Be Yourself. . .
and Love Who You Are
tom walsh

Something happened at our high school recently that upset me quite a bit because of the effect it had on some very good students, young people who are conscientious, caring, and compassionate.  It had to do with the Student Council elections, and one person's "great idea" that had an extremely negative effect on many students and faculty members.

It was a pretty simple idea:  have the students who were running for office wear capes for several days before the election so that they would look like "superheroes."  Somehow, the person who has taken over the student council for next year had the idea that such a gimmick would be cute or even effective.  Unfortunately, since he was in charge of the elections due to the fact that he volunteered to oversee the Council next year, there was no one who knew about this idea before its implementation that was able to challenge the wisdom of such an unfortunate mandate.

The effects on the candidates were quick, easily predictable, and unfortunate.  Most of them simply didn't want to do it, but they were afraid that they would hurt their chances in the elections if they didn't parade around in school in a superhero cape.  They felt the pressure from an authority figure to do something they didn't want to do, and the pressure showed as they asked questions like "Why do I have to do this?" and "Why do I have to expose myself to other students mocking me?"  

They were confused because none of them had thought that entering the Student Council elections would force them into a situation in which they would be ridiculed by their peers.

I had to wonder what had happened to the message "You're fine just as you are!  You don't need to dress up or do something different just to attract attention--be yourself, and be proud of that!"  I know that if I were voting in such an election, I would be much more likely to vote for someone who showed their own personality and who didn't resort to some silly gimmick to try to attract attention.

But the message here, subtle as it might have been, was that "you're not good enough as you are--you need something more to attract people's attention."  This is a curse of our modern culture in which so many people are trying to attract other people's attentions that the most insecure of them resort to means that are simply over-the-top, and they make it more difficult for the people who are content with themselves to be seen and heard in a noisy world.

What are we teaching our young people when we teach them that they need to dress up as a superhero if they want to be a member of the student council?  What are we teaching them about the nature of elections--what they should be and shouldn't be--and the use of gimmicks and tricks to try to win them?  What are we teaching them about the value of accepting themselves and being comfortable with themselves?  And what are we teaching them when we tell them that they have to do something that makes them uncomfortable just because some teacher said they have to do it?

To the students who came to me to talk about it, I gave a very simple message:  you're fine just as you are, and you don't need to dress up as anything to be a great person.  Don't give in to any pressure to be something you're not, because your own identity is the most important thing that you have, and you shouldn't compromise it for any reason.  Be true to yourself, and allow your feelings to guide you.  It didn't completely work:  at least one of the girls who absolutely hated the idea succumbed to the pressure because she thought she couldn't win if she didn't do so.  I hope that in her case, this situation helps her to learn the value of being true to herself and not giving in to pressure to compromise her integrity.

Our world is becoming more and more a place in which people's identities as individuals aren't valued, and that's a very tragic fact.  We've got to be happy with who we are--completely accepting of ourselves with all our gifts and talents and faults--if we ever hope to be happy people.  We cannot find any peace of mind or heart if we spend our lives trying to please others, doing things that we don't necessarily want to do just to gain their praise or acceptance.  And as authority figures and role models, it's important that we help our young people to be happy with who they are, to help them to accept themselves--for those young people can't grow into strong adults without a clear sense of self and a healthy sense of their personal identity.  Never should we tell anyone, "You're not good enough just as you are--you need to be something different."

And we also need to be careful that what we think is the message we're sending is actually the message that's being received. . . but that's another story, isn't it?


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