Many years ago, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I remember buying a teen magazine that had an article in it about how to be more popular. Like most kids that age, I definitely wanted to be more popular, and so I eagerly read the article. I remember one paragraph in particular that went something like, “Forget all that advice about just ‘being yourself!’ What’s so special about being yourself? If you want more people to like you, you need to figure out how to fit in with the crowd!”
I may have been a typical early teenager, struggling with raging hormones, self-doubt and all the other issues that go with that difficult phase of life, I was still horrified by what I read. Even then, I knew that there was something very wrong with the advice to bury my true identity and simply copy the behavior I saw all around me in order to have more friends. I’d like to say that from that moment on, I stopped worrying about what others thought about me and always spoke and acted according to my own conscience, but that would be a lie. In my defense, I was very young and still unsure of so many things, including who I really was and what I really believed.
But now that I’m all grown up (and then some), I no longer have that excuse. One of the benefits of aging is that we begin to understand exactly who we are and we tend to know exactly what we do and do not believe. Yet there are still times when I struggle to live according to my own principles, and still hesitate to show my true self or share my true opinions, mostly out of fear of how others are going to react if I do.
Sadly, the times we live in encourages this sort of fear because we’re conditioned to only accept those people who are “just like us.” And so we keep quiet about any aspect of our personality or any of our beliefs that we think might cause someone else to reject us. I don’t like to tell people I’m a political Independent, because I’ve found that as soon as someone discovers you don’t support their party, they automatically believe you really (if secretly) support the opposing party. I often hesitate to tell people I’m a Christian, because there is such a variety of beliefs in Christianity that I’m afraid they’ll misunderstand what I actually believe. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Still, I think the time has come for me to stop being so afraid of rejection (or conflict) that I hide some of who I really am and what I really think. I guess I’ve reached the age where I’d like to have the courage to live according to my own values, and just accept the reaction that gets. Plus, I try very hard to accept other people for who they really are, and pride myself on having close friends and family whose beliefs are very different from mine. If I’m willing to accept other people’s true selves, then shouldn’t I give other people the chance to do the same for me?
I’ve always liked that saying, “just be yourself–everyone else is already taken!” Words to live by……