“Be natural, my children.”–last words of English novelist Charles Dickens
Living authentically, especially in social situations like families and workplaces, is one of the hardest, trickiest challenges in interpersonal relationships. It always works if you are honest, simply yourself, and not merely some kind of expected social role or role you choose to play in order to cater to the wishes and limited/limiting egos of others.
When we are with friends or people closest to us, it is always best to focus on mutual interests, shared past experiences, and what you want to know about them, who they are, and what you’re curious about. I always take the view that Virginia Woolf had–that I want to learn from and about others, that there is something positive that will expand my own perception, understanding, and appreciation of others. Other people are always potentially interesting and they naturally evoke questions and responses during the listening, relating process. I am ‘larger’ or ‘largest’ when I am fully engaged, listening, and responding to others. When the talk is honest and thoughtful, the process, incidentally and consequentially, reveals me at my most natural and best.
Typically, people play roles when they are with others. This begins at an early age when we are children (sons and daughters) in relation to parents (mothers and fathers)–something that usually continues through life, though in changed and modified forms as children grow up or age themselves. In the workplace, we are employees, doing what employers or bosses expect or tell us to do. In male-female relationships, there are usually assigned or assumed roles–a fair number of these challenging or begrudgingly done over time. Roles always delineate, limit, and restrict at some stage–sometimes they are even fixed or foisted–having an unnatural rigidity and smallness that make one aware that there is often much more to oneself–potentially and actually.
One ‘trap’ to being nice, for instance, is that there is no limit to the number of people who will use or not care about others, but rather see nice people as being a means to an end. Often, as I have remarked before, nice people will not necessarily get a deeply-needed or commensurate positiveness back. They put out way more than they ever put back in, frequently leading to dwindling energy and personal resources. As I have also remarked elsewhere in this blog, one has to be nice to oneself or take care of oneself if one is going to approach life this way. Charity begins at home, so to speak, and you certainly can’t be any good for others if you are not good to yourself. You owe this to yourself; after all, your life is mostly your life.
Two basic problems in relationships are: 1) We do not see ourselves the ways that others do (that is, we may not fully understand our affects on others or we do not see the gaps between our perceived images of ourselves vs. the preferred images that others have of us). 2) We receive meanings and purposes from relationships, but the roles and exposures that we have to others in relationships may limit what we really want or need, as well as who we are, and our potentially to live authentically–without social masks or personas, assigned or chosen roles.
As we often hear, it is important to be oneself or to be true to oneself. This may require an extra step of setting up conditions under which we are more likely to learn about ourselves, who we are, what we like, and so forth. This may mean ‘dropping out’, leaving the ‘herd’ or ‘machine’ as we used to call it in the ’60s, cutting out the social noise, and trying other possibilities and actualizing roles of self-growth that may work better in the long run for ourselves. “Finding oneself’ is a bit of a cliche, but sometimes that can get thwarted in the glut or mess of one’s main personal relationships, family living, work, or career. I think living authentically is always going to be easier if you know and like yourself, and if you respond naturally/’unrolely’ to others. Roles can be convenient or efficient (e.g., a job may get done), but they are, first and foremost, just that–roles. People and life are far more complicated and nuanced than roles.
So who are you? What do you like? What are your missing pieces, your unfulfilled or neglected dreams? This is, after all, your life. It’s been said that sometimes we’d rather die for our preferred egoic images of self and imagined, projected fantasies of what ‘society’ expects of us. Too many of us serve without reflecting and attending to our own much deeper inner–sometimes spiritual–needs. There are basic hungers and thirsts that beg a more authentic, less ‘rolely’ lifestyle. And sometimes, these will bubble up, whether in the proverbial mid-life crisis or under other changed contexts, and we will draw a very deep breath and begin again. This time, as our natural selves, living for and as our more authentic, basic selves.