Be true to yourself on International Being You Day

My daughter-in-law Kady is a true joy. She has a very positive outlook on life and is a great encouragement to her husband, children, family, friends and co-workers. Some of her sayings are wise and fascinating at the same time. I love the question she asks her four-year-old daughter Carter.

“Are you helping or harming?” That seems like a very practical assessment for all of us at certain times. Or her optimistic assessment of her daughter's living conditions in a few short words: “She's living her best life.” But perhaps my favorite is: “Keep doing what you do.”

According to Yale University's Grammatical Diversity Project on English in North America, the phrase “you do you” means something like “be yourself” or “do what you want.” There is no agreement about when or where the phrase originated. Some point to Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein” over 200 years ago, while others trace it back to hip-hop songs at the turn of the millennium.

There is also no consensus on the meaning of the term. Some emphasize narcissistic, self-centered self-absorption, even at the expense of others, while most see it as something akin to self-actualization, as described by Yale, namely staying true to oneself and being authentic. I believe Kady represents the latter.

Be-You-You Day

Four years ago now, author, speaker and authenticity promoter Dr. Dain Heer launched the first International Being You Day, which took place on May 22, 2021. It came about after Heer received thousands of emails and messages from readers thanking him for his 2011 book Being You, Changing the World.

International Being You Day is a celebration of individuality, self-expression and authenticity. From 2023, it will be celebrated annually, not in May, but on June 22nd. This year, the focus is on not judging yourself, but loving yourself.

This week, as I was going through boxes and filing cabinets in anticipation of my move to a smaller home, I came across a folder that, despite not having seen it in years, seemed very familiar. It is titled “Self-Love” and contains notes and articles I have collected over the years that emphasize the importance of self-love. The folder is quite thick, and I believe that's because self-love is both important and difficult to practice for many of us.

One of the articles in the file was written by psychiatrist Scott Peck, who wrote a sequel to The Road Less Traveled, a book called Further Along the Road Less Traveled, in which he distinguished between self-love and self-esteem.

“Self-love implies caring for, respecting, and taking responsibility for yourself, as well as knowing yourself,” he writes. “It's about honestly evaluating ourselves and considering ourselves important,” whereas “self-respect means feeling good about ourselves at all costs.” He explains that we should always love and value ourselves, even if we don't always value ourselves.

In another article tucked away in my self-love file, psychologist Dr. Kristen Neff compares self-esteem and self-compassion. She defines self-compassion as treating yourself with the same kind of kind, caring support and understanding you would give to anyone you care about.

In contrast, she writes, “self-esteem is about being special and above average. You subtly try to put yourself above other people in order to maintain your self-esteem.”

Neff asks us to think about whether life is just about being better than others. Is it just about being special and above average? Or is it about being as happy and healthy a person as possible and fulfilling your own potential? That seems to me to be the intention of International Being You Day. The intention of “You are yourself.”

An “important message for our time”

Recently, I learned of the release of the movie Inside Out 2. My church watched and discussed the original 2015 version of Pixar's Inside Out. Our goal was to explore the theology of emotions and consider what we can learn from our various feelings and how we can best deal with them.

Dacher Keltner, one of the world's leading emotion researchers, co-founder and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, and scientific advisor for both Inside Out and Inside Out 2, says of the sequel: “I think Inside Out 2 contains a profoundly important message for our times about the importance of self-acceptance and the value of meaningful relationships.”

Just as Heer's focus in Being You Day, Peck's promotion of self-love, and Neff's research on self-compassion promote self-acceptance, the new film about emotions promotes self-acceptance.

I'm attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship annual meeting this week in Greensboro, North Carolina. In an afternoon workshop, we discussed how to encourage respectful conversations about issues on which we disagree.

A pastor who grew up in the Orlando area told the painful story of friends who planned to go to the Pulse Night Club on the evening of June 12, eight years ago, when 49 people were brutally murdered and 53 others injured there, but then decided at the last minute not to go.

She said that she had not disclosed her true feelings towards LGBTQ+ people. She was certainly not critical or unloving towards these people, whom she counted as her good friends, but she did not stand by them either. Until that night.

Pride Month and Self-Acceptance

June is Pride month. My almost 16-year-old grandson said on a recent walk, “When people ask why it is necessary to dedicate a month to this important expression of self-acceptance, this is the answer.”

The phrase “You are yourself” and the concept of “Be Yourself Day” not only express the importance of being authentic and true to yourself, but also a generosity of spirit that we can cultivate, making room for others to be who they truly are without judgment.

I wonder if, as Kady likes to ask, we are “helping or harming when we are not willing to be true to ourselves or give others the space to be true to themselves.”

I'm reminded of social worker and professor Dr. Brene Brown, who writes about the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” She writes, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change, but to be who we are.”

As International Be Yourself Day approaches, I pray that we will all work toward the lofty goal of offering and experiencing belonging in a world that longs for authenticity and love.

Rev. Candace McKibben is an ordained minister and pastor of the Tallahassee Fellowship.

Anna Harden

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