I am currently listening to a song by the artist formerly known as Ton3x. It's called "Bl3nd" and appears on one of his last gospel records, before he completely gave into secularism. He now goes by B. Slade and still makes great music, but I feel like something is lost in it.
In any case, that is not what I want to focus on. I want to deal with the philosophical implications of this song. The message of the song is fairly simple: just be yourself and love yourself. It is a common message we hear these days, and there is a certain amount of truth in the idea. Don't worry about if you stand out a bit and don't spend your life just trying to blend in with people and losing yourself in the process.
I find that my reaction to this philosophy to be quite mixed. I do believe that you should be who you are and love yourself (doing so will surely be useful when you have to learn to love your neighbors and love the Lord Our God). You were created to be who you are.
I find the conflict I have about this philosophy is that it is one that necessary begs the question, a common logical fallacy. Unlike my wonderful girlfriend (hey, hannah), I would rather thoughts be followed to their logical conclusion than to just be rhetorically wonderful. This isn't to say that I do not enjoy good rhetoric, I just would rather be told the truth even if it is done terribly. Also, this is not an indictment on Hannah, she just is not as staunch about such things as I am.
So, what is the question that is hanging behind this "be yourself and love yourself" philosophy? It is probably more than one, but the most obvious one to mind mind is this: How do you know who you are? With this thought come others like: 'how do I know when I am being authentic?' 'What is it to be authentic?' The list, honestly, could go on for miles.
This question is especially important for the Christian. What does the Faith teach on the matter of who we are? There are some quick and dirty answers, like the fact that we are created in the image of our Creator, we are to love others and love God, and meant for connecting with our creator through worship.
However, there is a flip side to all of this, and that is the doctrine of the Fall. Adam's felix culpa is an event that shook the entirety of Creation in the view of the Church. With mankind's Fall, the entire game changed and suddenly things were not as they should be. The risk of having to cast mankind from Paradise was a very real thing from the moment we had the life of our Creator breathed into us. When mankind became mankind, however the creation process went, there was always that possibility that the silly creatures we are would ruin what was already Good.
Laying aside issues like the idea that the goodness that we can achieve now is of stronger stuff than the original paradisal good, it can be said that the fact that we call it the Fall indicates that we are not as we should be. Indeed, from a Christian point of view (inherited from God's original chosen, the Jews) it seems important to note that the entire story of all history is highlighted by God's attempts to restore humanity to its rightful place and relation to Himself.
I have heard it said that the whole story of mankind's redemption, with the climax being the Cross, is a story of mankind recovering from a terminal illness that only recently, in relation to our universe, was able to be fully cured.
Taking that metaphor a bit further, a sick person is not as they should be. Whatever sickness a person may contract in this life, it is a sign that something within the body has gone awry. Something is horribly wrong. A psychological disorder signifies damage to the brain and the soul and requires treatment to get it out. There is a reason Christ is also referred to as the Doctor of Our Souls.
So, as I have laid out just now, humanity has the illness of sin that is the world's worst Sexually Transmitted Disease. We pass it to our children, whether we like it or not, and try to fix it in various fashions (human and supernatural).
Now, I want to go back to the "be yourself, love yourself" philosophy. I have admitted that there is a lot of truth in the philosophy, but that it ultimately begs the question. I also think it is apparent, from what I have said about Christian belief on the state of mankind, that we truly are not ourselves yet. A healthy man does not need a doctor, but a sick one certainly does. The existence of evil itself and the misuse of our free will is constantly affirming that we are sick.
Christians believe that Christ is the cure to this sickness (being Catholic, I believe this "Christ Medicine" is administered through the various established sacraments) and, as I have said, the fact that we are sick means things are not working as they should be. So, if you tell someone to be themselves, what are you really saying?
In our society, this is usually used to sweep our various faults under the rug. At least, that is how it seems to me. I mean, the way our society says we should love and accept ourselves seems to glorify the faults. My father is a prime example of this, for he is known to say that he is simply the way he is and that's it. He leaves no room for growth. It saddens me that he has blocked himself in that way, but it is his choice and there is little that I can do about it.
This way of thinking reeks of materialism and fatalism, and I am not referring to the materialism of the mall rat, I am referring to philosophical materialism. The philosophy that claims that everything that there is is nothing but the physical world. A tight circle for many a madman. The logic in it is sound, until one realizes that it keeps you from even thinking or believing because there is no you. But, I digress.
Here is the point, materialism and fatalism both mean that there is no choice in the matter on who a person is. They are simply what fate, genetics, or whatever factors made them to be. They leave no room for choice and, as a truly Pro-Choice person (I'll explain this in another post), it confounds me and makes me shake my fists in indignation.
I believe in choice, which is to say that I believe in free-will. Anything that negates the fact that I have a say in who I become or what I become is repugnant to me. It is, quite simply, an abhorrent and sick idea to me. It is the height of foolishness.
That said, I was very much influenced by the movie "The Iron Giant" as a child. The theme of the movie was simply 'you are who you choose to be.' The giant was actually built as a weapon but, when he discovered himself, he did not wish to be a weapon. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the giant sacrifices himself to save people. The scene always brings me to tears. It's valiance in the purest form I may have seen.
This is what I am trying to hammer home, our bodies, genetics, upbringing, or whatever affect us, but ultimately it is going to be our choices that determine the sort of life we lead and who we become. The self is actually quite fluid, people can change if they so choose. This choice does not have to be conscious either. People who, say, become Goths may take on that persona consciously or they may be sort of pushed towards it by their reactions to various circumstances. I saw a woman who hates the color white so much that she could now have her wedding dress be white. She uses her tattoos and dark clothing to make herself stand out. Upon further inspection, it was shown that she started doing this as a reaction to how the popular kids treated her. Her current state was the result of conscious and unconscious choices. She created who she was in the moments that I saw her on this crazy wedding show my sister had on.
As I have stated, as a Christian, I have to accept that we are not as we should be, and the whole start of the Christian journey of recovering is the conscious choice to trust the Creator, and the Church He left for us, to heal us and help us recover ourselves. The problem I have with the beautiful song that prompted this craziness is just that it is likely steeped in how the world views the self. I was born this way, so you can't tell me it is wrong, is the mantra we hear worshipped so much these days. I am not responsible for how I have turned out, so just let me be. This is all false thinking and belief; and, it is actually quite dangerous for the mind. I won't go into those dangers, because this is already too long.
Who we are cannot really be decided until we die. That's my conviction, until we are in eternity, we will not know who we really were. The difference between a good man and an infernal one is not decided until the judgement. We still have many choices to make, so we should worry less about whether or not we stand out (be that a good or bad thing) and more about how we are living. How you live is a reflection of who you are, at least in those moments. Nothing is set in stone yet, so if you are someone you never wanted to be, stand up and change. I leave with a quote from one of the most influential Michael Jackson songs in my life:
"If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."
This world's salvation begins in the changing of mankind's collective hearts.