In years past I've spent a good chunk of time attempting to fit myself into molds I was fairly uncomfortable with because, often times, the society I lived in at the time essentially shamed me for being who I was. I'd like to start this off using a very broad statement, provide evidence for said statement then jump up on my soapbox about that term. Here it is: Per societal norms, i'm weird as all hell. I am a 37-year-old Male. As I've said before I am a husband and father. I am a senior Soldier in the U.S. Army. Here's where the "weird" creeps in. I'm not an Alpha male, I despise hunting, I honestly couldn't care about last night’s sports ball scores, I break out into song and dance at inappropriate moments (often in public and to the mortification of colleagues I'm with), I whistle ALL the time, I make jokes and movie references when I get nervous, I have a tendency to make comments inappropriate to the situation, I love music (pop, rock, jazz, bluegrass, rap, R&B, 40's, 50's, 60's and so on, jam bands, the list goes on), dad jokes are ingrained in the very fiber of my being, I express emotions even if it means I laugh or cry uncontrollably, I let my children explore their worlds even if it means my son occasionally wears nail polish (I would say "or if my daughter dressed in boys clothes" but our double standard driven society has deemed that okay). That's a mere sampling of what makes me.
I understand that most of who I am flies in the very face of the cultural idea of who/what a Soldier is, yet I couldn't care any less if I tried. Instead I've decided to love and embrace who I am regardless of the blowback I may receive. It is a very freeing feeling to decide to say "to hell with the people who choose to not accept me" and just live my life. At first I took a fair amount of verbal jabs about myself. Once people realized I wasn't going to adjust to their standards they began to accept who I was, and life got easier. I just had to persevere through the initial unpleasantness. I'm looked at as bizarre, yet honestly who cares? I'm happy and isn't that what matters? I have to live with me ALL THE TIME. Why conform to others opinions or ideas if they don't make me happy? Other peoples acceptance issues should not dictate how we behave as individuals as long as we are not intentionally harming others. Instead of letting yourself believe that you must be flawed, release that toxic thinking and truly embrace what makes you unique.
We live in a society framed on the ideals of tolerance and acceptance yet the KKK is still a real organization, religions still attempt to "save" those who don't share their same beliefs, parents occasionally exile, from their families, their own children when they learn their sexual preferences don't conform to a standard (and let's take this moment to remember that at one point in history interracial marriage was insanely discouraged), yada yada yada. What is happening? It is extremely troubling to watch a country built on the ideals of personal freedom squabble back and forth, perpetuating the cyclic nature of prejudice, attempting to shove each other into boxes they don't want to exist in simply because their definitions of "normal" don't mesh. As long as "we the people" are continuing to function as a thriving republic, why does it matter that some boys enjoy doing things deemed "girly" (once again remembering that little girls being "Tomboys" is not only accepted but looked upon as adorable or cute)?
Why should a persons sexual preference, the very nature of who they are, define them as a lesser part of life or a dysfunctional member of society? Why should a person's dietary choices (lactose/grain free, paleo, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan) matter at all to anyone but them? And for the love of all that ever existed, WHY SHOULD A PERSON'S RACE/NATIONALITY SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THEM OTHER THAN "THAT'S THE RACE THEY ARE"?
There seems to be this underlying belief among some of the citizens of this world that people are only allowed to express themselves as long as everybody is comfortable with it. Those people need to learn the ultimate truth that the only life over which you have the authority of sovereignty is your own. When dealing with freedom of expression, being/showing who we truly are as individuals, unless we are purposely affecting others with directed physical, mental or emotional harm, should be not only accepted but gratefully welcomed. No single person on this planet should be made to be ashamed of who they are simply because it could be disagreeable to someone else.
This idea should permeate all aspects of our beings. The idea that people should be shamed or persecuted or even assaulted for who they are is beyond ridiculous. If there's a lesson here it is this: consider yourself, your entire person from appearance to personality and persona, and realize that there are aspects of you that those closest to you possibly don't like yet there still exists civility and love in your life so why not attend that kindness to others? We can learn as a culture/civilization/species to not only tolerate differences in others but to openly embrace them. This paradigm shift starts with one word: CAN'T.
I hear people routinely allude to the fact that they CAN'T accept something about another person: "I can't accept their religious views" or, even better, "I think if I just talk to them about what I believe, they will see the error of their ways". "That person is too fat, too skinny, has tattoos, has a strange hair color, wears stupid clothes, has stupid mammerisms, whatever it is that goes against the cultural grain". "I can't accept their lifestyle so I must do what I can to correct them". First of all, cannot is ignorant in this case. People should use what's really in their hearts: "will not"; secondly, what's so awful about how those you may not agree with behave or look? It's not our business as a people to irrationally judge others. That's supposed to be the constitutionality guaranteed beauty of, specifically, this country. Free to look and act how ever we want so long as our behavior doesn't infringe on those same constitutional rights of others. Just mentally note your discontent and continue being a civil human being who probably possesses traits others don't like either. Everyone is broken and imperfect. Once we accept that I think we can embrace growth.
The paradigm shift continues with each of us, as individuals, refusing to believe if ever we're told or made otherwise to believe we are not good enough. The only judge of character to whom we should hold true is our own inner monologue and sometimes even that guy/gal is an unrelenting jerk.
Where does this shift begin? How do we go about healing a society that thrives on mocking and tearing each other apart, sometimes even subliminally through (social) media and pop culture?
I think it starts with the children. Cue the accusations of bleeding heart liberal idealist but honestly I don't care. We need to teach our children to practice unbridled acceptance. Children of all creeds and backgrounds should be taught to respect each other regardless of their differences. Amazingly enough, you can respect those you consider your opponents without compromising your own ideals. Never has it been written that in order to accept someone else's behavior you must completely believe in and subscribe to what they are doing.
Children are the most impressionable people on the planet and if we continue to teach them to shame and humiliate each other then we are doomed to continue on a path of hatred and destruction. Instead, let's shift to a more open minded form of parenting. Learn to love yourself as you teach your children to love all around them. We could theoretically change the course of human history if ONE generation was taught that just because you may not understand something there's no need to hate it, there's no need to get up in arms about it, there's no need to fight about it.
When it comes to your identity, never compromise who you are for the sake of public acceptance. The harder you try to deny your true self, the more miserable you will inevitably find that true self. If this sounds too simplistic it's because it is. Once you can learn to let go of inconsequential judgements you will start to notice how frivolous they were in the first place, how little weight they actually bore on your individuality.