Several summers ago we discovered a bat flying around our basement as we attempted to watch television. It probably came down the chimney. I tried several techniques to get it out the door at the top of the stairs, but it would not fly to the porch light. After about an hour I gave up, shut the basement door, and went to bed. I would deal with the bat tomorrow.
The next morning when I went down to the basement I heard a faint metallic sound, and I soon saw that the bat had trapped itself in a metal wastebasket – how and why, I am not sure. But it was easy to carry the wastebasket up the stairs and out the door, where I could release it.
That, I thought, is how problems should be solved. Do nothing, and by the next morning, it fixed itself. This sometimes works with my computer, where turning it off, and then on, fixes a problem. I’ve also learned to “reboot the modem,” a term that impresses people until they see that it means to unplug it, wait for half a minute, and then plug it in again. Problem solved.
I’ve applied the same technique to my New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve joked in the past that it’s easy for me to come up with my New Year’s Resolutions, for all I need to do is say, “Same as last year.” Ha-ha. But this year, as Kim and I discussed resolutions, she came up with, “Be yourself.” Easy, right? Who else am I going to be? Just wake up in the morning and my modem will be rebooted and the bat that’s been flying around inside my head will be in a wastebasket.
A little discussion, however, made it clear that being oneself is not always so easy. We spend a lot of time trying to live up to other people’s expectations for us, even if those other people are our dead parents. And we feel bad when we don’t measure up. Being yourself can lapse into being someone else’s version of you. I’m guilty of that, having been labeled clumsy as a child because I occasionally dropped things. Dishes, for example.
Being yourself is also not so simple if you are living with a life-partner, where some compromise is inevitably an ingredient of a successful partnership. My way around that potential problem is to realize that part of my self-identity is “good partner.” The trick, though, is not to overdo that, so the partnership does not veer into martyrdom and victimhood. Kim made it very clear, in a context that I don’t want to go into here, that she is rejecting the victim role, and along with it, any unwelcome role that others may attempt to assign, and I should, too. Clear enough. One solution is to minimize dealings with those who attempt to impose unwelcome roles on you. Be yourself, yourself. Define yourself, and become that person.
A related problem with “be yourself” is that we, of course, have more than one self, depending on the context we find ourselves in. (I don’t think I need examples to illustrate this.) Is one of our selves more authentic than the others? I remember an old Bill Cosby bit (back when he was a good guy) where someone told him that smoking pot would help him become his real self. Cosby’s response: “But what if your real self is an asshole?”
So, maybe, the wisdom behind “be yourself” is simply to be the best version of yourself that you can, under the circumstances. In other words, don’t be a martyr or some other kind of asshole. Unplug your modem, and plug it in again, making a fresh start. Let the bat go.