When I was young, some people used to tell me about how awesome I was for some reason. Much of the time, they would laugh and chuckle at the same time as they told me I was awesome. I had no idea what the heck they were driving at, and very often it seemed like they were making fun of me. I could not feel this awesomeness they were speaking of, if it wasn’t just some really stupid joke. But later on in life, when I would run into these people again, they would maintain that I was just that: awesome.
I was a rather gruff person as a boy. I didn’t care for great displays of emotion unless they seemed absolutely necessary. And truly – I didn’t see what was so awesome about me, or why I should love and be loved, and why any of this was a big deal; why did people want to love me, anyway? A gruff, insensitive, hard-mannered fellow who cared more about basic respect than about whether or not people found him to be “awesome.” Just respect me and my boundaries, I’ll respect yours, and that’s all that’s necessary, I thought.
Then, many years later, when I finally matured enough to see so many things I had never seen before, something happened: I saw this same awesomeness in my father.
My father is an imperfect fellow. Never in his life tried to be perfect. He acknowledges his imperfections, and he welcomes an atmosphere in which people can be as they wish to be. There are some things about my dad that can rub people the wrong way – but, he says, who among us does not have a feature or two of this sort? My dad understands that who you are won’t please everybody all the time, and thus he accepts people for who they are – and believes that people will either accept him as he is, or, if they don’t, they will come forward and tell him what is the matter, as would be the forthright, honest thing to do.
The thing that makes my dad awesome – even at those times when he can be annoying – is that what he does and says does not have “ulterior motives.” The fact that he doesn’t polish himself in order to sound “smooth” may make some people uncomfortable; but I would wager that this authenticity makes as many or more people around him more comfortable. When somebody truly does come from an unpretentious state of mind, you can just take them at their word. That’s unfortunately uncommon.
My father finds it unfortunate that so much of the time, we have to stage so many things that we do. But the reality is, we do. Especially when we’re working in a professional setting of some sort. And even when we’re interacting with friends and family, we often stage things, and not just with those people that we don’t have a fully trusting, loving relationship with; we even do this with the people that are closest to us.
For my dad and me, the comfort we have with conflict for the sake of truth has indeed lost us a few people over our lifetimes. But the flip side is that is that both of us have gained just as many friendships on account of our honesty and lack of pretense. In fact, very often, this lack of pretense opens the door to relationships with people that would otherwise not have known us or found us desirable to associate with. Managing feelings is a lot easier when you can deal straight with somebody. :-)
As many times as I have been told previously that my outgoing, difficult-to-ignore nature has caused people to shy away from me and feel uncomfortable around me, I have also been told that I have been a role model for people who were afraid to speak up and be their true selves; that my “brazen” behavior helps them to see that it is okay to not focus so much on how they come off for the sake of other people’s comfort. After all, if you see somebody drawing a lot of attention to themselves, you are much less likely to be the focus of such attention if you do or say something outside the normal range of what is thought to be socially acceptable – because now there are two or more of you. :-)
Living without pretense, however, is not just about straight shooting in terms of how you act; it’s also about living with as few automatic assumptions as possible. It’s about not tailoring how you act or think to what you believe the result is going to be in the future. This can be a bit hard sometimes, and it’s not something you want to practice in absolute. Obviously, if you go to a part of town that has a very high violent crime rate, you are putting yourself in more danger then you would if you went to a part of town with a low violent crime rate. To think otherwise would be foolish. However, all too often, in our modern society with all kinds of safeguards and plan Bs and contingencies, we very much overdo the business of thinking ahead.
For the sake of avoiding danger and discomfort, we begin to exclude many potential courses of action that could be very beneficial and enjoyable to us. For example, not talking to a stranger for the sole reason of being afraid that something weird might happen. Or not practicing speaking a foreign language because you are afraid that people may make fun of your speech. My father and I are both multilingual; when we speak a language we don’t know so well, we still don’t care if we don’t do or say everything to another person’s liking. We do our best, and through practice, we get better. I have always been surprised at the number of people who miss out on learning other languages, or even anything else that they would like to learn, just because of some hangup they have about how their learning process might somehow make other people uncomfortable.
Consideration has its place; but when consideration becomes fetishized, it’s little more than pretense. And when you deal in pretense, you not only put off others, and make others think that you operate off of stereotypes and dogmas – you also snub the hell out of yourself in the process overthinking things when you should be out there taking some kind of action to move forward. Instead of worrying about the small stuff, notice the small stuff. Definitely do not ignore it completely – but get to a level of acknowledgement that does not stop you from being you. Ok, so person X doesn’t like the way you talk, and person Y doesn’t like the way you look – often these are things you can’t do too much to change, and even if you can technically change something about yourself and your behavior that might make somebody feel more at ease, what is the return on your investment in changing yourself? If you are always trying to figure out beforehand what the right mix is, you are going to waste a lot of energy on this stuff, and a lot of these naysayers may still be unhappy with you. And your “planning” of how you come off can often look pretty pretentious. Major backfire.
There’s a time and place to change something up. You can notice that things about you don’t look perfect to others, and may even inconvenience other people, without overreacting and trying to “correct yourself” in order to get rid of the negative feelings. You can notice somebody becoming annoyed with you over the littlest things – and let them be annoyed! Notice their annoyance, don’t aggravate it – but don’t let it make you change your expression so much, either. Because really, if your small stuff is that big a deal to someone, then they aren’t truly annoyed with you. They’re annoyed with themself, in reality. You just happen to be the quickest / easiest scapegoat for their negativity. But it’s not your job to deal with somebody else’s shit.
Live without pretense not only because it is a more truthful, more honest, and thus more compassionate way of living; live without pretense out of love for the benefits and happiness it brings you not to have to waste your life’s time and energy overplanning – trying to realize a future that you truly cannot control. Figuring out how to do that in a balanced manner is probably a huge part of most people’s major life work, so don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone :-)