I follow “Humans of New York” on facebook because I love that city and I love the stories. I find them incredibly thought-provoking and feel they create a marvelous sense of wonder and universality (i.e. we are not alone). I came upon a post last week of an elementary school aged girl with a smile on her face. The question posed her was, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to which she answered, “a person”. My reaction was, yes, young lady, that is exactly what we should all focus on as we move through our lives. And I wasn’t surprised a six year-old understands that better than say, a forty-six year-old. Being a person is a concept I first learned from the psychologist Carl Rogers, when I read his book “On Becoming a Person” in graduate school. My understanding of the process is essentially becoming a person is about integration of emotion, thought and behavior. The key component to this integration is total honesty—with the self, and with others. Kate H. and I have become fixated on the importance of honesty, and the consequences when it’s lacking in a relationship, choice or situation.
Oftentimes when I’m frustrated with someone and trying to understand their situation I’ll find myself exclaiming, be a person! in exasperation. I think what I mean by that is I wish to see people experimenting with being vulnerable, while at the same time showing resolve. I believe the most direct route to managing what could easily be an intimidating contradiction is through honesty. I’m new to this process myself, and I’ve found time and again that using honesty reduces fear and creates real connections with others. It encourages others to follow suit. It removes people and influences standing in the way of developing our personhood. It gives us the confidence to navigate any situation. It guides us toward the best possible lives for ourselves.
I didn’t feel like I was being a person when I spent my first year back in Seattle trying to be hip. But I had spent the years I lived in Scottsdale dreaming of knowing all the cool bands, and going to all the shows, and spending time in all the dive bars, and talking up the cultural zeitgeist about which I’d have insider knowledge, so comfortable in the scene I seemed nearly detached, but belonged completely. If you’ve not met me, I’ll tell you it’s impossible for me to remain detached in social settings; I’m incredibly extroverted. That I envisioned myself leaning against a bar, nose in the air, hip to all the cool stuff shows a lack of honesty with myself about who I am. I understand now, and am comfortable with the fact that I prefer to be at home, in small groups talking earnestly about people and relationships, or playing games. While music is my passion, I discover it and see it live for the joy of the experience, not to show off some superior roster of band knowledge. No one cares. I’m typically incredibly uncomfortable in bars because I don’t drink, and I love to talk intimately. I doubt a day will come when I look cool and fitted snugly inside any one scene. I never had a clique growing up, but I knew the names of two-thirds of the kids in my 1600 person high school, and a thing or two about each of them, because I won’t ever belong in a small, tight group. When honest with myself, it’s clear my life won’t be leading me in any direction I adamantly decide I need to go. My intellect rarely makes good decisions by which to live. When I focus on my intuitive sense (which, by definition, is never dishonest), the answers begin to emerge from the fog and I feel my life begin to move. My intellect is a much better help in dealing with the logistics of getting to where I belong. The consequences of not being honest with myself about the hipster lifestyle being wrong for me began with making a new group of shallow, uncaring “friends”, and an alcohol relapse culminating in separating from my husband in our first year of marriage, losing my job, and living in my ex-best friend’s parents’ basement. From being on the list to being on a mattress on a basement floor.
I encourage you to try your hand at being a person. It’s a gradual process, that I believe never completes entirely. It’s not a pressured course. An evolution, with extraordinary results. Try checking in with yourself once a day, just to bring yourself to the present moment. Look around, look inside. If you find yourself unable to do this simple exercise, chances are it’s been a long time since you’ve been honest with yourself. How’s that going?