By Mark E. Smith
If you look back at the GOP primaries of 2016, an interesting dynamic occurred at one point. There were two candidates – Marco Rubio and Donald Trump – with very different dispositions. Rubio was historically one of a positive message, while Trump was much more aggressive. And, both personalities had their place, per voters. Some were drawn to Rubio’s personality, while others were drawn to Trump’s.
Going into the Florida primary, the state was arguably up for grabs. It was Rubio’s home state, giving a candidate typically an advantage, but Trump, a known businessman in Florida, had very strong poll numbers.
However, the week of the primary, a lot changed. While Trump stayed with his aggressive messaging, Rubio made an abrupt change with his. To supporters’ dismay, Rubio went from his typical messaging to very aggressive, Trump-like messaging. And, it contributed to costing Rubio the primary.
See, voters wanted the Marco Rubio they’d always known, not a candidate who suddenly engaged in Trump-like aggressive rhetoric. By all accounts, Rubio becoming someone he wasn’t proved a catastrophic mistake.
Of course, there were a lot of other dynamics – some going back years – that cost Rubio Florida, but by most political observers’ accounts, his trying to be someone he wasn’t in the final week was the tipping point for Rubio’s loss.
The whole situation reminds me of our personal lives, how miserably we fail when we try to be someone we’re not – and worse yet, the toll it takes on us.
Outwardly, we can seem ridiculous in trying to be someone we’re not. A buddy of mine is one of the kindest, most sincere guys you’ll ever meet – the kind of gentleman many women would fall for in an instant. But, he has it in his head that he has to be a “cool player” when it comes to meeting the ladies, transforming into a cologne-drenched show-off who’s… well… ridiculous. The female friends in our circle have told him the simple truth: being yourself attracts others, not trying to be a studly caricature.
When we’re outwardly trying to be someone we’re not, we mostly risk embarrassment – or not getting dates in my buddy’s case! However, when we’re trying to be someone we’re not on the inside, it’s painful at best, self-defeating at worst. When I began dating my wife, I put my best foot forward, but I also vowed to myself – and ultimately her – that I wasn’t going to hold any aspect of myself back. If she fell in love with me, great. But, if any aspect of who I am chased her away, it would be my loss, but at least I was honest in the process. Nowadays, when we’re in the kitchen and I’m admittedly letting my twisted sense of humor fly, sometimes to her dismay, I have the ultimate defense, “You knew who you were marrying!”
Imagine, though – or maybe you’re there now – how painful it is not to be able to fully express yourself out of fear of rejection by those you love. Think about what it’s like to be in a family dynamic or relationship where you don’t feel safe expressing who you truly are. We know clinically that when we keep aspects of our identity bottled up, rates of depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide all skyrocket. Not being ourselves can literally be dangerous. Marco Rubio lost an election; but, Tyler Clementi lost his life when he jumped off of the George Washington bridge due to the shame he felt from being outed as gay.
None of this need be – and it’s a two way street. We must have the courage to just be ourselves, and we likewise must create an interpersonal dynamic where we welcome others to be themselves. In living such an open life, just think of how easy, comfortable and fulfilling it all becomes, where you can just be you. A Chinese proverb puts it best: Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are….