When you’re a kid, or at least a suburban kid with some measure of shelter, you’re often raised with such self-esteem focused values of being yourself; that you’re special, that you can be whatever you want. As a developing human, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this gentle cloud of delusion to cushion your exploration of new things. It’s what makes you try violin, karate or art classes. You think you can be whatever you want, so you try to be whatever you want.
Then at some point, which I’m arbitrarily setting at middle school, being who you want takes a bit of a back seat to being liked. You want to fit in, so in a sense, you’re still doing what you want, it’s just that what you want has shifted from being about your own taste to that of other people.
The last, third push, which is arguably some hybrid of the first two, is to be original. Not only should you be yourself in a way that people like, but you should also be original and set yourself apart from everyone else.
That got complicated quickly, didn’t it?
This could simply be a reflection of the development of your self-awareness and awareness of society. By proxy, as you develop one, you inevitably have to become more aware of the involvement with the other. While you, as an individual may not appear to add much to social change, you're upping the statistics in whatever choices you make. But it could also be representative of something deeper, something that we ingrain in our youth in order to make them conform to social pressure. Why, how is the ideal of originality an agent of social control? For one, it gives us idols. It gives us people to rise up as figureheads that others may follow. Controlling the masses isn't as easy as it seems to Bond Villians. You need people that can be identified with to become leaders. Leaders can't appear to be controlled, and by offering the opportunity of that leadership to anyone who can manage to be original, you've made a paradox that tends to make people more complacent as they focus on distinguishing themselves instead of working together.
I don’t think originality warrants the celebration it does. As apex predators, we engage in curiosity and enjoy novelty. As human beings, we have the opportunity to engage in an exchange of information with each other, and perhaps more importantly, offer higher degrees of understanding.
Maybe it's that hunger for novelty that makes us decree originality is the creative equivalent to high cheekbones. We are always looking for something new, so anyone who can offer that new idea is worth propelling forward. Which is understandable, given that novelty became the birthplace for the ideas that landed us on the moon, helped us eradicate smallpox and charmed snakes.
Unfortunately, or at least realistically, most of us aren't going to break that barrier of being original, being the first to do something, myself included. I don’t think that anything that I’ve written on this site has not been said before, at some point in time, by some person. I don’t believe that because there’s trillions of people that are alive and an insane number of people that came before, and while you could cull the numbers by experience, education, and time period, all in all, my life, at some point, has been lived before, at least in part, by someone.
That doesn’t make what I’m doing any less relevant, at least I hope it doesn’t. You didn’t meet any of those other previous incarnations of this personality, you’re not reading what they’ve written. With the internet we have access to more information than ever before, but we also have more of a possibility for information to get lost. And quite honestly, getting lost accounts for far more of the human race than being deified in history. We’re only reaching out to a limited circle, and similarly, there’s only a limited amount that are reaching back. My intent isn’t to be original or unique, because that’s a mathematically intimidating demand. What I hope to do is impart the fraction of wisdom that I’ve accumulated.
I don’t just sit down with my hand on my chin and pull this shit out of the air, either. I get my ideas from people I know, either by observation, conversation, or emulation. I am a collection of things I like about other people. I surround myself with people that I consider to be strong, intelligent, creative, interesting, passionate…and I hope that people who gravitate towards me do so because they want these characteristics for themselves. I hang out with these people because I like who they are, and I like who they make me. We’d all like to believe we’re autonomous and in control of who we are, but I don’t think in reality we can claim that in certainty. You have control over your decisions and how you handle what’s presented to you, but you can’t really claim to have control over how and what affects you, physically or psychologically.
Maybe it’s because I only identify as parts made up from other people that I have a particular resentment towards the idea of ”being yourself”, because you are not some isolated sculpture that is tarnished whenever you come in contact to some other bit of information that changes you. I know this advice is meant to instill the idea that you shouldn’t try so hard to please others, and that you should love yourself because that’s where your true sense of strength is found. Even with that knowledge, I find it hard not to perceive some kind of snobbery at the “unoriginal”, that, particularly as a writer, you should be pushing the envelope.
I can’t necessarily say I disagree with that sentiment either, but I find it flawed. Half of the point of reading other people's stories, or learning how to cover a song or draw pictures based on an artist you like is that doing these things makes you more aware of what you have to offer in contrast to the original. No, they're not original, but making these copies is part of who you are. Don't take that as a pass to plagiarize, by the way; the way things inspire you and the things you emulate are a part of who you are, but they aren't your work. What I'm talking about is you as a brain blood and bone monster, not the ether that you push into the world with your art, whatever that may be.
I think the more capable you are of going with the grain, the more unique you are. If you’re just as comfortable identifying and hanging out with the religious cheerleaders as you are to dropouts from broken families, you’re a more diverse person, which means that you’re more unique than someone who adamantly tries to defy convention by alienating everyone around them. They have one tool in their arsenal, you have an infinite amount. There’s also a somewhat unnerving fallacy that being yourself means that you should stand up for your beliefs even if there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that you’re wrong.
Of course, this is just my perspective, and I am a malleable and flighty person. Some people could counter that it’s a strong sense of self that leads them away from bad influences and to the right path. I've met people who are pretty much identical to the way they were when I met them, now a decade or so later. I don't know if I consider them unique either; they're adhering to what works for being them, and there's nothing special about self preservation.
Being yourself is such an odd uniform to wear. I don't even know if I could define what my sense of self is. Sociologists call this constant shaping of self based on context dramaturgy. We are a different person to our mothers, loves, best friends or enemies. Is any one of those people that you are more you? Do you have to be completely original in any of those particular context?
Boy ladies and gentlemen, that went nowhere.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.