Juggling self-expression and compassion for others

Being authentic is important. It's vital to be who you are. But sometimes the way we are, and in particular the way we might express ourselves, could get on other peoples nerves. So what do we do? Shut ourselves down? Or forget what other people think about us?

It's a complex issue. Self-identity should be valued and cherished. We are all unique individuals with special talents and characteristics. But we are also social beings that exist in a network of relationships with others. So what this means is that I need to discover and manifest who I am as a person, but I also need to think about how others feel.

But be careful. I said, it's crucial to think about "how others feel". I didn't say, "how they think or feel about me." I don't need to stop being myself because people don't like me. If they don't like me, that's their issue. What's important here is that while being true to myself, I also need to consider others. Ideally our interactions with others are based on understanding and compassion. This means that being who we are must be tempered by this. To illustrate it crudely, if I have the urge to fart, I shouldn't fulfil that urge on a crowded bus.

This example is extreme, but it helps me remember how I need to approach the enactment of my identity. No, farting in public does not define me as a person! But at times, there are jokes that I find funny which either don't appeal to others or simply offend them. Perhaps I should know the crowd I'm dealing with and joke around with people who share my sense of humour. (That also means testing the waters of course. And when I test the water, I usually want to swim in it, not get out.)

Previously I might have thought that this was copping out, giving into norms that strangled my individuality. And still the notion of censoring myself does contradict my own sense of authenticity: to be yourself is to speak your mind. But I'm also realising more and more that I don't always say the right thing at the right time and can say things that I later regret if I'm not mindful of my speech.

So I now find myself playing this juggling game in which I have to try to be myself while considering others' feelings. And perhaps the fact that I see it as juggling is why it's hard. Juggling something is difficult. It involves keeping disparate things afloat. Maybe I shouldn't be dichotomising being myself and caring about others. Somewhere in that matrix of relation I can find my sweet spot that transcends cultural conformity and egotistical individualism. How do I get there?

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