Saturday, September 15, 2018

You, topia

© Chelsea Leigh Stockton (Sherrie Duris is subject)

Who are you at your core? What would you be if you strip away all the material things that adorn you, lifestyle, and make your image? What are you without your occupation? How do we make tangible the intangible qualities that are what make us truly unique? We are all works in progress, aspiring to our own nirvana of self-actualization. Are you there yet?

We are forever caught between the rock of our own individualism and the hard place of societal expectations. Youth mostly lean toward living up to expectations (though they will profess otherwise) while the older we get the more we yearn to break free of the confinements of conventionality. Collectively, though, we tend to want to keep up appearances, and that is a costly lifestyle both financially and in terms of our mental and physical health. It takes a toll to pretend.

Our capitalist economy, maybe any form of economy, dictates that we be a collection of products first and foremost. You must practice self-expression through clothes, cosmetics, commitment to fitness and food choices, and your taste in entertainment and extracurriculars. You set yourself apart by branding, or at least the brands you choose, because status is everything, and you do not ever want to be yesterday's news.

What are we to do then? Walk around naked? Let ourselves go? Give up? That would be unacceptable, and actually defeat the purpose of our existence anyway, but what we need to do is shift the center of our personal and collective universe away from....things.....and to what truly gives us fulfillment. The default setting on our health and happiness meter is probably family and experiences, not material wealth, not a career, not what we are constantly told by the marketplace of diets and clothing designers, drug companies and politicians.

The late Dr. Leo Buscaglia was fond of saying the we are "human doings" because we are so obsessed with proving we are worthy of existence through tangible deeds, contributing to society in a literally visible way, that we have lost track of our true essence, the fact that we matter anyway, independent of our works. Indeed, there are few if any careers that enjoy a completely positive image in our society. Some are too complicated, dismissed as "rocket science" in conversation. Others are too simple and seen as unworthy of respect. Did you tip the wait staff at the restaurant with a generous gratuity? Do you greet the garbage collector or your postal delivery if you happen to see them? Wave at the public transit driver? I didn't think so.

We have to stop equating ourselves and each other with our jobs and our wardrobes and our bank accounts and our vehicles and every other measure of self-worth we have allowed society to calculate for us. We need to transcend "tolerance" and replace it with acceptance, free ourselves of labels and stereotypes. The marketplace is not going to stop categorizing us anytime soon, so best to just give it your middle digit.

Religion, too. Personally, I carry enough guilt to be a Catholic, and complain enough to be Jewish. Maybe that is why I am agnostic. See? There come those caricatures again, those easy-to-use ways of pigeon-holing people. We are so populous as a species, and put such a premium on convenience, that we accept our lazy ways of classifying people as the norm. We are diamonds, people, with multiple facets that will only glint in the light of patience in learning about ourselves and each other over time.

You-topia? You are already there, you just haven't realized it yet. You are still consumed by consumerism, restrained by beliefs that you cannot make a difference, that only your vote matters in your district, your ward, your precinct, and in the marketplace. You believe you are a means to an end for others, not for yourself and your family and friends, let alone other species. Rebel. Lead a personal mutiny against everything unimportant. Do not let the pressures of society lead to pent-up anger and hostility. Relax. Free your mind. When someone asks "what do you do?," tell them who you are instead. Remind them that you are a human being, already worthy, and so are they. Repeat. Daily.

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