Why having the courage to be yourself is your greatest hero’s journey (and you might just save the world…)
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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World
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A friend of yours invites you to a party. You hesitate because no one else you know will be there. Your friend reassures you that everyone is friendly, and quite oddly, already knows who you are, though you’ve never previously met any of them. Immediately upon arrival, you are warmly greeted by the hostess who acts as if she has known you for years, but treats you like someone completely other than yourself. As if she has mistaken you for some doppelganger from a parallel universe. This existential dissonance is repeated with each new person you meet as you go around the room. The only thing is, with every knowing smile, gentle embrace and even an occasional kiss on your forehead, you are left with the uneasy feeling that everyone there sees you as they think you should be, not as you actually are.
Welcome to the world –you’ve just been born…
Labels, Expectations, and Misery
I was the second youngest of eight siblings within a strict, authoritarian German-Catholic family. Being considerably younger than my older brothers and sisters I had the opportunity to witness what happens when, even with the purest of intentions, we assign labels and expectations to others. My oldest brother started his religious order training to be a missionary at the age of 16. My oldest sister, same thing right out of high school. All of which represented extra heavenly parochial-points for my parents who beamed with pride. That is, until both eventually and abruptly quit their religious pursuits and ended up marrying the first person of the opposite sex they laid their eyes on –to disastrous results.
Another brother of mine became a functioning paranoid schizophrenic largely because my parents had no clue as to who he was and what his gentle spirit was here to do. Yet another ended up as a full-blown narcissist (one of several in my family) who died in an accident that may, in fact, have been suicide. Being a highly patriarchal family, effectively relegated my four sisters to second-class citizens.
And me? Well, by the time I arrived on the scene my parents had thankfully been worn down considerably by my wild and willful siblings. All I had to do was stay out of their way and off their radar. Even with that, however, they thought I was, “God forbid!” gay, because of my sensitive nature. Which did not jive one bit with what they thought how a man should be.
My parents were not evil people. They loved us intensely and had the integrity of living their values. Their biggest mistake, one made by most, is thinking they needed to impose those values on their progeny, regardless of who they actually showed up to be in this world.
Our Drive to Survive is Killing Us
Nature is both unbelievably wonderful and sometimes intensely cruel. Thanks to Her, we are hard-wired above all else for one thing – survival. This innate drive is in every living thing. And good it is, otherwise there would be very few living things around today to even contemplate this hard fact.
The need to survive is the relentless engine that drives evolution, diversity, and propagation. This wiring cares not one wit who or what lives or dies as long as the whole continues to grow and thrive. And for all living things, this is the way it is. Fully accepted without resistance or complaint by all –except for one particular species… us.
You see, the fact that we are conscious and self-aware throws a monkey wrench into the otherwise smooth-running clockwork of survival behavior. From the very moment we are born we depend on others for our continued existence. As we grow and develop a sense of separate identity, our ancient wiring causes an incessant desire to be liked, loved and approved. And we all too often will suppress our true unique nature to quell that urgent desire by adapting to other’s expectations. Likewise, those in a position of bestowing this life-prolonging approval and affection, far too often make dispensing of it conditional upon our conforming to their world view and assigned labels.
The problem with labels is: a) they are almost always wrong, and b) they can never capture the nearly infinite nature of anything, especially another human being.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle:
To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept [label] is already a form of violence.
And we bear witness to that violence, both physical and emotional, every day in our news, social graph and personal interactions. Violence of intolerance, suppression, bigotry, hatred, dominance and greed. Violence perpetrated by others who are only capable of seeing things as they think they should be to serve their own survival needs. And violence we impose on ourselves by not fully embracing who we uniquely are. With suicide being the most perverse form given that it is often driven by an unmet need to be accepted for essentially the purpose of improving one’s chances of survival.
Human-imposed violence, destruction, and suffering exist because our emerging consciousness and awareness is a glitch or bug within our embedded survival programming. Programming that now more people than ever are beginning to realize is nature’s “beta-code”. Code we must individually and collectively work to upgrade if we hope to have any chance of making it as a species.
We are truly at a point in time where our unbridled need to survive will doom us all if left as it is. Fortunately, we are seeing signs of a favorable shift in general societal acceptance and inclusion regardless of race, orientation, gender, and creed. Not every culture of course, but beautiful young flowers are beginning to bust through the tough, barren ideological soil and emerge as vibrant evidence of hope and possibility.
If My Kids Could Only See Me Now
It has taken me nearly 61 years to fully embrace and uninhibitedly express who I am, quirks, warts and all. During that journey, I started and ended many businesses and careers, ended a 26 marriage, lost nearly all of my “friends”, went through at least three pivotal life-resets and acquired two forms of cancer. Yet despite all that and having more perceived uncertainty than ever before, I wouldn’t trade my life with any other time or person. I was a bit of a stubborn hard case where life just had to keep slapping me upside the head to get me to wake the fuck up.
Then, I met my Life Partner who allowed herself to see me as I am, as I continue to unfold in unforeseen and unexpected ways (for both of us) harboring no judgment, imposing no labels and providing a space for me to blossom. As I have been the same for her.
What has emerged from that deeply nurturing place is a Being I almost don’t recognize –in a good way. A Dad whose adult children often look upon with amused puzzlement, occasionally fear and hopefully, wonder. A man that most people from his past no longer “know”.
I have never felt more fully alive as I have these past four years. A state of Being so profound, punctuated with periods of fear, doubt and sweat-drenched anxiety, that it is truly almost too much to bear –in a beautifully overwhelming, ineffable way.
You owe nothing more to the world than Be who you truly are. You owe nothing less to yourself than to fully embrace that regardless what others think, do or say.
The only thing more unbearable than Being who you are is pretending to be someone else.