You Are Not

I like to people watch…to observe folks when they are living their lives. Be it sitting in the middle of a mall and watching the shoppers go by, or sitting in a restaurant and eavesdropping on the conversations of those at the next table (don’t tell me you don’t do it too), observing people as they are watching their children at a ballgame or trying to take selfies in public….they interest me. The Internet has created new dimensions to this people-watching sport. You get to hear them comment on any number of subjects, you get to see them interact with friends and strangers. You get to see part of who they are.

Something has disturbed me of late. I think perhaps people get a bit confused about who they are and who they are not. Maybe that would be OK, but I think it keeps them from making their own mark, living their best life. So here are my thoughts….

You are not…..

Your family. 
That great great great grandfather who fought in the Civil War….that was not you. Regardless of what side they were on in any war, regardless of whether they were the bravest of brave or a yellow-bellied coward…that was not you. You get no credit for their acts, nor any condemnation. It neither adds to your character or takes away from it. Don’t try to live in their past.

Those relatives that think the way you think, those that don’t, those that live their lives nobly or in ways that make you cringe….they are not you.

The parents of privilege you were born to or the sad downtrodden people who were not prepared to be parents – you are not them.

You can learn from your relatives, love them, follow in their footsteps, be inspired by them, and you can enjoy telling the stories of their lives. You can love, like or dislike them (and you can hate them, too, though I advise you give that up for your own sake). Just don’t think your identity comes directly from them.  

You are not your family….nor is anyone else. Get to know each person as an individual, and don’t confuse them with their family members. Even if they love and support their people in a way you do not understand. A person is not their family, good, bad, or indifferent.

Your friends.

Oh my, I have a crazy assortment of friends! They come from every walk of life, from every ideology, from every culture, from every belief system. Some are probably certifiably insane, but to me they have a certain “je ne sais quoi”. I usually pick my friends on how they act towards me….but I don’t do that always. Sometimes they simply need me…and in some crazy way I need them. For the most part, though, we share something. Sometimes faith. Often laughter. Usually respect. Sometimes we have just shared time or common interest. I feel sorry for you if you who only hang out with those who live as you live, believe as you believe, and love as you love. You are missing a wealth that doesn’t come from uniformity. You are missing the knowledge of the depth of God’s artistry, and the opportunity to demonstrate the kind of friend you can be.

I am not my friends, nor are they me. The people I choose to associate with do not make me good or evil. Still, while I have friends of great diversity, I have learned to avoid those people who tell me who should or should not be my friends. They disrespect something I hold dear. The right to form my own opinions and not be judged because these opinions conflict with theirs. Those who don’t respect my freedom to choose what is right for me are the people who I could possibly lose as friends. Unless I choose not to. Because I have guidelines, not rules. You are not your friends.

Your job.

You may make millions or pennies, influence legions or no one, save lives or clean toilets….when it gets down to it, it doesn’t matter. You may be seen as a success in your field, an utter failure, or even mediocre. That’s not who you really are. 

Your job may give you a label. Others may treat you a certain way as a result. But they are wrong. You are not your job.

Your body.

We put a lot of emphasis on bodies these days. Too fat, too thin, ugly, beautiful, fit, unfit, young, old, the color of our skin, the color of our eyes, our strength, our weakness, our health, our sickness. As it is, it our body simply the shell that encases those things inside that determine who we really are. Oh yes, there are things that we can do to improve our bodies, and often we should, but sometimes for a myriad of reasons we can’t or don’t. When we obsess over what our body happens to be at any particular time of life, it takes us away from using it for a deeper purpose.

Whatever the state of your body at any moment, it’s a super-fantastic miracle that you are fortunate to possess. Think of it as a tool to move you through life, as a carrier of your smile or of eyes that see potential all around you. Love it for what it can do, accept it for what it cannot. Sometimes put a bit of faith in it and let it take you places you never thought you could go. You are the owner of a treasure. Treat it well, and never hate it. Your body often introduces you to the world, but if that is all that is important to you or them, you are being limited to the dimension of a photograph. You are not your body.

Your triumphs…..or your mistakes.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all win and lose, we all make good decisions and bad decisions.  Regardless, these do not define you. We cannot rest on our laurels or wallow in our weakness, or we miss out on the possibilities of the here and now. Accept the accolades for a time, ask for forgiveness and set things right whenever possible. Be humble regardless. Some people may have long memories and attempt to make you stay in the past. Respectfully ignore them. Get up and move along. We all must visit, but don’t live in those moments forever. You are not your triumphs or your mistakes.

People’s opinion of you.

Not everyone will like you, understand you, or relate to you. A lot of us care too much about this. I have cried many tears when someone I respected openly (or subtly) criticized me, be it warranted or unwarranted. I learned in time to not immediately own it without weighing it, considering what they said, and seeing if I agree. Often I don’t. In that case, my opinion wins. I know who I want to be and sometimes it doesn’t match who others want me to be. Sometimes they are right, but there are other things I need to fix first that take priority. You are not people’s opinion of you.

Your opinion of you.

You are not who you think you are. Oh, you may have the closest idea of anyone as to who you really are, but maybe not. Regardless you probably don’t totally see the whole picture. I look in the mirror daily, but sometimes will see a photograph of myself and I barely recognize me. Sometimes I see myself as far better than I am, but most often I focus on the negative. While I think I know myself pretty well, and probably better than anyone else, I have limits in my view. Like looking in a mirror, our view of ourselves can be distorted. You are not your opinion of you.

A label.

Christian, Athiest, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Gay, Straight, Racist, Skinhead, Southerner, Yankee, American, Canadian, Brit, Parrothead, Bad, Good, Citizen, Criminal, Politician, Military, Dyslexic, Cripple, Invalid, Scholar….so many labels we put on ourselves and others. If you reduce yourself to one or even ten, you limit your dimension. You limit yourself to a definition that you do not control. And you put the lid down on a box that should best be left open. You are more. You are not a label.

I like to people watch, and from doing it, this I know. You are complex and complicated and really quite wonderful. Or at least that is what you were created to be. There are many things you are not…are you stuck on them?

Maybe it is time to remember all that you are. (To be continued.)


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