Monday, October 15, 2018

Being Who You Are: The Privilege of a Lifetime

Are you aware that there's no one exactly like you in this world right now and knowing this truth grants you the power and permission to BE exactly who you are or who you want to be?

Awareness of this truth is acceptance of an inalienable human right: the privilege to be who you are. One individual who understood this truth was Joseph Campbell.

Joseph Campbell was an early twentieth-century American professor, philosopher, lecturer, and author whose books delve into many aspects of the human experience. His concept of the monomyth (one myth) essentially theorizes that all mythic narratives stem from one great story. The great story he studied most was the hero's journey - an archetypal narrative that is present within all of us.

His work influenced authors and filmmakers, one of whom you've likely heard of is George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga. Lucas was influenced by Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which prompted Lucas to revise his draft for Star Wars. After the first draft was complete, Lucas recognized that his writing was in step with classic motifs (in literature a motif is a recurring symbol with significant meaning) and decided to research Campbell's books and theories so that he could incorporate what he learned into his own writing.

Campbell's work made an impact on American culture in spite of criticism and claims that he was antisemitic, prejudice against blacks, and fascinated with "conservative, semi-fascistic views." In some circles, he may have been seen as an appropriator or a false teacher of religious concepts.

But, with all the criticism and allegations against his character, you'll find he was equally as praised and respected as he was disliked and dismissed. This is true for anyone who believes in something so strongly that he is willing to be that example for the world and make those beliefs his life's work.

The fact that his work has influenced writers, artists, and filmmakers decades after his death in 1987 proves that you don't have to be liked or alive to be recognized and rewarded. More than anything, you need a message that others can relate to. That message is an articulation of who you are and how you show up in the world.

What I most appreciate about Joseph Campbell is not his character. I was a toddler at the time of his death and thus didn't get to experience him first hand, I read only one of his books and, admittedly, did little research to prove or discredit the negative allegations I've read about him. I will not comment on his character for it is of little importance now.

What I most appreciate about Campbell are the proverbs he's known for. They are the summation of his life's work:
"Follow your bliss."
"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."

While these proverbs in and of themselves do not stem from an original thought, the second of the two mentioned above ring true now more than ever.

Today, in 2018, where technological advancements make it possible to share their personal truths, opinions, and prejudice in under two minutes and attract millions of eyeballs without effort, being yourself is a badge of honor and a potential death wish.

Take Malala Yousafzai for example.

She spoke out about education for girls and a terrorist group almost succeeded in killing her. Malala recovered and fought back her oppressors to the tune of a worldwide movement and becoming the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. For Malala, "being who you are" meant that she could lose her life before she could legally vote, drink or do much of anything without her parents' consent. It also meant that she had a duty and an inalienable human right to be exactly who she is: an activist and role model to millions of women and girls around the world.

Malala inspired people that have been silenced because of their righteous indignation or factors out of their control such as skin tone and parental socioeconomic status. She inspired people like me who live in countries where freedom of speech is encouraged and who use that freedom to stand up for all that good is for humanity. She also inspired people that were unconsciously and unintentionally complicit in rejecting another's freedom because they feared ridicule, exile or a premature death. For millions, Malala is a hero who understands her innate privilege and uses it to change the world.

To be yourself is, indeed, the privilege of a lifetime. You can be generous, inclusive, and open-minded, or greedy, prejudice, and manipulative. Who you choose to be is your decision.

Just remember that innate privilege causes consequence.

When you choose to be harmful and your actions hurt another human being, you are out of alignment with universal/natural laws. Aside from legitimate self-defense, causing harm to another is in direct violation with laws that govern all life.

Violating these laws doesn't end well for anyone.

Look to history and you'll see those oppressors who remain in violation with natural law eventually lose power by force, resignation or suicide. History proves that manipulation for the sake of getting ahead while crushing another is a trait that's learned and passed down to future generations. That's why it's critical to teach children a better way and for adults to consistently model the way. Hatred is learned behavior and to eliminate it we must replace it with something better.

One thing that each of us can do to make the world a better place is to remember that being who you are is the privilege of a lifetime. Whether you know it or not, if you're granted a privilege you'll benefit from it. This life you're living is your privilege.

You've got one shot to make the experience a good one. Accept your privilege and soar as high and wide as your heart desires.

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