The Man I Am
I am the man society made
I had no choice in me
Your anger, your love, your joy, your frustration
Are all that I can be
I am a man without a Voice
All I say is what you need
Never able to speak for me,
Until all of us are freed
Have you ever felt like you had no choice in the person that you are? It’s as if everything that you do is interpreted in a manner over which you have no choice. I’ve felt that feeling and I have known many people who have. Sometimes it works for you–at least until you start to question it–and sometimes it doesn’t. For a long time it worked for me. I ended up looking like the good guy no matter what I did because that was the role people assigned to me. There were even times where I deliberately set out to do wrong and it turned out good. I couldn’t stand it. I was trapped by goodness. I couldn’t even be a jerk if I wanted to. I was what they said I was and there is nothing “they” hate more than being wrong. The ego is so crazy that even when I admitted to being wrong and tried to punish myself, the people who were invested in my goodness would not support my own summation of myself. That is how crazy we are sometimes. Here’s a good example.
When I was in the military, I started out as a super shiny and crispy airman. My uniform was pressed, my boots were shiny, and I was super respectful. I drank the kool-aid in basic training and asked for seconds. I liked the order and the core values and all that rut. When it came time for the reviews, I deserved a 5 out of 5 and expected it. I honored the system, followed it, and deserved to get the scores it said someone who followed it was supposed to get. So when my first supervisor who didn’t know anything about me since he was deployed my entire evaluation period tried to give me a 3, I let him know that wasn’t happening. Everyone else who got to know me in the office knew I was a 5 so they would not accept his recommendation.
I know I sound arrogant, but is it arrogant to call a red rose red? No. I was a 5, because “they” had already decided I was a 5 because I did what 5s were supposed to do. I had paid enough attention in life to know that there was nothing he or anyone could do about it without getting into some serious crazy stuff. Of course, he doubted my take on things and went into the NCOIC’s (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) to tell him I deserved a 3. His reasoning was that I did not work well with others, because he heard me tell a fellow airman to do his job or get out of my way. Well, after a few minutes, he emerged from the office looking like he was going to cry. He wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I was then called in the office where the NCOIC proceeded to tell me to ignore everything my supervisor said. “Obviously he does not know you. I will do your evaluation and it is a 5.” All I said was, “Ok. Thanks.” After that, my supervisor and I never really talked much. He knew his opinion didn’t count for anything. The irony is, neither did mine.
Fast forward 2 years. I went from shiny and crispy to dull and flaky. I was overweight, angry, and was sweating alcohol. I put getting haircuts off to the last minute and my pseudofolliculitis barbae (that is medical talk for razor bumps) was getting out of hand since I had finally started to grow facial hair. I was a mess and I knew it. On top of it all I was having crazy heart palpitations. I was no longer 5 material even in my own summation–especially in my summation. In retrospect I guess I was in mourning from a relationship ending. But at the time I did not have sympathy for myself so I decided that I was just a punk. I felt so crappy I didn’t even think God wanted anything to do with me. And so out of anger, I turned my projection of God’s imagined sentiment toward me back onto my idea of God and then rejected it. In short, I didn’t even have God to lean on at that time. And I started going out to clubs and drinking and generally trying to make up for lost time when I was “good for no reason”. Still, somehow, like Solomon I was able to see myself acting like a fool with some clarity.
When evaluation time came around again, I was able to be honest on the form where it asked my opinion of myself. Being a little generous for the extenuating circumstances of my break-up, I gave myself a 3.5. I didn’t care that the lower score would effect my ability to get promoted or anything. I still had respect for what the system was designed for. I didn’t think someone acting like I was acting should be headed toward promotion anyway and so I told the truth about my decline. Guess what happened. I got called into the office and was essentially told what my old supervisor had been told. I was not getting anything less than a 5. I protested that it was unfair and that people like me deserved 3.5s or else the whole system would be corrupted. My new supervisor eventually begged me to accept a 5 for his sake and I told him, “I don’t care what you do because this system is fake.” He told me that if it made me feel any better, he would write in my areas of improvement that I talked too much and was too hard on myself. I remained a 5.
So you see. In that case, I was the man that society made. I had no choice in me. Unfortunately, I know several people who did not benefit from this human tendency to see what they want to see. And believe me, I have been on that side too. This place has a way of trying to force you into conformity with the story “they” have already written for us. I could have easily told you a story about brothers in my neighborhood who were convinced that there was “nothing for a nigga to do but sling” after being crushed by the pressures around them or of a friend who was so tired of being looked at like he was going to steal something that he snapped and did it and was consequently labeled a thief. I could have, but I used the example above because I think it is important to know that there are people who benefit from some of our systems who are just as trapped as those of us who don’t seemingly benefit. We’re all in this world together and I think that the sooner we realize that we are serving systems instead of being served by them and serving humanity as a whole, the sooner we will be able to erase the lines we think separate us from one another. Jesus told the religious robots of his time that the Sabbath was created for humanity, not the other way around. The same is true for all of the systems we have in place. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with systems, but when people are being herded into them like cattle forced to play roles that may run contrary to their spirit, those systems need to be questioned. If they are not open to questioning then none of us are free.
This poem calls to consciousness that feeling of despair that colors many of our lives. Like Eminem said, “I am whatever you say I am. If I wasn’t then why would you say I am.” That’s what many of us feel like after years of being fed this story of who we are or who we are supposed to be. I want you to know that we have a choice. When you read this poem, I hope that you acknowledge any feelings that come up around it and then decide whether or not you want to keep allowing them to dictate your life. Because you do have a choice even if it may not seem to be an easy one. The key is to follow Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-27. If we can do that, then we go from being someone society made to someone God created. That’s where the freedom lives.