One day at school, I had to give a speech in one of my classes. No more than three minutes long, and it had to have a clearly defined purpose. It had to have a clear structure and it was part of our CA. I said something like,
“I’m not sure which of the philosophers said, “Man, know thyself”, but I would like to add to it, “…and after you have found yourself, love yourself”. The journey to self-discovery is not complete without self-acceptance, and by that, I don’t mean excusing bad behaviour or rolling around in self-pity. I think accepting yourself means accepting that you are composed of both good and sometimes unpleasant parts. The parts that you don’t like and the ones you do like together form all of you, and there’s no getting away from yourself. So that for me, I can admit that I’m that girl with the little eyes and loud laugh, and that’s okay. I love Yoruba mythology. Some of my friends tease me about being a descendant of a herbalist because of this. I’m not, but that’s okay. I don’t do very well in crowds or with lots of people, and that’s okay. I’m Olubukola, and that’s okay.”
Those were not my exact words, but you get the idea. I was always better at knowing myself than accepting myself. I could clearly articulate everything that I was feeling, but on some level, I was never okay with being myself. Too weird, too odd, square peg, loner. Sometimes, I wore my label like a badge of honor, other times, I just wanted to be included. One day, my friend said to me, “If you’re waiting for it to be okay to be weird, you are going to be waiting a really long time. If you’re waiting for permission to live, you won’t get it. You have to find a place in yourself where you allow it to be okay to be yourself. Give yourself permission to live.”
So here I am, thinking of myself as too many things to ever fit in one neat bundle, but on my way to integration regardless. Anyway, here is a much better version of my class speech. This one is by Parker Palmer, from his commencement address on the Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life, and it succinctly defines that journey to harmony:
“As you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.
As a person who … has made three deep dives into depression along the way, I do not speak lightly of this. I simply know that it is true.
As you acknowledge and embrace all that you are, you give yourself a gift that will benefit the rest of us as well. Our world is in desperate need of leaders who live what Socrates called “an examined life.” In critical areas like politics, religion, business, and the mass media, too many leaders refuse to name and claim their shadows because they don’t want to look weak. With shadows that go unexamined and unchecked, they use power heedlessly in ways that harm countless people and undermine public trust in our major institutions…As you welcome whatever you find alien within yourself, extend that same welcome to whatever you find alien in the outer world. I don’t know any virtue more important these days than hospitality to the stranger, to those we perceive as “other” than us.”