Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Better Me, A Better You

Those of you who have known me through the years have seen a lot of changes. Forty years ago began the darkest times of my life, a period that would last ten years. For you math whizzes, I was fourteen then, beginning the most awkward part of the most awkward part of any kid's life.

I found shelter from the world in drinking, and smoking cigarettes and dope. Yep, started early, I did. About the same time, I discovered hard rock. The big acts then were Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Queen, Pink Floyd, Nazareth, and others. I'd get home from school, go to my room, get stoned and listen to the rock station from Chicago while I did my homework. And then I'd spend the rest of the night reading science fiction and fantasy, or drawing in pencil, hidden from the world. I just couldn't see myself fitting in with what anyone else was doing, saying, wearing, or being.

Always a day late and a dollar short, I just couldn't keep up with my peers. I didn't play sports, didn't belong to any clubs, and had no interests that meshed with theirs. When I had to join in conversations, as in group discussions in class, anything I said was met with blank stares, as if I'd just announced I was from Mars and had come to vaporize the town. Later, I realized that very few of my audience understood what I was saying because of my advanced vocabulary.

Later, in my last two years in high school, I found a circle of friends with whom I did share an interest, and that was theater. We were the classes that put together the plays and musicals, provided tech support. Even then, I felt I was on the fringe, outside the group as a whole.

I was in my mid-twenties when I figured out that the only way to stop feeling so miserable, so marginalized, was to simply be myself and stop apologizing for the way I spoke, the way I dressed, or the way I believed. By then I was able to quit smoking, I fought to victory over my addictions and found a better way to live.

What this week's post is about is getting along, with yourself and others, by ceasing to apologize for being you. I haven't walked in your shoes, and you haven't walked in mine. I can't ask you to understand what operates in my mind when I'm around certain types of people, because you don't have the same experiences I have. Scars remain, and though these particular individuals may mean me no harm, they may dress like, or have the same mannerisms or appearance, or the personality types of those who have done me grievous harm on the past. I may even have the same effect on you. And as humans, we tend to carry those scars in such a way that it effects our ability to interact with anyone who brings fresh light to those wounds from the past.

But we can't let scars dictate our peace. We can't let past hurts forbid us to be civil and courteous with others, no matter who they are. I may never be your friend. But I can sit at the same table and share a meal with you. I may not like you as a person. But that is no excuse for not treating you with respect and kindness. You don't have to prove yourself to me any more than I have to prove myself to you.

The key point is, I don't have to change myself for you, and you don't have to change yourself for me. But what we do owe each other is simple courtesy. And if you can't say something to my face, don't say it to my Facebook. You'll notice by my own Facebook posts that I live by my words. I don't post Bernie Sanders memes, and I don't launch attacks on anyone's beliefs. That's not just because I want to sell books (I do, but that's beside the point), but because the web is a hostile enough environment, and I'm just trying to be a little more peaceable in my corner of it. It doesn't mean I don't involve myself in discussions. But it does mean I will refuse to behave like a troll, and I think I'm right in expecting like behavior from those with whom I interact.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. But the key is to be yourself, and respect others being themselves.

Turn on the Light.