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.


Jessi said...

You know I agree with this to a certain point. I think it would be absolutely wonderful if people tried to be better than themselves. I think we can always do a bit better. But at the same time if someone is a real jerk I'd really like to know before I expend any time and energy on developing some sort of relationship with them.

K said...

I know what you mean Todd, I've hurt some people through "just being me." Likely I've left some deep seeded emotional scars.

Even those of us who are genuinely good have a monster in us, a little bit of the beastial reptile brain floating around in the back looking to make life as easy as possible as us, damn the majority. Gotta keep that monster in check.

BTW, is it deep seeded or deep seated? I can see the sense in both, one being buried deep so it can grow and fester, the other sitting deeply in one's psyche where it's difficult to remove.

Jessi said...

I always thought it was deep seeded......At least that made more sence to me anyway.

pettigogy said...

Yeah, "deep seated" is one of those phrases that doesn't quite look right when you see it, but is correct. It's "seated" in a bit of an archaic sense that means established or based (as in the mind is the seat of reason), so deep seated means well established. I had the same experience with "shoo-in" (meaning something that is an obvious, nearly inevitable choice) which I had always imagined was "shoe-in" like a shoe that fit perfectly.

K said...

Wow, I always thought Shoe in meant like having on shoe already in the door/hole/goal area etc. Shoo in though, as in to shoo something in, like one would shoo a pet...