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.


  1. Brad,

    Great blog post!

    I also had outsider problems in school. When I was in elementary school, I barely had any friends. I was never actively bullied, but I was ignored. I remember one time every single person in my second grade class being invited to a birthday party except me. When I asked about it, I was told there wasn't room for me. I always related really well to adults and to my brother, who was a couple of years older, but peers my age were a mystery. They still kinda of are. I have no idea why I was socially unacceptable, but I ended up being homeschooled from 5th-12th, so it became less of an issue.

    But when I went to college, I ran into the same issue. I had a hard time making friends, partially because apparently I have odd interests and also partially because I am really blunt and partially because I am really introverted. I initially tried so very hard to fit in, which led me to befriend people who were not terrible, but we had nothing in common, so I was miserable all the time trying to fit in.

    Finally my junior year I found some friends I related to well and had common interests with. It was the first time I had friends who were my age who I honestly felt like I was friends with. They accepted me for me. In fact, they seemed to like me better when I was being me. It was such a relief. I'm still friends with all of them, actually. In fact, over spring break, I'm going to see three of them separately.

    After that, I decided I was just going to be me, regardless. It's worked well now that I am in grad school. I now have a reverse problem of what I encountered in elementary school. Now a lot of my coworkers and classmates really like me, but I'm neutral on them. Again, they're not terrible people, but we don't have a lot in common. They're the type of people who like to spend their free time going to every single fair or event in town. I am the type of person who would much rather watch bond over shared Netflix viewing. I'm polite and I occasionally do things with them, but I no longer feel like I have to change myself to suit them. And I am much, much happier.

    Anyway, thanks again for posting this! I think of all the life lessons that are thrown at young adults, this one is often a bit overlooked.

    P.S. Even though I'm quite a bit younger than you, Pink Floyd was the soundtrack of my adolescence. I discovered them when I was 12, and they became (and still remain) my favorite band. :)

  2. We all yearn to be accepted, and learning to accept ourselves is the first step.