leveling is at its worst when the goal of it is not simply to cut someone else down to size, but rather to convince everyone in the entire room that the target is ridiculous.

Understanding this kind of behavior and all its implications amply demonstrates how truly vicious it is. First, it involves leveling. But more importantly, it involves social abuse. To be clear, social abuse is abuse and possesses all the nasty attributes of abuse. It is just as serious as any other kind of abuse. So the fact that someone would be willing to engage in this kind of behavior simply because the abuser is afraid of being himself/herself is rather astounding.

So much the worse considering that this kind of behavior is a rather petty rebellion. The self-hater would like to reclaim some of his/her individuality. The self-hater desperately wants to be free of the fear governing her own self-image. He/she wants to be able to walk into a room without feeling even a little bit self-conscious. But he/she cannot, because he/she fears the self-confrontation required to be proud of who he/she is.

So instead, he/she abuses others. Despicable.

Setting It Right
A good rule-of-thumb I like to keep is this: If you're too afraid to publicly admit to something that you do, then you are probably not mature enough to be doing it.

For example, children who first start to drink or smoke will often hide that fact from their parents. This lone fact demonstrates that they aren't mature enough to handle the situation. A person who possesses all the maturity required to take individual responsibility for those kinds of choices has nothing to hide from. If his/her parents find out, that person will immediately understand what to say in his/her own defense.

The important fact here is that children are terrified and ashamed of their decisions, desperately requiring parental consent to validate their actions. But imagine a 50-year-old behaving that way. You can't, right? That's because most 50-year-olds possess ample maturity to be able to take responsibility even for decisions that their parents would disapprove of.

I think this is an important concept because I see it as being the most obvious and reasonable way to transition into responsible adulthood. If you have a drink at a party, become intimate with your first romantic partner, get a risque tattoo, or whatever else, your parents might be right - it might be a big mistake. Or, they might be wrong. But in either case, it is the most liberating feeling in the world to look a parent in the eye and explain to them that, right or wrong, your decisions are yours and yours alone; it's your mistake to make. As an adult, it is no longer up to your parents to dictate such things to you.

And what you discover in this process is that your parents actually do respect your decisions. You discover that it's okay to be yourself.

In America, this is basically a rite-of-passage that we all go through. Elsewhere, the process is slightly different, but no less significant. It's a first step toward self-acceptance, toward courageously being who you are.

Conclusion
Once you've been through this, you no longer feel the need to level others for being who they are. They are who they are, you are who you are; live and let live. You grow up, you stop being mean.

And then you discover something else: When you walk into a room with the confidence of knowing that you are who you are, and that's okay - when you speak your mind in the middle of a group of strangers knowing that some will think you're weird or crazy, and that even if they do, it's still okay - then you have captured a power that moves minds and stops hearts. People find you attractive and interesting, not because you have undergone some radical, magical change, but because you were like that all along. The only difference is that now, you've given yourself permission to be that way.

I've tried to do my best to explain that being nasty is one result of hating oneself, and that being a nice and well-liked person comes not simply from a good moral compass (although that sure helps), but from simply having the courage to be yourself.

So do us all a favor and learn to accept yourself, even if you sin. And I do mean you.