As many of us relax during the holidays, reflect on our lives, and even make New Year’s Resolutions, it’s important to be aware of our society’s cult of authenticity. How often do we tell ourselves or others, “be yourself” or “you do you.” I love our cultures shift from the cold, distant, emotion-less facades of previous generations, and absolutely see the value in being authentic. But we have gone too far. Here’s why I think so:
1. Feelings are liars
Well, not always. Sometimes they are insightful for a situation or a relationship. But other times, they are just plain wrong, or wrongly interpreted by us. Your feeling could just be the bad burrito you had for lunch! I encounter a lot of people, myself included, who start from the assumption that feelings should be the driver of what we do and why. If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, then I shouldn’t do it, and you shouldn’t make me. When we realize this, it should strike us how feeble of a life we would have. Our emotions cannot be our moral ground or insight into who we really are. They cannot be the conversation-stopper that ends all debate.
2. You're made for Someone else, not yourself
Seeking to always “be yourself” assumes that self-expression and self-actualization is the highest goal. The morality that can be justified with this foundation is seemingly infinite and unguided. The biblical tradition teaches that we were made to image or reflect God, not our own “selves.” There is an objective standard - a “givenness” - to our identity that cannot be defined and changed simply because we feel it or find the standard uncomfortable. The same is true for relationships - they cannot be so fickle as to rely on my feelings, or else my marriage and many of my relationships would have been broken and re-formed countless times over. Ironically, knowing our purpose and limitations becomes liberating, freeing us from slavery to fickle and ever-changing passions.
3. Know the air you breathe
We think we’re being courageous and unique by “being ourselves”, but that motto has simply become the norm for us now, in the same way that being “counter-cultural” is now the cultural fad. It’s self-defeating to think I’m unique in trying to be unique. We’re products of the Romanticism movement that needs to be relativized to lose its power over us.
4. We need to get out of our comfort zone
“Be yourself” can become a way to legitimate laziness - as if it’s courageous to just not try to improve who you are. I realize it is not always the case. Sometimes we are faced with such oppressive situations, that the courage to show forth your true feelings or convictions can be immense. And yet I also know that when I don’t step out in faith I often rationalize it as being against my personality, rather than seeing it as the cowardice and selfishness it is.
5. Being yourself could be the worst thing for you.
CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce, famously described hell as a place where you get whatever you want and our worst selves are given free rein to dominate our lives. Hell is also locked from the inside, - as if God is saying to those in hell “thy will be done”, rather than us saying to God “thy will be done.” We need God’s grace to help us be who we were created to be.
6. Which self?
The injunction “be yourself” assumes that we know which self we are, we were, and/or we’re trying to be. Many of us struggle with determining exactly which self we should be pursuing, and are not sure when something is “just me.” It’s simply a bad standard.
Try to discover the purpose for which you exist - to know and share in the glory of a perfectly just, merciful and majestic God - and the burden of “being yourself” becomes the joy of living sacrifice to Christ and others.