Mickey Z. — World News Trust
March 20, 2021
“You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” (Jaron Lanier)
If you only know me from reading my articles and/or Facebook posts, you’re aware of one very limited version of me. You'd likely be utterly astonished if you were to spend any extended time with me in person. That’s because — like EVERYONE else — I present a different “self,” depending on the situation and how comfortable I am with you.
My landlord, for example, has an extremely distorted perception of me. She’d probably LOL if she heard one of my friends describe me. Ask my ex-wife’s family about me. Ask a random co-worker from a random previous job about me. Ask someone I once marched with back in my “activist” days. You’d think they were talking about three different people. Concurrently, I often feel like a different person when interacting within discrete situations. Who I am is often heavily dependent on context.
My readers may call me snarky. The neighbors in my building might call me a “noodge.” The cashiers at the local supermarket would likely say I’m sweet and polite. The homeless women I help see me as reliable and a good listener. The editors and publishers I’ve worked with saw me as, um… opinionated. My best friend and my ex-wife could tell you tales of my epic silly side (which only a few have ever witnessed). My personal training clients have frequently remarked on my patience. And there are parts of me that I sadly feel like I’ve never shown the world. Which one of those selves is me? All of them? None of them? What does it mean to have so many selves?
Generally speaking, this is fine. It’s normal. Or, I should say, it passes for “normal” is the twisted culture we call home. But I’ll come back to the whole “twisted culture” thing in a minute. For now, let’s dig a little deeper into what we mean by “self.”
There is a theory in psychology that we each are made up of three categories of self. Think of them as overlapping layers or dimensions we call upon — depending, again, on context. This flies in the face of self-help exhortations to be your “true self” or “authentic self,” but we’ll get to that shortly. First, the three dimensions:
Of course, each of the above categories contains multitudes. Each of those multitudes blurs into one another. So then, can you truly be authentic? Or has this society made it feel necessary for you to censor yourself? Is it healthy to be so many versions of you? My answers: Most likely yes, definitely yes, and almost certainly not. Some form of compromise will be necessary from time to time — but nowhere near as often as we’re programmed to believe.
Well, I got this far and had to put the article aside for a couple of days. I didn’t know what to write next. My heart tells me that there’s something inherently wrong with a cultural structure that imposes so many metaphorical masks upon us. Of course, there’s no “scientific” way to prove this belief but then again, science rarely reveals the important, enduring truths.
We’re warring over masks lately but since when is it a new thing that we hide our faces in the name of avoiding certain kinds of interactions? Thanks to accepted norms and sheer dread at the thought of straying too far from “normal,” we usually disguise our most authentic self. We dole it out in meticulously chosen mini-portions. We do so because we’re deeply conditioned from a very young age to not rock the boat, to fit in at all costs.
Our acquiescence in a disturbingly broad range of areas — political, spiritual, scientific, and more — appears to have no limits. For example, we all love to talk the talk about being fearless and tough but when we’re told to remove our shoes before going through airport security or to line-up for a vaccine that’s not yet approved, it’s “yes, sir” all the way. Mainstream expectations have internalized a fair amount of “coward” into all of us. How in the world could we ever be expected to work up the nerve to divulge the most profound aspects of who we are?
Bravely living as your deepest self may result in being ostracized and lonely. Succumbing to enforced norms may result in you living a life of make-believe, keeping your core values and beliefs hidden. If you have to squash some of your strongest impulses in order to maintain a friendship or attract a partner, where does that leave you? Must we wait for society to change before we can be true to ourselves? Within reason, I say no.
We’re all living on borrowed time. Now more than ever, we can recognize how fragile life is. These days, it’s also becoming more clear how tenuous our freedom can be. There is not a single soul among us who knows for sure when it all will be taken away. What greater motivation do we need? As Charles Bukowski mused: “We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”
Breaking news: It doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to cater our existence to what we think others want or prefer. Sure, it sounds and feels so, so risky to expand your comfort zone and stick your neck out. More breaking news: Almost all of what we fear never comes to pass and if it does, it plays out differently from what we imagined. What if we each waved our freak flags high? Look around, what do we have to lose except our chains? Btw, about those chains: They just might be of our own making. What would our lives be like if we each embraced and shared our truest self? I say we find out.
Mickey Z. can be found here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!