Going Out of Your Way to Be Who You Are

1377506_10101142418271513_254848920_nAnytime anybody pulls you down
Anytime anybody says you’re not allowed
Just remember you are not alone
In the aftermath

– Adam Lambert

For the last few years, I have forced myself to think outside of the box in which I was cultivated, to step out of my particular epistemology and evaluate the world through eyes other than my own. I have attempted to take stock of the nature of things as objectively as one individual is able (which, I believe, is merely a question of degree, since my objectivity is another man’s subjectivity). I have altered my vocabulary, I have shifted my view from the reality of heaven to the ideal of earth, and I have held all presuppositions guilty until proven innocent. And, in doing so, I have discovered some important truths about myself, my self, and what and who I am. Not all of them are pleasant, not all are foreign, not all are new. The status quo has, in some significant ways, been maintained, but it has also been questioned and called to account. But I am in the end refreshed–just as confused about certain things as I was when I started, but now more comfortable with that confusion than before. I know now (forgive the tautology) that there are certain things that I know, and certain things I will (and can) never know. That is as clear as I can be, and I am okay with it.

All along the way, I heard voices. It is truly amazing how persistently people will fight against those who search for understanding (even those who search for understanding merely of themselves), and the extent to which we fear a clearer view, lest it force us to remove some of those obstructions we have set up for ourselves. A friend once told me he listened to the radio at night because he feared the silence. This is natural, for silence is where truth resides–in silentio veritas. So the voices insist, filling up the quiet of contemplation with the noise of obfuscation, confident that volume makes right, or at least may serve to overwhelm the senses of awakening conviction.

We’ve all heard these voices. They come from all sides, friends, family, co-workers, even the occasional complete stranger. People who truly believe they have our best interests at heart, never realizing that their own interest is what they really seek to protect. Because if I change–if you change–more importantly, if we change–then they are faced with a standing challenge to the worldview they inhabit. Meaning, they protest, will be destroyed: there must be either conformity or chaos–there is no middle road. “If he gets up, we’ll all get up. It’ll be anarchy!”

What do the voices say? What do they whisper in our ears even when their echoes have died away? “You’re abandoning your principles.” But principles are not made only to be adopted; they are also made to be discarded. The act itself of re-evaluation, of deconstruction, entails principled thought: the person of principle is required by her very nature to set aside systems that have failed, beliefs that mislead or do harm. In doing so, she is not abandoning her convictions, she is living up to them. The pragmatist may pretend to see the emperor’s new suit, but only the fool goes out to buy one for himself.

“Don’t leave us behind–we made you who you are, and your acquiescence justifies our existence.” When the puppet cuts his strings, has Geppetto failed? Or has his work been fully realized at last? The creation of life is the formulation of dynamic possibility, of an option for better or worse. It is change waiting to happen, the ultimate journey from points A to B. As such, it predicates movement, growth, adaptation, and yes, even evolution. If I am at sixty-five who I was at thirteen, something has gone terribly wrong. If I remain nothing but the sum of my ancestors’ wisdom, am I really me, do I really exist, have I truly lived? Descartes might express an opinion on this subject–non cogito, ergo nullus sum. I think not, therefore I am rendered obsolete. We may stand on the shoulders of giants, but we walk on our own two feet.

In the final analysis, a little anarchy sometimes does a world of good. Sometimes meaning must be destroyed to make way for a new and a better. History is the tale of the destruction of truth in the interests of deeper understanding. It is also the tale of the voices, lifted in unison to bury the cries of the voyager and the musings of genius. Witness Galileo and the Catholic Church–those who would displace our egocentric universe are never safe from the weight of existing prejudice or the workings of fear on the human self-image. But be not silent. Do not, as Dylan Thomas urges, go gently into prescribed senescence. Don’t be afraid of sounding foolish, for the true fool is he who makes no sound at all.

Herbert Spencer said it best, and I leave you in his capable hands:

“Whoever hesitates to utter that which he thinks the highest truth, lest it should be too much in advance of the time, may reassure himself by looking at his acts from an impersonal point of view. Let him remember that opinion is the agency through which character adapts external arrangements to itself, and that his opinion rightly forms part of this agency–is a unit of force constituting with other such units, the general power which works out social changes; and he will perceive that he may properly give utterance to his innermost conviction: leaving it to produce what effect it may. It is not for nothing that he has in him these sympathies with some principles and repugnance to others. He, with all his capacities, and aspirations, and beliefs, is not an accident but a product of the time. While he is a descendant of the past he is a parent of the future; and his thoughts are as children born to him, which he may not carelessly let die. Like every other man he may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause; and when the Unknown Cause produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorized to profess and act out that belief….Not as adventitious therefore will the wise man regard the faith which is in him. The highest truth he sees he will fearlessly utter; knowing that, let what may come of it, he is thus playing his right part in the world–knowing that if he can effect the change he aims at–well; if not–well also; though not so well.” (First Principles, 1862)

4 thoughts on “Going Out of Your Way to Be Who You Are

  1. This post is you, through and through. I laughed, got teary, and related. There were moments when I stopped to more slowly digest a phrase. You are a true poet and gifted writer, my friend. Your writing has always inspired, enlightened, entertained, and provoked – doubly so for this piece. This is certainly a well chosen respresentation of your essence. Bravo.

  2. Reblogged this on anglophiletoad and commented:

    I’m reposting this entry from last year because I feel it’s worth sharing again. Over the last several days I have been rediscovering a side of myself I was convinced no longer existed. May this post encourage you in your efforts to discover who you really are, regardless of who the world tells you to be. Cheers!

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