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To thine own self be true. March 2, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“Every man is born an original, sadly most men die copies.”
—Abraham Lincoln

Certainly this couldn’t have been said of Lincoln himself, an “original” if there ever was one. But it can be said of plenty of men and women in our cookie-cutter culture.

Between corporations demanding conformity to their corporate culture and our obsession with celebrity driving everyone to try to turn themselves into Beyonce or Jennifer Lawrence or Justin Bieber or Liam Hemsworth, we’re left with little space for ourselves. And what little there is is often filled with advertisers assuring us that we’ll never “fit in” unless we buy the latest iPhone or iPad or designer sneakers or celebrity perfume or embrace the latest fad diet or exercise regime or what have you. Not to mention keeping up with the latest movies, bestsellers, and music, however mediocre, violent, and generally damaging.

So why don’t we just say no? Silence Dogood was appalled to read that Jennifer Lawrence, the “it” actress of the moment, had to choose between two costars to headline a rumored romance with her in a tabloid headline. Why didn’t she just tell them to stuff themselves? If today’s top actress is reduced to playing this game, what hope is there for the shmoe who wears bizarre, Dr. Seuss-like striped socks to his law firm because it’s considered “cool” to be defiantly nonconformist and everyone in the office is doing it?

The first step to freedom is to know yourself: What you actually like and like to do, what makes you feel comfortable, who you are as an original. The next is to figure out how to realize that originality, that individuality, in your daily life.

Let’s say you’re a fortysomething middle manager who’s noticed a few grey hairs creeping in and a few stray pounds creeping on. You want to hang on to your job and not be replaced by a twentysomething, knowing that the only ones who can safely show their age, their bald heads, their beer bellies are the owners of the company. So you dye your hair, diet like crazy, work out every day. You follow what the younger guys are talking about and make sure you keep up with all the trends, even if you hate them or they bore you.

If you’re a woman, this goes double for you. Our ageist society won’t tolerate a single wrinkle, much less a sagging jowl. Botox and plastic surgery and endless tooth-whitening and extreme diets and “cleanses” and the like are in your future if you want to compete rather than be phased out and end up as a Wal*Mart greeter or stocking shelves at the local supermarket.

Obviously, exceptionally creative and/or spiritual people are able to escape this trap. The Leonardos and Mozarts and St. Francises and Mother Teresas and Gandhis never worried about what anyone thought of them; they had found their truth and they stuck with it. For them, there was no alternative.

But what about us, the ordinary folks who really need to keep our jobs and at least appear to conform in order to survive? Fortunately, there are alternatives. One is working from home. Our friend Ben fondly remembers a Dilbert cartoon from years back where Dilbert is working from home and Skypeing with the Pointy-Haired Boss. The boss sees Dilbert in regulation engineer outfit of white business shirt and tie. But we see Dilbert, deshevelled, in his bathrobe, unshaved, holding up a perfect Dilbert work-ready puppet to the Skype camera.

If you can’t work from home, and you can’t escape the constraints of corporate so-called culture, our friend Ben has another suggestion. Okay, you need to support yourself and your family, so keeping your job is a priority. But being true to yourself is also a priority if you want to stay alive and actually enjoy your life.

So once you get out of work, how about pursuing the things that please you? Whether that’s pizza for supper or watching Marx Brothers movies or reading Jane Austen or collecting stamps or coins or marbles or writing a blog or a novel or a screenplay, or just singing at the top of your lungs, or volunteering at an animal shelter or learning a new language or planning the vacation of your dreams, there’s so much you can still do to take back your life, to establish yourself as an individual, to not die as a pathetic copy of a pathetic copy of a pathetic copy.

A British study found that eccentrics lead longer, healthier, happier lives. Our friend Ben totally agrees with this finding. These people are true to themselves, true “originals,” in Lincoln’s words. They don’t have to wage a daily war between who they are and who they’re supposed to be. They can just relax, enjoy themselves, and take each day as it comes.

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