What Does it Mean to "Be Yourself"?
What does, "Be yourself," actually mean?
Being yourself at all costs is an interesting proposition. What is most important in being yourself? Complete honesty? An unapologetic attitude for that which you believe? Remaining unique at all costs?
Perhaps, to an extent. I don't feel that complete honesty is all it's cracked up to be, and little white lies, when used in moderation, are useful for smoothing a social situation and easing through conversations. You don't want to meet somebody and immediately drop your entire history on them for the sake of honesty, but neither do you want to become a pathological liar.
Anecdotes of Awkwardness
When working in the college library, I once had a patron tell me that her brother had physically and emotionally abused her throughout her childhood. This came up because my co-worker and I had been talking about how big brothers like to tease their younger siblings. This is a perfect example where a white lie, or saying nothing, would have eased the situation. I didn't know the girl, except casually. I didn't know how to react to that information, except to say, "I'm sorry?"
In another instance, I met a woman at a social outing who could not sit still. She bounced from table to table, annoying everyone in the party and generally making a nuisance of herself as she screeched and giggled and talked about random, unrelated things whilst launching herself at people. She later shared her complete medical history with the people involved in an attempt to explain her actions. Again, this is information that is not required to be shared with the general public, and may actually do more harm than good, given social stigma against certain medical conditions. Interestingly, although the incident that instigated her sharing her medical history was quickly forgotten, her medical history became a hotly-debated and much talked about topic in that particular group.
There are social niceties to be recognized, and the loss of them is not necessarily a good thing. "Being yourself" is not a get-of-jail-free card to be socially clueless or awkward.
Moderation is Consideration
What about an un-apologetic attitude? Again, this is something that should be used in moderation. While being true to your beliefs is a good thing, it does not require being rude, argumentative, or trying to convince other people to think the same way. They are your beliefs, after all, not everyones. Either find other people who think similarly, or state your beliefs in an understandable, respectful manner.
On the other hand, you ought not go the other direction and never stand up for yourself. If you represent your views with passivity and apology, others will tend to think that you're not certain of yourself, and try to convince you of the validity of their viewpoint and why you should subscribe to it. This can be annoying, to say the least. In short, be firm but respectful. Set personal boundaries, and be considerate of the personal boundaries set by others.
Remaining unique at all costs is an interesting one. I think "being unique" is given a certain cache that makes it seem more important than it is. Really, what's the big deal if you dress in a certain style? If you find it comfortable and presentable, than that is being yourself, not following a crowd. And are you really unique if you parrot views for the shock value? The most unique thing a person can do is learn about the world around them in an informed manner and weigh what they are taught against their inner moral compass and logic. When you've made an informed decision on an issue and can contend your point reasonably well, then that is unique. So many people drift along with the popular view or (to mix it up a bit) the unpopular view. Rarely do people choose to make informed decisions based on logic and personal morality.
The main problem with "being yourself", especially for the younger generation, I think; is that many people think, "Oh, I'm unique, I'm interesting, I'm being true to myself. No one understands me; they're all sheep who follow the herd!" Rarely do people try to look past the surface persona to understand the deeper concerns of their fellow man. No one is as shallow and one-sided as we tend to make them out to be. Just because someone doesn't share your interests or your viewpoint are they therefore invalidated. It is all too easy to slot people into boxes or cliques, snap-judge them, and immediately deem them "worthwhile" or "never want to talk to".
I have been pleasantly surprised many, many times when I was able to revise an initial impression to find that, say, someone I thought to be a stand-offish know-it-all was actually a warm-hearted person with an eagerness to befriend, despite her shyness. Or that someone I thought of as a little ditzy and shallow turns out to be a little absent-minded with a great sense of irony.
In conclusion ...
I know that it's easy enough for me to type this, and it may sound a little too fuzzy-lovey for some. It's in great fashion to have a high-minded cynicism, it sometimes seems. In high school (all those many years ago), I often snap-judged people, automatically distrusting jocks and the popular kids to gravitate (in an act of great irony) toward those who I felt were less judgmental.
The first part of what would become an on-going life lesson (still continuing to this day) came when a very pretty, popular girl (we'll call her Shannon) approached me in the hall one day after her friend, "Gina," had viciously insulted me in class. Gina had attended school with me from elementary school on, and had always been unkind to me for reasons I couldn't comprehend. She'd left me alone for the most part in high school, so I'd been startled by the unprecedented attack.
Shannon apologized for her friend's behavior and said, "She doesn't mean it."
Of course, I sort of laughed at that and said, "Then she shouldn't do it."
Shannon's response surprised me. At my school, cliques were pretty delineated, and although we'd sometimes intermix to talk, rarely did we touch or otherwise communicate. Shannon tugged me by my elbow into a corner and explained that Gina's home life wasn't stellar - her parents both worked most of the time, and her grandmother was very ill, and had been for years. While I personally felt that it was pretty unfair of Gina to have lashed out at me for running on 12 years because my mom brought me home-made cupcakes on my birthday in elementary school - I did have more sympathy for Gina after that. There was more to her than I thought there was, and while I still didn't like her, I understood her motives.
I guess what I'm saying is that in the pursuit to, "be yourself," remember that everyone around you is making the same journey of self-discovery, albeit in a different manner.