I cringe every time I hear the ubiquitous ‘be yourself’ or ‘do what makes you happy’. What are we really talking about here? We all want to be happy… Is there any situation where this would be good advice or is this just a sort of wildcard rationalization that validates stupid decisions?
Even worse, there is no way for you not to be yourself. When people tell you that you should be yourself, what they are actually saying is that you should do something you know other people would not do. So the real question to be asked here is ‘why?’. Why are you trying to do something that other people won’t? Is it because you think other people are wrong? Or is it because you are simply trying to ignore the consequences of your acts?
So if I am about to spend money I don’t have in a car I don’t need, I can tell you that I am doing this because ‘it will make me happy’. Which of course is true. But then again, if a true friend tells you that you should not do that is because he understands that ultimately that car will make you miserable.
This seems all related to the one of the ill consequences of the 60s social revolution: the idea that society builds rules based on illogical assumptions and therefore all social mores should be disregarded. This seems to be in part a backlash against religion but I think it is also a consequence of our material wealth. It is very similar to all the idiot theories liberals have on economics: the fact that we are already ‘rich enough’ and that we could just stop worrying and enjoy our gains. People in the past might have needed things like marriage, hard work and saving for a rainy day… but now we are done with that. Dye your hair blue and let’s smoke some weed!
This is not a theoretical post. I am not thinking of this as some thought experiment or criticizing strangers who I see through my car window. I am close to my forties and I have seen friends and family who were either destroyed or badly wounded by these ideas. People who you always thought ‘had it together’ deciding from out of nowhere to do stupid things based on these popular rationalizations, just to realize later on that they had inflicted permanent damage to their lives (and to loved ones as well).
There are very good reasons why our society created the concept of family. There are incredibly important reasons why we are monogamous (and no, the fact that people have always cheated is not an argument against that – it is an argument in favor of it! Humans still kill each other even though we continue to strive for a society without murder). There are very important reasons why we have one male and one female parent, way beyond biological imperatives.
Before breaking a rule we should understand why we had that rule in the first place. Society is nothing but the accumulation of experiences from people who lived before you. These people from the past might look poor and stupid to you but I can guarantee you, they had a much smaller margin of error than we do. We should be grateful for the knowledge we inherited and use it well.