I love that quote. In fact, I'm so enamored with it that I once had it printed on the back of my business card. There it was – smack dab in the middle of the card – standing alone – screaming my mantra to the world. Be careful! I'm watching you! That's not a popular stance. Thankfully, for most of my life; popularity has never held a position of much importance to me.
I don't view myself a cynic, but more an observer of the human condition. I observe. I comment. That's pretty much it. I call 'em as I see 'em. I am not a pessimist. I see good where there is good – evil where there is evil - and hypocrisy where there is hypocrisy. Good and evil reveal themselves to us rather candidly; but hypocrisy? That's quite a different matter. Hypocrisy hides in the shadows - in deception – in a smile – a carefully coined phrase – within a good deed done for the wrong reason.
I examine everything – everyone. I seek out the reality beneath the façade – the mask of pretentiousness. I also examine myself – at times much too harshly. I am my toughest critic. As a former spiritual mentor of mine once told me, "Every time I point a finger at you, there are three pointing back at me." This is not about you; nor is it about me. This is about us – all of us.
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and literary critic whom I quoted above, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925, and an Oscar in 1938. I've done neither. He was a Socialist. I am not. But Shaw and I have at least one thing in common. He was – and I am - outspoken. As it was with Shaw, that trait, ingrained deeply within my spirit, tantamount to that thing that makes me who I am – gets me into trouble on occasion; but that's the only way I know how to be. I gotta be me.
Neale Donald Walsch, author of the series, Conversations With God, written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers, said,
"As long as you are worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself."
Walsch's writings are highly controversial and, although I'm somewhat familiar with his work; I have not read enough to critique his writings. I quote him merely to make a point. Be yourself! Find the person you were meant to be. Be the person you were put here to be.
As Pelonius told his son, Laertes in William Shakespeare's, Hamlet,
This above all: to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
So many of us have spent so much of our lives running from who we are; playing at being someone we are not; bent on pleasing others – to fit in – to be accepted- to make others happy at the expense of our own personal growth. We cannot live the lives we were meant to live if we are preoccupied; playing the counterfeit character we have created for ourselves in this play called life.
One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my six plus decades on this planet is this:
It is not your job to please everyone. It cannot be done. Be true to yourself. Find the real 'you' and be that person – at all costs!
There was a time when I didn't understand that premise. It never occurred to me. Somehow, in my formative years, it was programmed into my psyche that the important thing in life; my life's quest, was to be absolutely sure that I was liked by everyone –an unattainable, ignoble task. A task bent on the annihilation of the real me.
Over the years, I have come to learn that being liked by everyone is an unattainable, hollow, self-destructive goal.
I spend a lot of time at Starbucks inside the Target store at Highlands Plaza in Easton; more time (and money) than I care to admit. I love to sit and sip my triple-grande/skinny vanilla Latte/extra hot/extra foam and people-watch.
Hey! That's a perfectly legitimate drink for a man! You try pounding down three shots of espresso two or three times a day! Not to mention the fact that it took me nearly six months to learn how to order it! And I drink regular coffee too. I stop at Dunkin' Donuts on Depot Street almost every morning and get a large, black coffee to go – and that's after sucking down two sixteen-ounce mugs before leaving the house. I'm no coffee snob.
Now that we've confirmed my manhood - like I was saying – I'm an observer – a watcher. I think we learn a lot about ourselves by learning about others; how and why they do the things they do.
Well you could have been anything that you want to
And I can tell - the way you do the things you do
Sorry, I slipped off into a little Temptations tune there. It must have been that talk about my formative years; a little flashback of sorts. I could actually hear Smokey Robinson singing. It won't happen again. I promise.
I was a pastor for a couple of years. I know you probably find that difficult to believe; so do I. I wasn't your typical pastor; the picture you may have in your mind as to what a pastor might look like. If you looked up pastor in your dictionary; my picture would not be there. I didn't go to seminary. I went to Bible School. I guess I might have been what Mike Yaconelli called a K-Mart Pastor (he called himself that too). But I really enjoyed the people – the interaction – and we built relationship through being real with one another.
Our church was filled with those that many might have considered cast-offs - recovering addicts – single moms struggling to survive – those who had been neglected or abused as children – others with severe emotional or physical problems. And in that little church in Bourne, they found caring. They found hope. No pretentiousness – no haughtiness.
The greatest compliment I ever got was when a young man, probably in his mid-thirties, came up to me after service and shook my hand. "I really enjoyed your sermon," he said. "I like you. You're like a real person."
"That's great!" I responded enthusiastically. "Because being a real person is what I was shooting for."
Think about that for a moment –a real person. It must be that this young man had similar experiences where he didn't feel that realness – didn't make that connection. I believe that's what most of us are looking for – someone to be real with us – honest – sincere – even when the message is not what we want to hear.
Why not take some time for self-examination this week? Is the person on the inside the same person you are portraying on the outside, or are you hiding behind a mask of deception, concealing the real you - the person you were meant to be?
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Bob Havey is an Easton based freelance writer. You may reach him at RHH@BobHavey.com