Do You have the Courage to be Yourself?

Last weekend, I read Freedom, The Courage to be Yourself – Insight for a New Way of Living by Osho.*

Osho’s ideas provoked thoughts about limiting mindsets and where they come from:

Do you believe you are a belief system? Maybe more than one?

Maybe you believe you are a Poor, Democratic, Environmentalist, Buddhist, Feminist.

Maybe you believe you are a Middle Class, Republican, Capitalist, Christian, Conservative.

We carry far more labels than those, don’t we? And most of them are a ball and chain we apply to ourselves.

My eyes opened to the destructive nature of belief based labeling when I ran for the Minnesota State House of Representatives as a Republican. About 30% of the people I met despised me and another 30% loved me without knowing anything about me or what I planned to do if elected. They cared only about the R or D next to my name. It was easy to accept the unconditional praise (even though it should have scared the shit out of me), but the categorical rejection was frightening. Whenever someone instantly rejected me because of the label I had chosen, I thought… I bet this person would vote for me if he took the time to understand who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. But he couldn’t see who I was because the label invoked powerful negative emotions which prevented him from actually seeing and hearing me.

At our very core, we are not belief systems, we are distinct individuals governed by our own free will and we can choose to believe anything we wish.

You are not poor – you choose to believe you are poor.

You are not rich – you choose to believe you are rich.

You are not middle class – you choose to believe you are middle class.

You are not a Christian – you choose to believe what Christ taught.

You are not an Atheist – you choose to believe there is no God.

You are not a Democrat – you choose to agree with Democratic politicians and vote for them.

You are not a Republican – you choose to agree with Republican politicians and vote for them.

While you are not required to be consistent with labels, a lifetime of cultural programming, fear of hypocrisy, and a desire for group approval can enslave you in the name of consistency. These labels are not your identity because your identity is not a consistent set of beliefs. It is something that is constantly growing and changing, so struggling to be consistent stifles your growth.

You are not Black or White or Latino or Anglo or any other label. I defy anyone to show me where Black starts and White ends or where Anglo starts and Latino ends. You can choose to label yourself or to label others but they are only words that categorize or separate us. It is no different than if you lived on 1st Street and someone chooses to change the name to 1st Avenue. The road is still the same. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is what it is and calling it a Street or an Avenue is a choice, but its individual essence defies all labels and its interconnectedness to all other things defies separateness.

I understand that labels can help us better understand the world at high levels of abstraction, but more often they are used to separate us, enslave us, or pit us against each other in bloody wars.

Sociologists may decide to label you this demographic or that demographic, but that decision has no bearing on what you really are, because what you really are defies all labels.

And you can choose to believe that too.

* Osho’s ideas are controversial and I do not agree with everything he’s said or done, especially some of the more radical stuff. But he has an amazing mind that challenges convention in a refreshing way. His ideas will make you think differently about the world.

24 thoughts on “Do You have the Courage to be Yourself?”

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this! I have always resisted being put into any sort of labeled box, for the simple reason that I don’t fit in any. Of course, it can make other people uncomfortable when they can’t figure out exactly where I fit in their scheme of things. So I hope they all read this article…

  2. Steve,

    Truly awesome post! It is clear looking back on history that labels have always been there, and it has gotten out of control.

    The more “lines” that we try to draw around our existence, the harder it will be to stay inside those lines.

    Thanks for this insightful post, Steve.

  3. To avoid being hypocritical, we maintain our labels. But how far we should take it? For this reason, I avoid joining any organization, network, community or group which is formed only to further ‘popularize’ a particular label. But we can’t avoid it completely. Even if we don’t try to label ourselves, the world sees you only in terms of labels. It is a struggle to get noticed beyond the labels.

  4. @Rise,

    I agree, we can’t totally escape them in today’s culture. Labels do exist and we have to accept reality as it is.

    But if you look deep inside yourself, you’ll discover they are vitually meaningless.

    It is most pronounced in politics. Picking the wrong label can make or break you. It is hard to make it without one. It’s been done, but it is much easier with a major party.

  5. Your aricle reminded me of something I read on exiistentialism and how we define our existence through our choices. How through conditioning and dogma we begin to label ourselves. It’s a great book called “Irrational Man” by William Barrett. Perhaps you’ll read it, I think you’ll like it.

  6. The problem is not in having labels. Labels are formed based on some core values like political ideology, religious beliefs, economic status, education, profession, etc. Since there is no one way of doing things, it makes sense to consider other ‘labels’ values too, but that’s where we tend to be blind and we just follow the label. It becomes the question of which label wins rather than what is best for the world.

  7. My biggest problem with America has always been its addiction to labels. When labels are taken away people cannot function properly because they have not been thought to recognize individuals, just thought that they should be one. Most people think that to accomplish that they just need to pick as many labels as possible so they can be different.

  8. *sigh* this stuff shouldn’t be surprising. the reason that people can’t seem to be responsible for themselves is because of post-modernist/deconstructionalist crap, such as:

    there is no truth.
    it’s all relative to what you believe.
    there are no absolutes.
    white can be black.
    if physics were discovered by non-white-mails, the laws of physics would be different, as if 1g would not equal 9.8 meters/sec-squared if it were “discovered” by a woman.

    you realize this is, philosophically, how bush and his ilk can get away with their shenanigans don’t you? if one rejects post-modernist thought, one is free to admit that things are right and things are wrong. without an anchor, we are at the mercy of spin-doctors and marketers and PR specialists.

    to put it mildly, sometimes when you look in the mirror, it really is you. you may really be an unemployed loser. sometimes, there isn’t anyone to blame but yourself. you made choices, there is no denying them. it isn’t because you are white or latino or whatever. despite what jesse jackson and sharpton want people to believe, sometimes your sad state is your own affair.

    on the flipside, you also get to take credit for all your success’. your race didn’t make you succeed, sometimes it’s all you and the choices you made in your life that led to your success.

  9. Yasuro,

    I’m not sure what you are saying…

    It sounds like you agree and disagree about labels.

    I understand your comment and it makes sense, but I don’t understand its relationship to this post. Yes we make our choices and yes you are resposible for your choices and yes you can choose to become unemployed or self-employed or unemployable or anything you wish to be. People do label you… but the most destructive labels are the limiting ones you give to yourself.

  10. sorry, i should have been more clear. i haven’t read the book by Osho, but from what i can gather from your post, i’m mostly in agreement.

  11. I do not think the problem is with labeling; the problem is with extremism. Humans are genetically designed to process information in chunks — ‘this is a tree, that is a preditor, these people are my family’ — and so we created labels in order to understand the concrete world we live in (language began as labeling). A label is not a bad thing and it is ridiculous to proclaim yourself free of labels just because you don’t want to be pigeonholed by someone else (they will simply call you an anarchist! lol!). The problem here is that people add value and judgemental opinions to a label and use it to promote tribalism rather than understanding.

    It is helpful to know if you are a Republican or a Democrat, as it gives me a starting point with which to interact with you and discuss politics. The mistake is in JUDGING you for it point blank. If after getting to know you and your platform I think you are a wonking dumbarse, well, that doesn’t have anything to do with your label of choice, does it? And you don’t necessarily represent the label, you are just using it to shape the dialogue.

    A label is a label is a label. I get very, very tired of philosophers parsing out the definition of a word until it is meaningless just to prove that is (gasp!) meaningless. Sure, everything is meaningless at that level. But take responsibility for the labels you represent. Chose your labels carefully — language forms you — and do not laden your choices with supernatural powers. Simple. 🙂


  12. @KimBooSan,

    LOL! A wonking dumbarse! Now that is a label I wish to avoid.

    On a more serious note…
    Osho was writing more about the labels you give yourself that chain to think a certain way. He was saying that the only real freedom is inner freedom and inner freedom comes from letting go of you metal cages. And I think that makes good sense.

    LOL! I know we can’t abandon labels. How could I write this sentence without them… it just a string of labels.

    About republican and democrat… I could live without ever hearing those labels again. I could also live without Liberal and Conservative. I find these labels completely meaningless. i can’t make any sense our of anything when people use those labels. Worldwide these labels get totally convoluted. Liberal in Scandinavia has a completely different meaning than liberal in California. I tend to think of myself more like the Scandinavian type of liberal and nothing like the California type of liberal.

    But see what this does? See where that took me? Did i just piss off the people that label themselves California liberals? And do they all believe the same thing about themselves? About me? About Scandinavian liberals?

    Osho is right on this one…
    I’m not a liberal at all. I’m something completely different, but that doesn’t mean I’m a conservative either. To remove the label means I am free to make my own choice and not be stuck in some category. Okay Okay I can hear someone calling me an anarchist… but I’m not… I swear! I’m something completely different. 🙂

  13. And now…for something completely different? LOL!

    I understand, though. I learned a valuable lesson from my mother about the ridiculousness of it all: She was a rabid Democrat (capital “D”, mind you) and once asked me how could I be so close with my best friend from college because she is a — horror!!! — Republican! How could I trust such a person? How could I be friends with her??

    The absurdity of it hit me like a rock. The person in question was (and still is!) one of the best women I’ve ever had the honor to know. To write her off just because of that stupid political designation was stupidity squared. And my Mother was a brilliant woman, she just blinded herself with that mental poison. Absurd.

    If removing labels from yourself frees you to do what you need to do, I think that is powerful and good. Anyway, I’m pro anarchy! Go Steve! :::wink::::

  14. Thank you for this great post, Steve. Congratulations for reading and discussing Osho’s books. It is true that he has a lot of controversial ideas, but we should recognize that at least these ideas are very interesting, especially as these ideas are opening a totally new perspective over our lives.

    Our inclination to label everything in our life makes us look to the label from the bottle rather than to the actual content of the bottle. A great advice that Osho kept repeating in almost all his books, was to stop labeling and categorizing the things and the people, and simply look at them. In that moment we would be able to see what is actually around us.

    The idea you can categorize and label people is strange. Who or what am I? Nobody can define me, not even I. If I could I would have been enlightened. In fact, Osho wrote somewhere that one of questions most helpful to wake you up (in the Buddhist conception at least) is “Who am I?” with the variant “Where am I?” In my life, I have experienced ups and downs, periods of wealth and periods of lack of money. However, all the time, I was the same person, so trying to put a label on me would be totally pointless.

  15. Great writing, insightful and introspective.

    I’ve always thought that if we all realize that we are the same species (as in human) the world would be a much better place.


  16. Labelling oneself even extends to one’s illnesses. People say “I am a diabetic” when really you are not the disease. It may very well be something that you have, but you are not it. Thank you! I enjoyed this post!

  17. Funny enough the one belief system I have is that we are meant to continue to grow until the day we depart this plane of existence. Should we label ourselves in the process? I think not. Too many people are willing to oblige and do that for us lol! Thanks Steve, as always food for thought 🙂

  18. I love being myself, and I like it more every day. I’ve got a great wife, a wonderful family, even more wonderful extended family. We aren’t rich, but we aren’t poor.

    Best of all, we aren’t tied to many labels, so as changes come we can embrace them without fear.

  19. A friend of mine called me a feminist. I didn’t mind. But when we got onto the subject of drag queens, he pointed out that a couple of my beliefs seem hypocritical to being feminist. It was a very frustrating moment, since these beliefs are more important to me than feminism is.

  20. In response to your question: “I love to read. It is my biggest obstacle to writing more. When I have some free time, I have a hard time deciding whether to read or write and usually end up reading. Right now I am reading Hell Angels – A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson and Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton. What are you reading right now and what are your thoughts about the book and its author? Do you recommend it?”

    What a coincidence that you think reading is an obstacle to writing. It’s a coincidence because I encountered the notion of reading as obstacle for the first time only a few weeks ago in the book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julie Cameron. The book is meant to help blocked artists.

    She says that reading is soothing to an artistic mind. Words are like sedatives. But reading keeps ideas and inspiration at bay, and creativity isn’t acted upon when reading. So she suggests depriving yourself for one week. Faced with open free time, the artist will be driven to do everything but read: clean the house, organize the videos, go out with a friend, do homework, cook their own meals. Halfway through the week, the artist will run out of alternative activities, and without the soothing effect of words, will feel driven to create something.

    I tried it, and after four days I was finally (finally!) drawing again. But I broke the deprivation the next day with an eleven hour binge of reading. It was almost like an addition relapse. But I plan to try again after the summer school session is closed.

  21. Believe in yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself. Not sure whether you have watch the movie “the secret”, it’s talking about law of attraction.

    Anyway, I believe this someway related to “label”. By believe in what you have become will help to attract what you are becoming, this is law of attraction.

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