If there is one lesson I would love to teach everyone I come in contact with it is this:
I know, you have heard that phrase a million times. So often it has lost all its meaning.
You think “Of course I’m going to be myself! Who else would I be?”
But, you know, that simple phrase carries so much more than the literal meaning. It means not hiding your true feelings, wants, desires, thoughts, and beliefs. It means not changing your image, pretending to be something else, liking something, loving something, doing something, being something.
The pressure to conform is one of the most powerful forces in nature. If you go along with the crowd you will be protected. This is true for everyone and everything on Earth. A pack of gazelles run through the African plains together because there is power in numbers when an hungry cheetah comes calling. And a pack of teenage girls hang together because it keeps one of them from being singled out for things both good and bad. A student sits at the lunch table alone and others wonder that is wrong with him or her. They must smell, or have issues, or people hate them, etc. The flow of speculations run wild and nothing has actually been done or said. But clearly, something is wrong! Nobody thinks that maybe this solo student just wants to eat their lunch in quiet and watch the world around them.
Of course, this pack mentality carries over into the adult world as well. Humans find power in numbers. Nobody wants to be alone because it leaves them vulnerable. Ever walk into a Pub and you are the only one there? Even if you weren’t planning on socializing that night, it is freaking weird! Why is nobody else there? Are they all off doing something else? Was there some huge event going on and you weren’t invited? What will people think if they walk into the Pub and they see you sitting alone at the bar? It is safer just to leave and find some people.
Imagine going to a major sporting event and you are the only one there! The chances of that ever happening are non-existent, but imagine it. Even if it is a World Cup match or the Super Bowl and you have the best seat in the house, wouldn’t it be incredibly scary to be in that huge stadium all by yourself? Now imagine the same event with a packed house and you are the only one rooting for the other team. Like being a Red Sox fan in Yankee Stadium, or hypothetically, a Mets fan in Busch Stadium the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Take it from me, it’s not easy. Often the easiest route becomes giving up on your loyalty to your team and doing what ever it takes to fit in. Or, heaven forbid, get beer poured over your head. Going with the pack keeps you under the radar and, although it prevents you from any kind of personal success, keeps you safe and secure.
I tend to be a bit of an extroverted introvert. If you have ever spent quality time with me you know that I can be loud, silly, funny, and controversial. (Ok.. maybe not that controversial.. I’m just trying to create a daring image of myself to make you think I go outside the lines) Case in point. I am a character actor. I see the need for a type of character in a room and I try to fill it. I can be the political hot head, the George Carlin “What happened to the world?” guy. The Jerry Seinfeld “Have you ever noticed?” guy. I do voices. A lot of voices! Old man, Young kid, New York Jew, Hillbilly, Harvey Fierstein, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gollum, Judd Geizer: The Chupacabra Whisperer, etc. Whatever voice I think will get a few people to laugh, or at least myself. But none of them are me. I’m an Irish kid in his early 30’s who has watched a lot of TV and movies. And these characters are a cloak to hide the real me. I like peace and quiet. Just me, my thoughts, and the voices in my head (all nice, no worries). I am shy and always have been. I don’t make a lot of small talk and rarely speak without being spoken to. People freak me out! Ok, maybe not “Freak me out” but I fit right into radio because I could speak to millions (statistics pending) without actually speaking to anyone. I could play a character and not worry about any immediate judgement. Even when I am performing to a group of people, I turn off my eyes and just speak into the distance. The moral of the story is, if I let my true character out into public everyone would wonder about that weird kid sitting alone in the corner. And that, my friends, is something I would like to avoid.
I began writing this article on April 20th. Or as some people know it 4/20: International Cannabis Day. The day to go smoke a lot of Marijuana because some Twitter post told you to. I did some market research that day in Wal-Mart and Subway and I couldn’t help notice that people were walking and talking just a bit slower and more subs were being ordered than on the day the US Navy spends their tax dollars. It was clear that enough people in this country were participating, but when I asked a few people (Online, I’d never talk to strangers in real life) about why 4/20 is the day to smoke Pot, nobody could actually give me an answer. I wont take the time to explain the reason here because, quite frankly, I find it almost as comical as the celebration, but look it up online if you are interested. My point is, tens of thousands of Americans chose to get baked on April 20th because they wanted to fit in (and other reasons, I’m sure). If it were really about enjoying smoking Marijuana, then wouldn’t they just do it anyway? Why did so many people choose the day when they knew thousands of other people would be doing it too? Pack mentality and fitting in. Safety in numbers.
I have written my views on why we feel the need to fit in and the importance of staying with a group. Now, what can be done about it? I’m not saying finding people with similar interests isn’t a positive activity. It is a fantastic idea! That is, unless the group you are trying to fit into is not the group where you belong.
I was a jock at heart, I just lacked a lot of the physical ability to be one on the outside. I played Football (poorly), Hockey (poorly), and Baseball (extremely poorly). I was Captain of the Cross Country team and was quite a good runner, but because of my physical limitations due to my Ankylosing Spondylitis, I was never as good as I could have been. But, that was okay because I still enjoyed doing the best I could do. The person I was not was the party animal. I would go to loud obnoxious parties in college and I would put on a good face, but I hated it! I never ever felt comfortable in a mass of people and loud music. The corner table at the Pub with my friends and a glass of Guinness or Stone IPA was more my comfort zone. Eventually I became true to myself and if going to a loud party was the only way I could socialize, then I just didn’t socialize that night. It wasn’t worth the discomfort.
I would encourage anyone who reads this to evaluate where they truly feel at home. If you are quiet, then don’t pretend to be loud. If you are a reader, then don’t pretend to be a Reality TV fan. If you are gay, then don’t pretend to be straight. If you want to be in the musical then audition for the musical. Don’t worry about what other people might say. Be the person you want to be! If you want to test your limits, then by all means test away. If you like it, great! If not, you will have a comfortable place and identity to call home.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t even pretend to. I don’t even think having a PhD in Psychology means you have all the answers. Is this blog post a cover-up of who I really am? Probably. But, maybe not. I’m just trying on the costume of someone who writes these kinds of things. Maybe I want people to read this and think I am intelligent and insightful. It’s human nature to hide your true self. I don’t think anyone can go a whole day without tweaking a personality trait or interest a bit to impress someone, or at least fit in. But, I think it’s worth a try.
“Pretending to be someone else is exhausting” – Anonymous (Or, maybe I made up this quote to make people think I’m the kinda guy that likes quotes)
Some people call them random acts of kindness. I like to think that they aren’t so random. For something to be random, it means it happened without expecting it, on a breeze with no forward thought. It might come across as random to the receiver; after all they weren’t expecting it. But, for the provider, it should not be so random.
Nothing feels as good as when someone does something nice for you. They didn’t have to help you, but that person felt your need and gave you what they had. I often fantasize about going into a restaurant and leaving a waitress a hundred dollar tip. I know that extra money would make her day and reward her for doing a great job. (This, if you remember, is the reason for the tip) I, however, do not have that kind of money so that fantasy of kindness will have to wait. But nothing is written that says you can’t leave them a nice note with the check, or simply giving them a sincere thank you.
There are other ways someone can display an act of kindness. Helping a neighbor with their groceries, giving someone with a broken foot a ride, sending a handwritten letter to someone who has lost a loved one and other acts like that. They are so simple to do, and make a world of difference.
Personally, there was a time when I was stuck in the Ontario, California airport. My 6am flight was canceled because THEY FORGOT THE PLANE! No joke, they forgot it. A plane needs to go through hours of pre-flight checks and inspections. They forgot to line up an aircraft to act as the 6am flight and could not get the pre-flight checks done in time. (I would also like to thank the chatty airline worker at the gate for telling me all this) I had the option to jump on another flight fifteen minutes later, but not everyone could get on. I chose to give up my seat to someone else who might need it more. And I did it again on the next flight and the next. I was not in a rush to get home, so why not give someone else a chance? I believe I let a total of five or six flights go and waited an extra eight hours. But I felt good knowing that I was able to help five or six people, even though they did not know it was me.
I never knew if it helped anyone but I think I made a few people smile providing Free Hugs on Fridays. It was called Free Hugs Fridays and every Friday I would wear a shirt that read “Free Hugs Today”. The premise was simple, if you want a hug at no charge, I would be willing to give it to you. I took the act on the road from Columbus, Ohio to Pasadena, California and I gave out a lot of hugs. Yes, there were a few drunk guys at Steak n Shake at 2am and a homeless guy that smelled like rotten meat, but everyone got the same hugs. What really made my day was when I was walking down Colorado Blvd in Pasadena and the door greeter at this really upscale restaurant yelled inside “The free hugs guy is here!” and one at a time the entire wait-staff came out for their hugs. I guess word about me had gotten around.
I ask everyone reading this to open their eyes, ears and heart and start thinking about what they can do to show Christ’s love. Anything you can do to make someone smile or feel good. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just a simple act of kindness.
As one that has lived all over the world and been among varying cultures there is one thing that every country and culture has had in common that does not even come close to existing in the US. A nationalized nap time.
Most famous is the Siesta. A time to stop work, take a break and recharge in the middle of the day. The purpose of this being that in the middle of the afternoon it gets HOT in South America. The other reason is that the workday does not run 9-5. In most countries, you start working in the morning and you don’t stop until business is done. Therefore, taking a nap at 1:00 does not seem that out of place if you know you will be working until 10 pm.
I tell you that story to tell you this one:
The island of San Cristobal, one of the Galapagos Islands, is the most laid back places in the world. I had the pleasure of living there for a few months while teaching English at a “Summer Camp”. The people were amazing, very kind, and although not many of them had a grasp of the English language, they still were very conversational in their own way. But, the thing that I found so interesting was the level of laidbackatude they exhibited.
An outsider would categorize is as not giving a darn. The sight of closed stores and people sitting around not doing much of anything would shock and appall any business owner. “What are they doing? How do they expect to make a living?” they would say. Americans, especially, are famous for working themselves to death. Wake up in the morning and push hard throughout the day with paperwork, meetings, phone calls and the like. And even after the day is over, briefcases come home full of overflow, not to mention the cell phones never stop ringing. We are always switched on and can almost never turn it off.
The difference in places like San Cristobal, I like to think, is that the people live to live and do not live to work. If the family needs food, they open the store and make the money they need. And if they aren’t able to get what they need, a neighbor is usually willing to help out. People in these countries live within their means. In Vietnam as long as you have a roof over your head, that is all that matters. I saw houses in Ho Chi Minh City that were the size of a toddler’s room and twelve people eat and sleep on that floor. Do you think they minded? Do you think they were sitting there thinking “I need to work harder so I can buy a bigger house”? Maybe, but I never thought so. They were with family and they had what they needed to stay alive. If they had extra money they might get a little more rice, or a watermelon. If they didn’t, life still continued.
The moral of the story, we need to relax and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Americans as a whole come nowhere close to living within their means. We are always looking for bigger and better instead of focusing on what we already have. Do you need a house with 3 full bathrooms when only 2 people will be living in the house? Do you need the super-sized pickup truck if you will only be hauling groceries? Probably not, but if you didn’t go out and spend yourself into debt, you wouldn’t have to work so hard to pay it off.
We all want to be rich, successful and popular. But is all that worth killing ourselves?
I say no, and think we are prime for an American Siesta.
Quite simply, if any millionaires or billionaires want to make a large donation to me so I can put it towards making this world a better place. I sure would appreciate it.
Can’t blame a guy for trying.
(Nigerian Princes need not apply)