The illusion of individuality
Those of us who are thrown into Anglo-Saxon cultures (at birth) live under the tight grip of the illusion of individuality. We buy into the following myth: I am an individual and you are individual and as such you and I are free to be just ourselves – no constraints. People thrown into Easter cultures have a much deeper appreciation of how much it takes to really be an individual – to really stand for who you are, what you believe in.
The being of human beings is that we are beings-in-the-world. What is a prominent feature of this being-in-the-world? From the moment we are born we are in an intimate relationship with fellow human beings. Our life is in their hands and we become masters are doing what it takes to please people – at least those that have a strong influence on our lives. Furthermore, every culture ensures that playing the game of ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ becomes our nature, our default setting. Let’s be precise – we do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad’. It takes inner strength to go against this default, to be who you are (naturally) and to stand up for what you believe. This was brought home to me this week by my son.
It takes real inner strength to be kind when there is no permission, no agreement, for kindness
My son was sitting next to me and I must have said or did something that made him a little unhappy with me – I honestly cannot remember how it started. So he starts tapping me softly on my legs. I blurted out something like “Don’t be a p****y, if you are going to hit me then hit me hard.” Then my son said something and the way he said it opened my eyes and my heart:
“I know you think I am a p****y. What you don’t understand is that it takes real strength to be kind, to be gentle, when all the boys in school are the opposite and pushing me to be the same as them. Yes, I am kind and I don’t like to hurt people or be hurt by people. If that means that people call me a p****y then so be it.”
It will be one of those moments that will be with me for the rest of my life. I was (and still am) in complete awe at his inner strength as I never got what it takes for him to be gentle and kind in his world where ‘criticism, ridicule, indifference or cruelty’ is the norm. I also got why there is so little genuine kindness and gentleness in the world that I live in: we live in a male dominated world and in this world there is no permission for kindness and gentleness. It takes something, real inner strength, to against the prevailing wind.
To simply be yourself is the greatest accomplishment
Are leaders – big or small, recognised or not – people who have found the inner strength to simply be who they naturally are and stand up for what matters to them? Is the biggest transformation of all that which occurs when we give up ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ and simply be who we are moved-touched-inspired to be? Here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”