Tuesday, January 24, 2023

"Be Yourself"

"Be yourself," writes Oscar Wilde, "everyone else is already taken."

Lao Tzu, the seminal Chinese philosopher, is quoted as saying, "When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you."

And then there is Taylor Swift: "Just be yourself, there is no one better."

It's advice that we've given one another since the dawn of time. We tell our children to listen to their inner voice, to not be influenced by their peers, to be proud of who they are. Indeed, it's such common, every day wisdom that most of us take it for granted, yet so very few of us actually get to live it. 

For one thing, there are rules and social conventions that forbid certain expressions of self. This is especially true when we're young. When children, who are just trying to let their own light shine, make too much noise or move their bodies too assertively, they are too often chastised. In other words, we teach them that while they should strive to be themselves, they can't do it in school, in church, in a theater, a museum, or, frankly, pretty much in any public space, especially if how you express who you are could possibly offend the sensibilities of others.

As Fran Lebowitz, a woman who has made a career of being herself, says, "Being offended is part of leaving home." And while that is true, most of us would rather not offend our fellow humans, even if that is part of who we are, which is why we learn to temper who we are at times if only out of courtesy.

But the real difficulty in living up to the challenge of being yourself is to first figure out who and what your self actually is. When we are born, before we can even understand the concept of self, I would argue that this is the moment when we are most ourselves, but after that it's about learning. 

As Doris Lessing writes, "We are what we learn."

A child of abuse learns that they are a victim, that they somehow deserve it, and, more often than not, without a lot of therapy, they grow up to abuse others. They are what they learn.

A child of privilege learns that they are superior and that they somehow deserve it. They are what they learn.

A child that is over-protected learns that they are always in danger. A child who is not interested in school work learns that they are stupid. A child who is loved unconditionally learns to love unconditionally. They are what they learn.

Your self isn't something you are, but rather something you learn, and you don't always have a choice about what you learn. This is most obviously true in standard schools where the adults have decided what you will be by choosing what you will learn and then judging who you are according to meat-cleaver measurements like grades and test scores.

No wonder it's so incredibly difficult to "be yourself." When do we ever get the opportunity to learn what that is? If we really want a world in which each of us has come alive, childhood should be about discovering who we are and that means allowing the children themselves, to the degree possible, to choose what it is they will learn. In other words, let them play, because self isn't something to discover, but rather something we create. That's the only way anyone has ever learned to be themself. 


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Ready for a book that makes you want to underline and highlight? One that makes you draw arrows and write 'THIS!!!!!' in the margin? Then you are in for a treat." ~Lisa Murphy, M.Ed., author and Early Childhood Specialist, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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