What does it mean to “be yourself”? Do you know who that is? When someone goes on a journey to find him or herself, what—or who—do they find? And what are they actually looking for? Does a self even exist?
That last question may seem a little out there, but I think these are all good questions to ask. People end relationships because they weren’t able to be themselves. They like to have friends with whom they can just be themselves. And sometimes, for one reason or another, people are afraid to be themselves.
This train of thought was inspired by the post of another blogger, Donald Fulmer at Museical Garden. It begins:
Whoa—not me. I didn’t want the attention, the humiliation, people making fun of me. I wanted people to smile and leave me alone. Which they did.
I couldn’t just be myself. Or wouldn’t, I mean.
Don is a 9, as he makes pretty clear right off the bat (and as he’s told me). He goes on to talk about a tattoo he just got:
A large tattoo—of flowers. Lotuses to be exact. Beautiful, rich red lotuses.
And here it is:
He took a chance on doing something a bit outrageous—and, hey, it turned out OK. To me, Don’s post was like a celebration: a coming out party for a 9. The title, “It Hurts to Be Yourself,” is a double entendre. It hurts to get a tattoo, of course; and sometimes, maybe, it hurts to be yourself. While I was thinking about what he’d written, I realized that as an 8, my experience is pretty much the opposite of his. I’d say that for me, it hurts to not be myself.
OUR SELVES R US
But again, what or who the heck is that? The truth is that we’re probably composed of many different selves. In Stumbling on Happiness, for example, Daniel Gilbert says we have at least three: our past self, our present self, and our future self. Our past self has set in motion much of what our present self now wants nothing to do with. And our present self is quite confident it knows exactly what will make our future self happy. His premise is that our present self is really clueless about our future self. It’s one of the problems with the way our brains work: we equate confidence with validity when the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
But returning to the question of selves, I suspect that what we think of as our true self is really the particular set of compulsions, automatic responses, and (as David Eagleman calls them) zombie subroutines we have developed since birth. I doubt we were born in some perfect state and have been corrupted by our subsequent experiences—otherwise known as life. I think the development of our particular compulsions and autopilot behaviors is just a natural response and reaction to the joys and exigencies of life. Our unique dance with life, if you will.
The desire to locate some essential, authentic, uncorrupted self underneath all the compulsions and automatic responses seems literally wrongheaded. As Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine always said, what you see is what you get. And that’s amazing enough! We are marvelous, amusing, innovative, and fascinating creatures with astonishing possibility, not in spite of our compulsions and idiosyncrasies but because of them. We just need to shake loose from our concepts about who we are or who we think we’re supposed to be.
Don wrote that the lotuses in his tattoo symbolize enlightenment: seeing things as they really are. Right on, Don!
So, yes, by all means be yourselves. There are no other selves you can be.