April 22, 2013

Craig's List Wisdom: What does it really mean "to be yourself"?

I have a confession to make.  I am a Craig's List junkie.  I roam mostly the "missed connections" section though. I think I am secretly hoping that someone is looking for me.  My Prince Charming on a white horse, I suppose.  Better yet a white Aston Martin.    ;-D  

Most ads, of course, are pure rubbish that is synthesized in the minds of the herb-smoking 90% of LA population. However, once in a while one comes across a curious post that makes your brain cells wiggle around a little.  And it goes like this:

Where is My Mind? - m4w - 36 (LA)I've recently heard a spate of declarations such as, "I just need to find out who I am." Or "I need to find myself." And even, "I don't even know who I am yet." All of which did honestly remind me of myself 10 or 15 years ago. But I think the question of who you are, or who I am, takes on a different meaning now than it did then. So, let me dissect this question.I ask, who are you?
Almost immediately I will get a list of likes and dislikes. I hear virtues and beliefs spouted forth; a firing away of occupations, skills, accomplishments, life events. Okay, so I now know some things you like, some you dislike, a few of the major beliefs you hold, and some of the things you've done. Now, again I ask, who are YOU? What is the YOU that you set off to find?
So, the easy answer is that each individual is the sum of all of those parts. BUT. . . but if I like what you like, believe what you believe, and do what you do, we'd all agree that I am not you. I am still me, and you are still you. None of which helps to further define who YOU actually are.
I find it rather amusing that so many people spend so much time trying to "be who they are." You hear this all the time. "I just wanna be myself!" So, people will go to extreme lengths to "be who they are." Hair color, piercings, designer clothes, customized cars, tattoos, music tastes, group association -- all of this to help you just be you, apparently. But you still can't define who YOU are. We'll all agree that even if I look like you and talk like you and act like you. . . I'm still me. We just can't seem to define what ME is. But it's definitely not YOU.
"Just be yourself" -- as if it's a concrete thing, like a rock or a table. Or maybe it's a puzzle that one feels they have to solve, putting all the pieces together into a whole picture. But where did the pieces come from? Are we discovering these pieces randomly on the ground as we wander through this world? No, the pieces are simply things you've been told. You're beautiful. You're smart. You're capable. You're going to be X when you grow up. 
Your parents have told you who you are, or more aptly, who they want/expect you to be, since day one. And coming out a blank slate, you've assimilated that into your identity. Your teachers added on to that, assessing your skills. You're good at math. You have such an aptitude for language. You're going to be a beauty queen. None of these things are inherently true but you've been told, thus you act accordingly.
If only I was smart. Who says you're not? The term has been ascribed to you by others, based on a comparison between you and your peers, usually assessed through a series of tests or benchmarks. The interpretation of the results is entirely presumptive. If you were the only person in the world, you wouldn't even think to ask whether or not you were smart. Nobody would have brought it into question. You either build a fire or you don't. You either climb a mountain or you don't. But to internalize a permanent identity trait based on possibilities and probabilities requires others to put the idea in your head.
The simple fact is, there are no universal truths as to the formation of the self. It is purely a human invention. Any definitions or limits we place on the concept of a self are of our own creation. The universe, or the principles of physics, or the patterns of motion do not acknowledge our self. There is no interaction between our identity and the world around us, only perceived interaction within our own consciousness. Your feet move upon the ground, your mass moves the particles in the air, but whether you envision yourself as a bear or a dinosaur is completely irrelevant to the world around you. The vision of yourself in your own mind is entirely illusory.
If the self is but an illusion, that creates a myriad of problems for a civilization. If we simply wander as individual self-images, each in our own cocoons, then communication and cooperation become difficult. So, to foster a productive and progressive society, there arises the need for a collective illusion -- a set of common values and beliefs that can support the illusion of the individual selves. This also serves to alleviate the anxiety that is created by being adrift on an endless, formless sea.
Now, if a society is going to build a grand illusion that all its members can believe, it is best to do so with positive ideals. "Land of the free, home of the brave," for example, as opposed to "land of the enslaved, home of the cowardly." So, every culture will try to engender positive self-images, even though, again, these are entirely equivocal and arbitrary. And, as these self-images are based on comparison, the unfortunate tact is to say "we're number one." I have yet to go to a country where a political rally was held where people chanted "we're number two."
Just as our image was built by parents, friends, and teachers, now the politicians and media will attempt to add their pieces to our puzzle by adding collective adjectives on to our identities. We are the smartest. We are the most productive. We are the good guys. We are the fairest, the most just. Of course, none of these statements are inherently true, but the notion in play is that constant reinforcement will produce belief. Then, later down the line, the reverse can be used as motivation when you want people to do something. Aren't we the smartest? Aren't we the good guys? Aren't we number one? Well, now that you've egos have been constructed, they will want to defend against any attacks. History is full of people doing the most horrible, egregious acts in order to defend their own self-image, not matter how contradictory those acts are.
The advertising industry and, indeed, practically every consumer-based economy thrives on this principle of positive and negative reinforcement on self-image. There are two basic ways to get people to buy your product. You can use the positive model -- because you are good/right/smart/beautiful, you will want this. Or you can use the negative model -- if you don't want this, you will not be good/right/smart/beautiful. It really is as simple as that because of the deep-seeded anxiety that comes about from not being able to clearly define our own consciousness, our own self.
When people are faced with ideas that contradict their own beliefs they experience cognitive dissonance, which produces great anxiety arising from the fact that we don't actually know much about ourselves or the world around us. So, no matter how convincing the evidence, people err on the side of protecting their own self-image. A lifetime of reinforcement from parents, from teachers, from friends, from political leaders, from religious leaders, from television, movies, music, books -- it doesn't stand a chance against one or two statements that go against all of that. The ego has fortified itself with defenses and the brain will simply tune out any messages that substantially contradict foundational beliefs.
Throughout the entire course of human history, people have subscribed to ideas, actions, and ways of life that are subjective, relative, and utterly devoid of any empirical meaning. People would rather believe a lie that makes them comfortable than to accept a truth that makes them uneasy. After all, we've been conditioned to view unease as a bad thing, something that is undesirable, even though what is desirable is, for the most part, just another chunk of the grand illusion.
I might as well get this out of the way so as to not terribly disappoint anyone. I have no grand answer awaiting anyone. But maybe, stripping oneself of all such trappings above, in the diamond mind behind your eye, in the quiet of a darkened room, you will begin to get a glimpse of who YOU really are.

How do you define "being yourself"? 
What does it mean to you? 
Is it a constitutional right? One of the granted freedoms?
Is that what "the Catcher in the Rye" was doing? Just being himself?
I'd like to think I am a bitch because I don't compromise my standards.  But there do my standards come from?  How much power do I really have over defining them?
How do you define yourself?

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