A few days ago, a man of about my own age, was incredulous in asking me, “you mean you don’t care if people don’t like you?”
I found the question amusing, since I certainly didn’t care whether he did, but I replied that in the larger sense, he was accurate, I don’t care.
As I mused upon it later, I began to wonder when that moment occurred when I stopped caring what others thought.
I cannot point my finger to any particular event or birthday, but I do believe that I’m not unusual at my age. Sometime in one’s sixties, a person recognizes the life is growing increasingly short and there is no more time to waste on worrying about how you are perceived by others.
I realized almost immediately that this is really what it means to “live authentically”, something that a whole host of self-help books are ready and willing to assist you with. I’ve cut through the pages of verbiage and found the kernel of wisdom–live as you damned well please and forget about what anyone else thinks.
Everyone knows of the lady who lives down the street who wears purple cotton slacks with an orange-flowered blouse, her hair is pinned up defiantly, wisps fluttering in the wind. She may wear a man’s watch, and patent-leather flats to complete her ensemble, with a few ropes of pop beads slung around her neck. She talks to the plants she waters, and giggles for unknown reasons as she putters.
You may place her in the slightly daft category, but she may just as likely be marching to her own drummer, unaware of you, and certainly uninterested in your opinion. She may also be the lady who always has a plate of cookies for the neighborhood children as they sail by on skateboards and bicycles.
The point is, she is authentic in every way. You get what you see. If you aren’t interested, she shrugs and goes on with nary a thought of your lost opportunity to meet her.
As I thought more about the subject I realized that this is the state we should all aspire to, and we shouldn’t be waiting until we are sixty or so to do so. Yes, I hear the groans–please lady, I have a job and a boss. I can’t be “me” if I want to pay the bills.
And there is some truth to that. When we are beholden to others for our livelihood, I guess we do make alterations. That might beg a greater question of whether we should be doing our best to structure our working lives in such a way that such alterations are by and large unnecessary. I mean seriously, the woman who is irreplaceable, is well, irreplaceable. Allowances are made to retain such folks. Shouldn’t you be one of them?
I realized that perhaps the thing I most love to see is the kid who comes by it naturally, or maybe not so naturally, since parents can have a lot to do with this. But this kid is his own person. He is not all caught up in peer pressure. He rather enjoys standing apart as “different”. He pursues what interests him and he learns at astonishing speed those things that excite him. He excels in what he wishes to excel at. He may suck at soccer, but he can build a mean robot.
Which begs the question of how do we instill such a sense “the of freedom to be” in our children? It’s really all about self-esteem in the end I suppose, but I think we can nurture that to great degree by teaching the following:
- Seek the truth. And that means in all things. Truth is not always easy to locate, it is often buried under tons of wishes and the debris of emotion, need, and desire. But truth is there to be found.
- Never fear truth. Truth is often frightening because it might lead us in a direction that we would rather not go. But ignoring it, or trying to make it something more palatable won’t change the truth, but will inhibit us from using truth to our best advantage. We cannot change truth, we can only delay accepting and dealing with it.
- Once you know the truth, be fearless in your claiming it and standing with it. This is where being authentic really comes in. Our truth may be unpopular–try talking evolution at a non-denominational fundamentalist revival and see what happens–but it is the truth and we have a responsibility as truth-tellers to speak it. The disciples of Christ we beaten and stoned but they were not deterred from speaking the truth as they believed it to be.
- Never conclude that you have a corner on truth. Much as some would claim that some truths are immutable (and probably some are–gravity comes to mind), some truth is not. Some is only awaiting further exploration and discovery. An open mind is essential–always be open to learn and correct if need be.
So how do we figure out what is true?
That is often the stumbling block. Lots of people believe they hold truth, when they only hold desires that something be true. Using the above example of fundamentalism, the fundamentalist, for their own needs wants very much to believe that the bible contains all the information any person needs to live their life. So they interpret it to be just that.
Is that the way the book is actually meant to be seen? Most assuredly not. It does not lay out an accurate explanation of how the earth and we were created and all the wishing in the world will not make it so.
Truth acquisition requires a hard-working mind, one that can read critically and think critically. It is a mind that reads broadly, reading not only what agrees with one’s own predilections but what opposes it.
It means thinking deeply about the “evidence”, searching for flaws, contradictions, and holes. It means reconciling what you learn with what you know, adjusting, shaving, adding, altering and sometimes scuttling a whole system because it’s just now quite obviously wrong. It means paying attention to what the majority believes and giving them recognition, but being aware of the minority and being open to listen to what they might say.
But when you come to a conclusion, even though someday you may rather sheepishly admit (as even Einstein did) that you were wrong about something, you must, as long as you truly believe it to be true, speak it boldly and without apology for those it may disrupt.
I would also throw in some basic learning about what makes humans tick as useful. People act in maddening ways if you don’t know some basic psychology. You can know so much about what people think, what they read, simply by understanding how humans cope in the world.
To do anything else is to live by some other standard rather than who you are. It is to give short shrift to the value of one’s own conclusions. By such men and women civilization moves forward. All the rest are merely along for the ride.