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Be Not Yourself

He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty. – Lao Tzu

You all know I love Glee.

Well, I don’t love everything on that show. I don’t love the occasional schizophrenic character changes or the wheel of revolving relationships. I also don’t love the defense of every minority except one (those of you in that one know exactly what I’m talking about).

But I love the music.

They also know how to deal with bullies.

Last month I wrote an article about the effects of trauma on children. The counselor I interviewed for that article claimed that in her twenty-five years of practice, she had never seen bullying as vicious or intense as she sees right now.

Yet this generation claims to be more tolerant than any before it.

Seriously, people, what happened to us?!

Every day I witness human beings treat others poorly. Their justifications are numerous. I’ve heard everything from they’re so pathetic, they deserved it, to they’re so intolerant, they deserved it, to I can’t help it, it’s just in my nature to mock people.

I hesitate to call these people bullies, even though they fit the description.  Their behavior is so common its almost considered normal.

If you doubt what I’m saying is true, if you’ve not seen anything like this yourself, then, well,  just turn on your computer.

Last year I said that the interwebs were merely a place for the messed up people of the world to gather and get more messed-up together. But not everyone knows that.

Today’s Texting Teenagers, for example, live a large portion of their lives in the electronic world. Without a strong sense – and acceptance – of who they are, as well as the courage to be unpopular once in awhile, they’re vulnerable to all sorts of pressure, confusion, and persecution from people they’ve may have never even met.

Glee addressed this in an episode this spring. Recently transferred to a different school for his bully behavior, football player Dave Korovsky returns to apologize to the Glee kids.  He admits the thing he’d persecuted most in others was the thing he was ashamed of in himself.

Perhaps that’s the reason for our increased impatience with others. Perhaps we’re all more miserable inside than we used to be.

In any case, Korovsky’s repentance – and subsequent revelation – was rewarded by a hurricane of cyber-bullying.

Not from those he’d once bullied, of course. The underdogs usually understand each other.

No, the bullying came from fellow bullies.

And also from people he’d never even met.

Korovsky’s history of power and popularity ill-prepared him for the sudden persecution. He cracked under the pressure.

But, of course, the Glee kids bailed him out – and used his situation to send a message to their peers: opposition can make you stronger, if you let it.

Too often we believe that as long as we’re ourselves, everything will be okay.

Isn’t that the message we tell those who feel insecure? Just be yourselves, and people will like you for you.

But sometimes that just isn’t true.

And sometimes, we really shouldn’t be ourselves.

In fact, it could be this message alone – the I’m ok, you’re ok, let the world see exactly who you are – that invited bullies to flourish. If we’re all free to be our unrestrained selves, if we’re all conditioned to never edit our thoughts or words, if we’re always permitted to say whatever we want under the auspices of just being ourselves, then too often we sacrifice character for emotional vomit and true security for offensive propaganda.

After all, truly secure people don’t have to make everyone else think and act like them.

Secure people let others be different than them. Secure people say they’re sorry. Secure people take responsibility for their actions.

And secure people know that sometimes, it’s best not to be themselves.

Let me explain.

The last few months have been a bit, erhm, intense.

And while most of the posts on this blog might proclaim otherwise, I’m not known for handling pressure well.

For more than a decade, my husband has done a hilarious impression of me and my best friend handling a crisis. I won’t get into her part of it – it’s not her blog, after all – but under pressure, my first response makes Eeyore look like a motivational speaker.

If I were to follow the world’s advice and just be myself, I would be – pretty consistently – sucked into a vortex of despair.

Myself isn’t always so great.

In fact, myself is often exactly what I shouldn’t be.

But there’s another option.

I can be better than myself.

It’s not easy. It’s like trying to extract a sumo wrestler from quicksand.

But each moment I choose to fight back wards off the devastation of giving in. The cumulative repertoire of these moments looks something like hope.

That’s not my biological – or psychological – tendency. In the past I’ve too often relied on the belief that good things must be coming soon.

But I’m starting to realize even that’s a shaky foundation.

What if the good thing never comes? What if our Gandalf never shows up? What if we never hear the words, ‘I come to you now, at the turn of the tide‘?

All dorkiness aside, this is one of the many reasons writers write – to correct the real-life endings to better ones.

But perhaps we need to stop expecting real life to be epic.

Perhaps its time to stop waiting for the turn of the tide.

Sometimes we need to stop being Sleeping Beauty.  Sometimes we need to stop waiting for someone else to rouse us back to life.

Sometimes we need to grab our swords and slay the dragon… if only the dragon of ourselves.

I feel that happening these last six weeks. Between the moments of grief and irrational fear grows an even more irrational hope – not that things will change, but that I will.

It’s not the hope of certainty. The only certainty of our current situation is uncertainty. While doctors do more tests – experiments, even – on my husband (the next is a Holter monitor this upcoming Thursday and Friday), none of them expects a clear diagnosis. And while no news is good news, as I’ve written before, there’s no guarantee that we’re out of the woods yet…

…or, well, ever.

But there’s still hope.

And maybe that’s what Glee does best.

It’s been three years now, yet the club kids are no more generally accepted by their peers than they were during the pilot. They’re still outcasts. They’re still mocked. They’re still persecuted.

But they choose to fight back anyways.  They refuse to believe the negative press about them – at least most of the time.

Maybe that’s all we can hope for. Things might never be different, but we can be.

We don’t have to resort to just being ourselves.

We can be better than ourselves.

That I can say this – when my tendency is to doubt, not believe –

…perhaps that’s the good thing coming.

If so, then I guess it’s already here.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. michele #

    “Sometimes we need to grab our swords and slay the dragon… if only the dragon of ourselves”
    Those words really hit home. We all have our own “dragons”, mine being self-inflicted. Having been the target of bullies in the past, (and I disagree with your counselor friend…bullies are just as mean as they ever were) I know the scars can be life-changing and life-long. I now also realize that I don’t need to let those scars become “dragons”. I am committing myself to slaying my own dragons, and being better than myself.

    April 18, 2012
  2. Amy Olson #

    You make this message so applicable to all.. while at the heart of it is that reminder that we are to “die to ourselves”, and let Christ dwell in us in all things…

    April 20, 2012

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