Sunday, May 07, 2006

Don't Be Yourself

Be yourself.

That's one of those things that people say when they want to sound wise without really thinking or drawing on experience. It speaks of honesty and wholesome integrity. Faced with any of life's problems, the answer can always be provided by a well-meaning parent or friend. Just be yourself.

I've been thinking alot about that lately, and I've come to the conclusion that, by and large, this little chestnut is just plain bad advice. It seems to me that being yourself is only called for if you're a genuinely fine person through and through. Now, I have met such people, so I know they exist, but in my experience they are rare. So for those of you genuinely wonderful folk, free of guile, and dishonesty, who never speak a word in anger, never find yourselves jealous or mean-spirited, go to it. Be yourselves.

The rest of us -- and that's most of us -- have a harder road ahead. Take me, for instance. Now I am a modestly decent person. I'm not a criminal; I have a pretty good sense of humour; I like music and animals and sunsets; and I like to think I have dedicated my life to a profession that, in its own way, makes a positive difference in the world. But left to my own devices, I am, by nature, oftentimes cynical and sometimes downright cold. I wish I wasn't. I wish I was a veritable fountain of light shining in the darkness twenty-four hours a day.

But I'm not. And so I work at being a little better than I otherwise would be if I wasn't trying. A little kinder, a little more understanding, a little friendlier. I look people in the eye more than I otherwise would, and I make a point of chatting even when I'm not in the mood. In other words, I try to be better than myself. Frankly, I wish more people would adopt this philosophy. It might be a little easier for me to be better than myself if so many others were a little less satisfied with who they are.

Ah, but there I go again. So I take a deep breath and find compassion and good humour. There we are. Now, I want to stress that I don't think there is anything wrong with not being entirely yourself. I think it's part of being a civilized person. Part of being an adult. So to those handful of supernaturally nice people I know -- Tammy, Linda, Sam, Richard -- you guys are great and, frankly, I don't know how you do it. But I'm not you. I'm me.

But I'm trying not to be.