When I was ten years-old we used to make a thirty km drive from the sticks in rural Ireland to my dad's barber, which was in a bigger town called Ballinasloe. I think his name was Peter and he and my dad went back a long way. He had been cutting my dad's hair for years and there was no one else he would let near his head with a scissors. Peter was always immaculately dressed and super-friendly. [An aside here, his genteel manner was a very important factor due to the drill-sergeant my mother had brought me to a few years before. If memory serves, and usually it does—quite well in fact, the previous scissor-wielder was gruff of voice and made me sit on a plank of wood that was laid across the arms of a chair (kind of difficult to “sit still boy” when one is engaged in a balancing act). His “salon” also looked more like a transformed front room with outmoded wallpaper.]
Peter's was a real salon with chiseled looking dudes adorning the walls. I could have looked like them if I wanted. No, really! If their pics were on the paneling of this classy establishment, then they obviously frequented here. Maybe they even knew my father. Of course there was only one haircut I wanted, at which point I pulled a picture of Bruce Lee out of my pocket and asked him for the Bruce-Lee-bowl-cut. Bruce Lee was my hero! Every Friday evening a video van drove around our town and stopped at our house. He would drive in the front and the sound of tires on gravel signaled that the weekend's entertainment was only a sliding red door way from existence. Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury, The Game of Death,The Big Boss, Return of the Dragon.... we scanned the colourful rows of video cassette spines, unearthing a different treasure each week. Bruce Lee was the master. The focus in his eyes and sheer single-minded drive had me believing I could be him. My mum had to buy me those little slip-on black gym-shoes that looked like the kung fu flats he wore everywhere. It was typical of my past—and present—compulsion to obsess over every little detail in order to conform to a certain idée fixe. The haircut was an obvious external extension of that.
Reflecting on that snapshot and the desire to be someone outside of myself—at a very young age, too—to be bigger, greater, stronger, to be an idol, has dovetailed with a question I have asked myself these past few weeks. What makes us important?
Our currency as human beings is, unfortunately, based on what we deem to be of high importance; looks, salary, social status, popularity, and ability. Sure, a lot of our characteristics are learned; table manners, how to date, how to behave in public etc. But there comes a time when an unhealthy amount of self-doubt can creep in. I have been there often, and recently, too. I remember when I lived in London and was drinking very heavily. I would get severely depressed and berate myself for having no redeeming talents. One morning sitting at my desk, as the hangover wore off, I decided to write a list of ten things I liked about myself. I laboured over it for longer than I thought I would, because let's face it, how practiced are we in the ways of self-appreciation? That is not something we truly learn, we have to teach it ourselves again and again. It sounds counterintuitive, but we must practice being unique and accepted as we are.
If we try to behave a certain way other than who we are, it gets in the way of our natural enjoyment and true personality. Being yourself is the ultimate freedom from the tiresome treadmill of performance. People love to talk about how “blessed” they are on social media, in the meantime some of us are going through difficult times and comparing those difficult times to everyone else's perceived “blessings” is not balanced perception, it's social hierarchy. If we take time to look at our own values and goals, we can make substantial advances instead of spinning our wheels living our lives through the lens of others.