Be yourself, unless yourself is a jerk

In this corner, we have Be Yourself! Supported by “everyone else is already taken,” “an original is worth more than a copy,” and “people don’t have to like you,” Be Yourself is solid advice in a culture where following the crowd and keeping up with the Joneses are shouted at us any time we are in any contact with advertising. Which is most of the time.

In this corner, we have Don’t Be A Jerk! Supported by “everyone else on the road or in the parking lot,” “the person sitting across from you while you’re looking at your phone,” “people who know how to use a trash can,” and “retail and food service employees,” Don’t Be A Jerk is solid advice in a culture where the individual is the highest priority and What I Want is definitely more important than anyone or anything around me.

The only problem with these two solid pieces of advice is that they are sometimes mutually exclusive.

Because sometimes people don’t like you because you’re being a jerk. Which means that “just be yourself” isn’t solid advice in this case.

But, of course, “being a jerk” is subjective. And sometimes people feel snubbed because of what’s going on with them, not because of you, or because you’ve offered information they’re not able or willing to accept.

So we need some self-awareness and enough emotional space that we can acknowledge that sometimes we don’t act well. Because we all do it sometimes.

Some of us just do it more consistently than others…

If you’re angry at someone else for doing something that you do or you’re rationalizing doing something that you get angry at others for doing, check your behavior.

As a general rule, if you’re the person who is checking their phone when in a conversation,

or who doesn’t pull forward in the school drop off line,

or who treats wait staff poorly,

or who doesn’t acknowledge a person when they greet you (creepy/unsafe situations excepted!),

or who leaves your shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot,

or who doesn’t pick up after your dog,

or who yells at the low-level employees who have nothing to do with your problem except that they’re supposed to try to solve it using a script —

stop doing that. You’re being a jerk.

As a general rule, if you’re the person who sees the world a little bit differently,

or who sings even though people can hear you

or who creates weird or wonderful or funny or beautiful or poignant pictures or stories or music or theater or jewelry or sculptures

or who isn’t captured by pop culture

or who is very into something off the beaten path

or who is gentle in a “toughen up!” culture

or who just kinda feels like a square peg in a proverbial round hole —

keep doing that. You’re being you, and we need more people who can and will just be themselves.

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