What It Means to Be Yourself

Food for Thought

The restaurants on Division Street near Canal lucked out. It’s an odd street with very little traffic. Hip, young kids love congregating in this neighborhood. I noticed that most of them are not wearing masks. Within some circles, wearing masks has become a symbol of conformity, and some refuse to wear them for the sole purpose of projecting a rebellious image. This type of struggle is particularly intense around high school age. “Be yourself” is a popular theme among them.

At one end of the spectrum of “being yourself,” kids are eager to appear different because they fear that they might be ordinary to the bone. They leverage every symbol of being different, like not wearing masks, doing drugs, and engaging in risky behavior. They assume “being yourself” is being different. If you are an ordinary person, “being yourself” would mean doing, saying, and wearing ordinary things, but this is hard to do; they would first have to come to terms with the fact that they are not unique or special. In a way, if you can accept this, you are exceptional because not many have such confidence.

At the other end of the spectrum, kids cannot conceal their difference. Some may have disabilities or disorders; some may be from different cultures, while others may be inherently weird or eccentric. Their natural inclination is to conform to the norm because they fear that they might be too different. For these kids, “being yourself” would mean letting their freak flag fly, which also requires an extraordinary level of confidence.

For your difference to be socially desirable, you cannot be too different. The rebellious kids are in tune with where they need to be, and it is not determined by who they are but by what the society deems cool. The weird kids who are being themselves usually miss this sweet spot because they are not paying attention to it.

The fashionably rebellious kids eventually become excellent middle managers for large corporations. They are ordinary to the bone, so nobody loves or hates them, yet they know how to stand out, which allows them to be promoted. There are many future middle managers hanging out in LES.