Stay true to yourself

The following blog is taken from the ethics speech that Parker Lotstein '18 delivered to his Upper School teachers and peers. Each year, several seniors give these speeches about a belief or experience that impacts the way they lead their life. Parker — a varsity soccer and track athlete and editor for the Landon News who will attend the University of Chicago this fall — shares why being the most authentic version of oneself is more important now than ever.

Today, I want to talk to you about authenticity because I think it's a relevant topic both in the world at large and especially for our own demographic here at Landon, which is young millennial men.

First, I want to speak about the politically correct culture that has taken hold in the United States. I've never really liked this movement because I think it has encouraged a lot of hesitance to speak our minds about issues. People are worried a conversation about race will lead them to be viewed as racist, a conversation about gender as sexist, and etc. People are careful because they think if they say something wrong, they could be perceived as something they're not, and it's safer to avoid the conversation altogether.

Last year in humanities, we talked about a certain thinker named William Blake and his thoughts on heaven and hell. Blake believed that heaven and hell were codependent and went as far as to say that one cannot exist without the other. He said, "Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence."

It's exactly the same way with all of our opinions today, but we're closing ourselves off from progress by not letting the other side be heard. I encourage you to listen to racists, sexists, homophobes. If you're a Democrat, listen to Republicans, and Republicans listen to Democrats — because that's the only way we can settle our disputes. Instead of letting those people talk, we protest, riot, claim that they're crazy, and condemn every word that comes out of their mouths. That is not the way to a future that we want.

Everyone deserves to have an opinion, and everyone should be open to changing their opinion. It's only by hearing the other side that we can begin to understand, and we'll be smarter for it. And maybe when they hear and understand our side, they will be open to changing their opinion. We surround ourselves with those who share our opinions, in order to affirm the legitimacy of our views, or if we question or doubt anything we will keep it to ourselves. The PC movement is encouraging the other side to be silent for fear of judgement and encouraging us to judge, but it is only through an honest and authentic conversation that we will be able to progress. We don't have to agree with one another, but we need to respect one another's opinion.

Next, I want to talk to you about social media. I know you've heard it again and again about how it's shutting us off from talking with each other and the evil blue light that [Director of Counseling & Wellness] Dr. Andrew Rhein has warned us about. But that's not what I'm interested in speaking about, though I believe those are some of the problems. It's the actual content of our posts that draws my attention. Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I see the ideal snippets of everyone's life. We're at parties having fun, on the beach enjoying our vacations, showcasing that we're part of an athletic team, and so on. Of course, that's not all of social media, but it's certainly most of it. We only capture the best moments of our lives in order for our followers to see us as such, but our lives are not like that. It's all a front to make others think we're fun and exciting when all it does it showcase our need to be perceived well, and make others jealous that their lives are not as good as the perfect displays on social media.

When I go to post a picture, I'm hesitant because what will other people think? Do I look good? Will it get enough likes? I know it shouldn't matter to me, but it does. Our online presences are often how people make their first judgments of us, and, as a result, I don't post things that are real and truly me. It is again our search for affirmation. We're looking for others to tell us how great we are. We're spending so much time curating an image that we're not actually developing an authentic self. Of course, this is only my opinion drawn from my experience with social media, and it might not be the same for all of you, but I encourage you to think about it when you're checking your feed nonetheless.

In closing, my last points will be about some of my experiences with being authentic. A few times, I have been too honest, too real with people who've had a significant influence over my success, and I've paid the price for it. This was several years ago, and it greatly confused me. Did people not want me to be real and authentic with them? I've realized that there is time for diplomacy and I'm still learning how to be authentic without being abrasive. And as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that some people prefer to be lied to if your truth is not flattering. This realization was something that really upset me and shook my view of the world, which I had previously seen as completely fair and just. I've always despised sucking up to people. I've thought, if you didn't like me, then that was your problem and I'm not going to change who I am for the benefit of someone else. But I've realized that by my stubborn philosophy it was only me who would get hurt. Oftentimes, peers and teachers don't want to hear the truth. They want affirmation on how great of a job they are doing and act harshly to anyone who says otherwise.

I looked back at an article in Landon Magazine about Kai Kight, who was and is this incredible guy at Landon. He speaks about his time at Landon: "I was doing everything I could to hit the right notes, to do all of the right things so that I could get that validation, that applause... I was trying to keep everything cool, I was trying to keep up that appearance." Sometimes, you have to be fake: you have to laugh at your boss's jokes, smile when you're angry, and congratulate when your sense of right and wrong is being questioned. This is the world we live in, and someday I hope I can come to terms with it.

My advice to you is to find people that you can be real with, that you can be completely you, and hold onto them. The best part of Landon for me has been the friendships I've made. I feel that I can be exactly myself with my friends or disagree with them, and not have to apologize for it, and I hope they can do the same with me. Men seem to have a harder time expressing our feelings, but we need to try.

I know I've made a lot of points, but if there's one thing I hope you will take away is that you will not be afraid to be authentic even if it makes you less popular. Don't be afraid to be you and respect it when other people do the same. I hope this speech has made you think about the world around you, and helped you realize being real is worth it for yourself. There are times that call for diplomacy and, unfortunately, times you must be fake. But don't be fake about the person you are and the things that matter. I know that I would've greatly benefited from this realization several years earlier.