Most days, all day, we are encouraged to not quite say what we mean.
We’re told to tone it down.
We’re told to be nice.
We’re told to keep certain things to ourselves.
We’re told to avoid saying what we really mean and what we really think, because it may upset or offend somebody else.
The world is often in the business of bullying us into not being ourselves.
There absolutely is an extent to which it is the intelligent, kind choice to be mindful of the circumstances we’re in before choosing to express ourselves in certain ways. There is a subset of people who seem to think it is a virtue to be “blunt” in their communications. It’s my experience that most people who go around bragging about how “blunt” they are are most often looking for an excuse to be unkind, and/or not have to put the work into being aware of and sensitive to the people around them.
We DON’T have to express every thought that occurs to us in the most “blunt” way possible. That is neither intelligent, nor necessary, nor kind. I would never tell anybody to impulsively just say whatever comes into their head.
That said: if we cave, day after day after day, to others’ preference that we not say what we mean…it becomes really, really hard to build and maintain healthy self-esteem.
Being honest in what what we express and communicate is something that most of us need in order to build and maintain a healthy sense of self.
Sometimes the people around us— especially in the relatively less inhibited world of social media in which many of us live most of our days— will have reactions to us being ourselves.
I’m not talking about the normal reactions people have when somebody chooses to be obnoxious or unkind in their communications. If you go around being hurtful just because you’ve decided it’s a virtue to be “blunt,” you’re going to alienate a lot of people…and you should.
Unkind behavior invites unkind responses. That’s not about someone else’s “thin skin;” that’s about something we psychologists call “natural consequences.”
Rather, I’m talking about the fact that there are a lot of people who are only willing to accept and reinforce us if we’re their version of what a “good person” is.
We’ve all seen examples of this on social media. We live in a culture in which it has become increasingly important to people that they be surrounded by, exposed to, and immersed in viewpoints that basically resonate with their own, especially politically.
This happens with conservatives; this happens with liberals; this happens with Christians; this happens with atheists. Now more than ever, people have a very low tolerance for the company or feedback of people with whose worldview they disagree.
This has the result of pressuring people, sometimes intensely, to be something-other-than-themselves in order to be accepted (or even tolerated) by other people.
This pressure keeps up, day after day, hour after hour. It has the eventual effect of making it hard, eventually, to remember who we really are, because we’re basically spending much of our time calculating what we can’t and can’t say in order to avoid being ridiculed and rejected by the people around us.
In the kind of judgmental, zero tolerance world in which we live (again, especially on social media), saying what we mean can have what seem like disastrous social consequences.
The problem being, NOT saying what we mean, stifling our true selves, again and again and again, can have truly disastrous consequences when it comes to our self-esteem, our inherent sense of value and worth, our basic sense of self.
There is a difference between being diplomatic and kind on the one hand, and stifling our basic natures and values for the sake of social acceptance on the other.
You probably don’t have the means or the opportunity to suddenly be a “hero” and go around saying exactly what you mean. The social pressure cooker in which most of us live makes being too honest, too often, a significant social liability. That’s real. You’re not imagining that. To want to avoid the social consequences of bing too honest, too often, is perfectly reasonable.
But you can take small steps.
You can refuse to go along with the crowd in small ways.
You can remind yourself who you are and what you believe…and that your identity and beliefs are fundamentally okay, no matter what “they” may think.
To the extent that you do not wish ill will on others; to the extent that you’re not actively seeking to destroy, damage, or steal others lives, liberty, or property; to the extent that you’re not seeking to coercively impose your will upon those who would choose otherwise…your belief system is fundamentally okay, no matter what it is.
To the extent that you’re not seeking to harm someone else or take their stuff, you’re a fundamentally “good” person.
Remind yourself of that.
Feed yourself the kind of thoughts that will make it easier and easier to resist the enormous social pressure most of us face to shut up and conform.
One day at a time.
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