My friend David Bedrick, author of Talking Back to Dr. Phil, has been writing and posting a lot lately about “love based psychology,” a way of thinking about ourselves (and others) that prizes our unique natures.
Good for him, because there’s a price we pay for fitting in, as James Baldwin called it, the price of a ticket. To gain membership in the group, any group, we try to fit accepted image. And to do that, we have to cut off all those parts of ourselves that don’t fit in. It’s a Faustian bargain. We gain membership at the expense of our deepest essence.
And here’s the paradox. Because we cut off our deepest selves to fit, we never really joined; it wasn’t us who applied. We just acted a part. So we belong, but suffer from a constant nagging feeling of fraudulence. Being chosen for something you’re pretending to be might even be worse than not being chosen at all.
And belonging has another cost. It costs us in courage. We can’t risk speaking up for fear of losing membership. We can’t defy the expectations of others for fear of losing our membership. So we don’t develop the muscle to stand against the tide. Or let ours atrophy.
So maybe you’re not in the in-crowd. Not like everyone else. But as long as you are true to you, you are special. The character Will Hunting, in Good Will Hunting, says it better than I can. Will and his working class pals will never be members of the elite Harvard establishment, but as he says, at least they’re original.