I was speaking to my aunt this morning about a close friend of hers whose husband had just passed away. (for the sake of this analogy, I will call the woman Dorothy) Though it had been two weeks since his passing, her grievances were still very great and yet rather than dwelling on the barrenness of her circumstances – she had decided to embrace life.
Dorothy showed up at a Christmas Party a few days ago in a beautiful shirt – one that received an overflowing of compliments and yet seemed so out of character for the somewhat conservative woman. When people started to enquire what prompted her to buy the shirt she replied ‘my husband never liked loud colours and so I never wore them, yet with his passing I feel that I need to be who I am, not who I was ‘with him’. Her husband had liked black coffee and his aversion to anything new or different had persuaded her to like the same, yet now she says ‘I’m trying all the new flavours, I have a whole cupboard full of flavoured coffees and syrups and I love it!’
It’s amazing how we become what others want us to be, we adjust; we compromise; we submit and we learn to change who we are in order to fit someone else’s expectations of us. I cannot say that this is the wrong way to live, for sometimes, no matter how radical we are inclined to be – we do need to find some grounding and stability with those around us in order to maintain social cohesion. A marriage would not work if both partners sought to do only what they wanted bearing no consideration for the other, nor would a work relationship benefit from two obstinate and belligerent employees who refused to embrace change or submit to the differing creativity of another.
The movie ‘Elizabethtown’ provides a somewhat abstract view of relationships. One angle of the story is a woman grieving over the death of her husband. To overcome this grievous state, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, trying to fill the hole of his absence and in doing so – fill some of the holes in her own life… those things she’d always wanted to try but never had, those classes sheâ€™d always wanted to take but never had the time. She started to dance, to take cooking classes, to learn how to fix a car and get to know her next door neighbors. Through his passing, she in fact discovers who she is.
I never want to reach a day like these two women did when I realise that in the subservience of compromise and necessity to adaptâ€¦ that I have in fact lost the essence of who I am. That I have conformed so much to someone else’s lifestyle and expectations that I no longer have a strong sense of what drives me, what delights me, what inspires me and makes me the person I am. Our identity is not only made up by our key decisions of life, our personality or jobs… it is also made up by the small inconsistencies and preferences that make us unique. It is our favourite food, the way we always read the ending of a book first or insist on reading the credits of a movie even when we don’t recognise any of the names. The perfectionist manner in which we make our bed or mathematically formulated plan of doing the dishes, our unjustifiable loyalty to German coffee or our addiction to Turkish delight, our fascination with collecting rocks or snow globes or inbred desire to skydive on every continent… all of these eccentricities make up the blueprint of our DNA.
Many people think that changing a small element of who we are for the sake of “fitting in” is no big deal, but a compromise no matter how big nor how small somehow tends to breed further compromise ‘for the sake of our loved ones’, more slight adjustments or amendments ‘for the greater good of mankind’, more shifts in thinking ‘to avoid arguments and altercations’, a degeneration of views and opinions ‘so not to rock the boat’ and further sacrifice of personal preference ‘because it’s not conducive to the current environmen’... until one day we discover that in all the minor adjustments â€“ we have in fact lost ourselves.
There is a delicate balance to be found in ‘standing alone in the midst of a crowd’ – maintaining the essence of who we are in the midst of differing views, environment and opinion. There is no formula to be found for it attainment, it depends rather upon the wisdom and intuition of the individual and the ever-important pursuit of finding, apart from all other controlling factors, our own ‘sense of self.’ 8 years ago