We use a lot of catchphrases and cliches about finding ourselves and becoming the person we’re meant to be. We debate about nurture versus nature. There are therapists and self-help books and talk shows and support groups to help us navigate the choppy seas of our souls and figure out our wants and needs, what broken things need fixing and what hidden parts need revealing. We talk about empowering ourselves and refusing to be told who we are or have to be by others.
We are also encouraged to be compassionate and tolerant. Open minded to other ideas, beliefs and opinions. We are supposed to get to know people and the reasons behind their beliefs, to question our own positions and either fortify, modify or abandon them all together based on what new things we learn and understand. We are not supposed to judge quickly or harshly, discouraged from scoffing at new ideas or ways of life that aren’t our own and encouraged to be flexible and malleable in our understanding of the world and society and what we believe and know.
It is possible to be firm about your beliefs, ideals and principles while still being tolerant of others. It is possible for people of vastly different positions to live peacefully, side by side, but it takes work, effort and compromise. There are also times, however, when there are some things we just find intolerable; ideas we can’t or won’t support or are too strongly in conflict with our own sense of right and wrong for us to accept or allow to go uncontested.
Because of these stances we take, there will be both people who will support us and people who oppose us. For every supporter, there will be detractors. For every friend, an enemy. For every familiar face, a stranger.
At the end of the day, we are who we are as illustrated by the principles we develop and embrace, the choices we make, the messages we send, the things we stand up for and the ideals we strive to exemplify and live by. We all have to decide what we believe and support; what to speak up about and what to remain silent on; what battles to fight and what ones to concede. We all have to decide what and whom we are willing to risk in order to stand by our principles and beliefs, to remain true to who we are. Some will always see you as wrong. Some will always see you as right. You can’t, and won’t make everyone happy so the only real measure of your words, actions and deeds are how you feel when you are alone with yourself, when you look in the mirror, when you reflect on who you are and what you’ve done. Were the battles you fought worth the scars? The wars won worth the casualties? The wars lost worth the sacrifices? Are there ever really winners and losers, or just a sense that you’ve done the best you could, stood for what you believed in and walked away with your pride and principles intact?
Sometimes, it’s not that clear-cut. We have to make choices every day and there are few of those choices that don’t come with both gains and losses. If principles were easy, everyone would have them. As has been quoted many times here and other places: What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular.
I know some of the things I have said and done have caused many to dislike, defriend and even despise me. It is never easy to be the target of someone’s hate or scorn and I have many times questioned if it was worth speaking up and speaking out, knowing who and what it has or could cost me. Would I have been happier if I had kept quiet and let things be? Would it have been better to keep my opinions and thoughts to myself? Would I have felt better being liked for who I wasn’t as opposed to hated for who I was? Would it have been nobler and nicer to remain silent on things I disagreed with for the sake of peace and harmony?
I guess my answer is no. Despite the friction I have brought into my life for the things I have said and done, I know that I have always been (or tried to be) honest about my thoughts, ideas and feelings and have done my best to explain my positions or justify why I think and feel the way I do, whether it’s on a personal level or in a public setting. I don’t like arguments and anger and hate and all the ugly things that can surface when two people disagree on things and it has never been my intention to cause rifts or create disharmony, but where I was once afraid enough of those things to keep quiet, I am now more afraid of keeping quiet than those things. I know the pain of being left to fend for myself when the world around me is badgering and beating me down. I know the pain of ostracization and rejection for being who I am and saying what I believe. I know how lonely and scary and hopeless it can feel when you think you are the only one who thinks and feels the way you do. And I know how much I have resented myself and others who felt the same way but never spoke up. I don’t want to just talk the talk, I want to walk the walk, too.
I am not perfect. I am not a hero. I am not a role model, a mentor, a leader, a teacher or a therapist. I don’t have all (any of?) the answers, always know what to do and I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I’m just a person, 1 of 6,963,892,239 people currently on this revolving ball of mud, doing my best to live my life in a way I think is right for me, doing what I can to help and trying hard to do no harm. I try to learn and grow and understand every day. I constantly succeed and fail at the things I set out to do, and I have brought both pleasure and pain to others, physically and emotionally, as they have also done for me. I engage in life knowing the risks and have decided that I’m willing to be wrong on the chance I’m right. And I may be wrong more often than I am right but all I can do is the best I can do based on what I know and believe and think and feel at the time.
Some will decide I am someone they want to get to know, some will pass by and not give me a second thought. Of those that get to know me, some will like me some won’t. Some will hate me right away or grow to. And, on rare occasions, some will grow to love me. I can’t control what others think or feel about me. (believe me, I’ve tried. What a colossal waste of time.) What I can control are my own actions and words . So I don’t worry about how I might be perceived or whether I’ll beloved or hated. I consider the principles, convictions and beliefs I have developed in my 40 years on this Earth and do my best to live by and uphold them and speak out when I feel compelled to, damn the consequences. It will still bother me when those things bring me into conflict with others, especially when it sours relationships that were once friendly and positive, or make me a target, but I have to choose: Am I going to be who I want to be or who others want me to be? I think you know what choice I have to make. It’s the same one we all have to make sooner or later.
Be who you are and say what you feel. Those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind.