A hard lesson I have learned in life is that, ultimately, I have no control over how people perceive me. Based on my appearance or skin color or even the sound of my voice, they will derive their own notions and follow their own impressions despite my best intentions.
I have learned to be okay with this. I am not going to be of any interest to some or a lot of people and will be misjudged every now and then.
The corollary to this lesson, which I actually think is more valuable, is that I need to be more aware of how I perceive others. I make an effort not to dismiss someone I have just met purely on looks. Instead, I closely observe their behavior (knowing fully that spending a few minutes getting acquainted at a party, for example, is nowhere near enough time to understand who a person is).
Do they listen to what I am saying?
Do they only care about what they have to say?
What do they actually choose to talk about?
Are they courteous or considerate toward others?
Do they make me laugh and are not afraid of being ridiculous?
A person’s actions are far more eloquent than what they wear and what they present.
When I meet someone for the first time, I have learned how to simultaneously engage them in conversation while closely watching how they treat me and others.
Generally, I have found that most people are kind and insecure in various ways. Older white men, gay or otherwise, tend to talk a lot more than they listen.
And occasionally, I come across an absolute gem of a human being—someone who sparkles with empathy, joy, and warmth. Sometimes, I get lucky and become a friend of such a person. But I am also happy to have orbited within their aura for the short time that it was possible.
Now, to go full circle, everything I see in those gemstones is all the things I want to be within myself. I want my interactions with people to be guided by empathy instead of judgment. I want people to feel okay to let their guard down when they see me. I want to exude as much kindness and warmth as possible because I know from personal experience how cruel and cold the world can be. I want to make people laugh (because laughter is the most accessible and tangible form of joy that I know of that does not exclusively involve getting naked).
I want to see people for who they really are, and again, whether or not I get the same treatment is out of my control.
I can only embrace what I perceive and live with that. Along the way, I can do the work to become the person I want to be, even if no one ever bothers to notice.
Maybe I can be a gemstone too and simply shine in my own way.
Maybe somehow, we all can.
A Note About the Art
Two self-portraits that I created are featured in this issue. The first one at the beginning of the post was made back in 2003. The colorful second one with my cat Steinway was completed just this past Sunday, May 7, 2023.
The years seem to have made quite a difference.
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Beautiful way to be.