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On "Owning Yourself"

What does it mean to own yourself?

Eric is my new idol.

A little while ago, my friend Crystal and I went to a hip hop dance club in the city. We had a total blast, completely and unabashedly breaking it down on the dance floor. But even with all my gusto, twists, and turns, I was without a doubt, upstaged by Eric. By the way, Eric was in a wheelchair.

Not only was Eric getting down on the disco floor, he was also getting down with multiple women. Good looking women, too. Every time I turned my head, there was a different, cute co-ed on his lap, making out with him passionately. At moments he looked over at me looking at him, and I would give him my nod of respect. At one point, I even gave him my philly fist jab, which we both got a kick out of.

Surrounding the perimeter of the dance floor were good looking, but very nervous looking guys leaning up against a pillar. They were sipping their drink a bit too fast, holding their drink a bit too high above their waist, and their posture was just a little too cool. They certainly didn't look like they were having much fun. They looked nervous and uncomfortable with themselves.

This solidified something I've been thinking about for quite some time now: in terms of how you are perceived by others, it doesn't matter who you are, what you've done, what you look like, or what your disability, as long as you OWN YOURSELF.

I am aware of the expression "OWN IT". For instance. if you buy a new flashy, ridiculous t-shirt (as I often did when younger, much to the chastising of my friends and family), people may laugh at you less if you act as though you have absolutely no apologies, and aren't one iota ashamed of your t-shirt. In fact, you act as though you LOVE your new t-shirt.

You don't just have the choice to own things though, you can also own yourself. This means you accept yourself fully, both your strengths and weaknesses, and live life without regrets or apology.

I think "owning it" makes all the difference in the world in how people perceive you, and how you in turn interact with the world. I think part of Adam Lambert's success on American Idol last season was due to the fact he owned himself, utterly and completely. I also think a major part of Lady Gaga's success is her uplifting message for people to not be afraid to own themselves, no matter how odd or different they may have been treated in the past.

A related concept to "owning yourself" is "having integrity". My friend Crystal wrote an interesting essay about integrity that I think is relevant to owning yourself. here are some parts of her essay, intermixed with my ideas.

"Integrity is blind to culture, class, religion, and education."

Right on. I would also add as well physical or mental disability.

"But what is integrity, exactly? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy recognizes that while integrity is an important and frequently cited virtue term, it's perhaps the most puzzling. Integrity judges the quality of someone's character, but not necessarily their morals... Sometimes integrity is used interchangeably with honesty, but I think honesty is just one component of integrity. To keep things simple, I'm going to think of integrity as being the opposite of hypocrisy. Nobody is perfect. We're all guilty of behaving in hypocritical ways from time to time, especially when our value system is developing in adolescence and early adulthood."

This is interesting. This suggests that the person who owns his or herself may not necessarily always act morally, but they are at least accepting of the fact they are are an imperfectly moral human being. And perhaps more importantly, they are honest about their imperfections, don't try to hide them, and they don't tend to be hippocrates by saying they act one way and instead act another way.

Sound familiar? I think that's why Tiger Woods got so much flak. He didn't own himself. Instead, he lied about himself. He gave people the impression that he was a devoted, family man when he was off sleeping with other women.

With the Tiger fiasco, it wasn't so much that he slept with lots of women, but that he was a hypocrite about it. Consider someone who I think has integrity: "Puff Daddy" Sean Combs. Depending on your moral system (or level of jealousy!), you may or may not find it reprehensible that he sleeps with so many different beautiful women. Nevertheless, you can't really call him a hypocrite. He openly states his love for sex and to the best of my knowledge, he is completely honest with the women he sleeps with that they may or may not be the one.

More thoughts by Crystal:

"When I find out that integrity is missing on so many important levels and hypocrisy is the dominant trait in an adult, it's hard for me to look beyond this and see only the wonderful qualities this person might have."

This suggests that a person's positive traits can be overlooked because they haven't properly owned their potentially "non-positive" traits. Not owning your imperfections can get in the way of someone being attracted to your positive attributes! On the flip side, this also explains why owning yourself can be attractive, like it was in Eric's case. He wasn't trying to hide his disability at all. Quite the contrary, he was owning his disability.

In her essay, Crystal goes on to ask the following great questions:

"But is there a time when this type of thinking has to be turned off? What should I do when I've realized that I have people in my life who are lacking integrity? Should I 1) Stay true to my core set of beliefs, even if it means that I'll lose people in my life who once contributed to my livelihood? And, if I do this, will I have more room in my life to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones? Or will I just be isolating myself. OR Should I 2) Practice the art of accepting others as they are? Would this decision make me grow more as a person? Or, would it, ironically, just make me a hypocrite?"

These are such great questions. It seems to me most sensible to first and foremost have integrity yourself. Since like tends to attract like, you will increase your chances that those who also own themselves will be attracted to you and you therefore will have more options to choose from. As for the friends and lovers you already have, I'd say certainly accept their imperfections, just as you've made the choice to accept your own.

I think owning yourself is one of the most important stages of personal development and self-actualization. We are all born with a different constellations of traits, temperaments, inclinations, family backgrounds, and environmental circumstances. I think encouraging people to reach a stage where they are comfortable enough with themselves to own themselves should be one of the highest goals of education and society.

What do you all think?

© 2010 by Scott Barry Kaufman

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