Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” That was both a pithy and witty way of putting what so many philosophers and spiritual greats have discovered and shared over the millennia. Most of us waste a lot of our years trying out different personae mostly to gain acceptance with others–usually in our work and our relationships. We are driven by existential questions such as: How do we want others to see us? What will help us to succeed? What will help us to ‘get ahead’…but ahead of what or whom? (And what would happen if we actually got ahead of ourselves? Then where would we be?!)
I spent most of my life as an ordained minister in various contexts: prison chaplaincy, parish ministry and academic teaching. In my second novel, No Good Deed, one of my characters says to a friend considering parish ministry: “Being a minister in a church could be likened to being the screen in a movie theatre…except it’s made out of toilet paper—people project onto you all of their hopes and fears about life…and God. And when you don’t live up to their expectations, they tear you up and flush you.” Well, that was my experience, in any case. If one tries to live up to the various expectations of others, one becomes nothing to anyone. For the record, prison chaplaincy was by far the most natural setting for me. (Make what you will of that! Many have.) Working with people who have had their names dragged through the press, police and court records, and have been tried, convicted and sentenced creates an overall atmosphere of brutal honesty–nothing like the tea and crumpet, go-lightly superficiality in most churches. The longer I was in parish ministry the more my clerical collar felt like a noose: ‘be like our former minister’, ‘don’t joke around so much’, ‘don’t ever discuss politics’, etc. In other words: ‘Just be nice to us and have no strong opinions about anything.’ No wonder Jesus never worked in a parish! But then, had parishes existed in his day, he wouldn’t have been ‘selected’ for ministry in the first place!
So back to me…that’s me in the photo above: the guy holding the goat (Rocky). I like that picture more than most any other of me in recent years, because I was just being me. Just being me usually means wearing trousers with muddy hoof prints on them, an old jacket which also has the hoof prints (I’m thinking of starting a fashion trend called ‘Off the Hoof’) and Wellingtons…covered in goat and chicken shit. I LOVE animals (wild and most domesticated). I love animals more than most people because they meet you fully as who they are. (I once held a lost, newborn fawn and it was one of the purest, most joy-filled moments of my life.) People usually take longer to grow on me. I own that some of that is probably because my personality is a mix of Kierkegaard, along with Groucho and Harpo Marx.
I think I will be inclined to revisit this topic in the coming days and weeks; but as this is the first day of 2022, I want to put these questions to the handful of inquistive types who read my blogs: What does it take for you to be truly yourself? How much time do you spend hiding the bits you think other people won’t like? (And do you really need to spend time around those people? If not, then why do it?) And most importantly do you have friends or family with whom you can truly be yourself? I hope so; if not, work on it! There is only one you.