“Well I try my best / to be just like I am / but everybody wants you / to be just like them.”
So Bob Dylan sings in the final verse of his epochal 1965 song “Maggie’s Farm.” Throughout the song, Dylan—notorious for his cryptic or, at the very least, tongue-in-cheek lyrics—remains firm but vague about the fact that he “ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
For anyone wondering about what on earth he is talking about exactly, the above four lines are a hammer knock to the head revelation, bringing about age-old questions of personal and cultural authenticity that have been around so long they should have become stale and laughable. And while certain methods of attaining do permit a few chuckles (i.e. the pejoratively stereotyped “hipster”), otherwise the subject of what Shakespeare referred to as being true “to thine own self” remains one of incredible potency.
In our incredibly individualist contemporary culture, the question of now seems to be not “am I authentic?” but “how authentic can I afford to be?” As gung-ho, care-free, and autonomous many people, particularly those under the age of twenty-five, pretend to be, the impetus for social conformity remains stronger than ever.
Aside from the fact that social media has forced us to be far more careful about aspects of ourselves we choose to share, the risk of being ostracized over brief, powerful moments of vulnerability even in privacy with someone has been heighted because of minute yet omnipresent conflicts in human expectations.
In simpler terms, the shocking transition from genuine amiability and humor to veiled pain and sadness often throws off others enough that the foundation of whole relationships is often irreparably cracked.
Of course, not all of us have been conditioned to handle sudden crises and no one can or should be blamed for wanting to bail out when things get tough in a relationship. It is just human nature to take flight when a situation become egregiously stressful.
However, that so many of us do choose to leave—I am a guilty party here as I am sure many others are—in the face of someone’s genuine need for compassion is both sad and a scary reflection of how far we’ve strayed from what makes humans “authentic” as a collective. People are infinitesimally different and we are always, to paraphrase Dylan, trying our best to be just like we are.
However, that difference in itself offers the possibility of unity; we all have certain traits that are trying both to others and to ourselves that we should all do our very best to understand. While this is perhaps strikingly cliché, if you who sees it as so can find it in your heart to forgive me for being trite I will have already partially proved my point.