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On being yourself--sort of



Beeeee Yourself!" says the genie to Aladdin as he woos his princess. "Just be yourself!" moms urge their kids as they head off to the new school, nervous about making new friends. "Don't worry, just be you!" My Dad used to say when I'd ask if I looked okay.


So it hit me the other day, that lately I don't feel like myself, what ever that means and I'm having trouble being something indefinable.


Just what does it mean to be yourself?


Father Edward J. Flannigan, the Catholic priest who founded Boys Town, an orphanage for boys that is now a center for troubled youth who said, "I've never met a bad boy." He was, perhaps, speaking of the inner person he could see in each child, I'm not sure. Bad boys? I've met plenty. And some of them wanted to date my daughter.


I digress. I was talking about the inner person. I'm not sure I believe in the inner person any more than Dr. Willard Gaylin, clinical psychologist and author does. "A man may not always be what he appears to be, but what he appears to be is always a significant part of what he is," wrote Gaylin. "A man is the sum total of all his behavior."


So it got to me, this idea of being myself because sometimes I think the inner me is better, kinder, gentler than the one that often appears during my days—irritated, tired, worn out, ticked off at the political state of my country, and sometimes even grouchy on message boards. Maybe Gaylin is right and there IS no inner me—just another aspect of the same old me, the me who is a total of all that I do, whether it is kind or hurried, or abrupt or patient. Perhaps what we are inside is simply another view, but not a truer one.


I've always believed that human beings are multi-faceted like a gem and that how the light hits is what is highlighted. Some people are good in a crisis. Their noble side comes to the fore and lets the women and children first off the sinking ship. Others rape or steal inside the hurricane shelter, seeing fellow sufferers as prey instead of people.


If I think I'm evil and I work very hard to hide it, to cultivate a persona of gentleness, kindness and courtesy and then die at 100 years old relieved to have kept the secret all my life, would I be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven? If others perceive me as good, am I good? If the people who read blogs and message boards call me silly or stupid, am I? If someone thinks of me as self-centered, does that make me so?


It was philosopher Immanuel Kant who said, "I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself." But our knowledge of ourselves is not solely solipsistic. We get inklings of how others see us by their responses to our words and to our actions. Or sometimes, we really have no clue because they, perhaps wisely, don't tell us.


We've become used to the Hollywood style of movie character villains with hearts of gold. We all know the anti-hero; the despicable one in the story who somehow charms us the way the troublemaker kids in classrooms are often the teacher's favorite. I'm the straightforward type, though. I don't want to know that Hitler loved flowers and puppies and was a sensitive artist. It wouldn't redeem him as a human being. I don't want to be told that he just wanted what was best for his country. That kind of information pales in light of his deeds. His inner life couldn't cancel out his deeds.


I've often apologized for misdeeds, tried to explain. I've come to realize that reasons often don't matter to people. They can't see beyond what you have done or what you have said. And why should they? The inner person is not subject for perusal, for excuse or exoneration, for judgment or approval except by God who sees all.


The inner person, the "real me" is just some fantasy that has no real standing. So the cool-headed teenage Judy who leaped out of a car that had just crashed and dropped a dime into a nearby phone booth to be the first to call in the accident might have nothing to do with that same girl who was afraid to call up and order a pizza. And the Judy who mercilessly questioned a board of health member guilty of suppressing evidence to the public might have little to do with the one who took time off from work to give a boy with AIDS a ride to the doctor because his family disowned him when the newspaper ran a story about his ordeal. Then again, the lady who got mad on the message board because someone hit her hot button surely could not be related in any way to the one who cheerfully takes the cat to the nursing home or who goes to daughter's track meets even if she's exhausted—could she?


I guess Gaylin said it best. We are the sum of all we do and say. "Those character traits, those attitudes, that behavior—that strange and alien stuff sticking out all over you—that's the real you!"


. Much to my chagrin and my delight, I realize that no matter what I'm doing or what I'm pondering, I'm being myself. I don't need to think about it anymore. I just have to get on with it.


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Judy dear...your posts always make me stop and think...and get out my dictionary..just kidding...no, not kidding...solipsistic was my new word for the day. ;) What you said so well up above is so true....we are all multi-faceted...and that's what makes the world a much more interesting place.

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Judy, Thanks for this, it has given me some good food for thought. It's made me remember the times I have said to my children, "I know you better than you know yourself."

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Judy, I love the way you write and it is true that the inner you isn't always the true you. Weird. Although I look like Marilyn Monroe in my mind's eye....it isn't going to be true for everyone looking at me from the outside.

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