It takes courage to be “I”. Poet e.e. cummings wrote “may I be I is the only prayer–not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong“. Poet Laura Riding wrote–“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting…” These are important constructs for our time. Where does this focus on “I” shift to being called a narcissist?
In our communities, the news, and workplaces we hear about “narcissists”. Amanda Chan wrote an intriguing piece on 18 Ways to Spot a Narcissist. Yet, can you spot someone who has the courage to be I? How would you describe the outcomes of narcissist and someone being true to self, or “I be I.”
There is a significant difference between the outcomes of “May I Be I” and narcissism. In e.e. cummings and Ryders poetry, we learn of outcomes of bringing your best self to the world and thus having ripples of positive outcomes in home, family, community, work and beyond. On the other hand, when “I” becomes narcissistic, there are negative impacts on everyday life and relationships.
There is so much written about “being true to yourself” that it creates a very real tension when there is also so much written about narcissism. We need to look for examples of positive outcomes so that when we honor the courage it takes to stand up for self that it is honoring a place of integrity not defensiveness with ripples of negative impact. Let’s make sure we don’t get confused with our language. Words matter. Being clear on how you define the difference will help us all honor those that courageously stand up for positive outcomes.
Can you think of examples that illustrate and celebrate that courage?
Perhaps, the solidarity that has arisen of women standing together as a force against sexual harassment and gender inequity is an example of our time. Each woman who has a #MeToo story had the courage to be “I”. Collectively, the ripples are spreading to mothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues, men and women. Even best friends are sharing for the first time their #metoo stories. Perhaps when “I” ripples to women farm workers and Hollywood stars uniting we have illustrated the courage described by e.e. cummings.