An Outlaw on the Outskirts of Town
We’re called misfits and outsiders, rebels and low-lifes. For those who don’t know what it’s like to be an outsider: the outsider appears as a repugnant image, an anomaly that engenders distress in those who lay eyes on him. And this is how I’ve always felt: symbolically, as an outlaw.
Historically, the term has been used to define deviants, those who break society’s rules and are subsequently punished, often being shunned by their communities. An outlaw is a misfit, a rule breaker who fails to consider the consequences of his actions, or at least that’s what we’re told. To the insiders of world, the outlaw exists in a vacuum of pure free-will, a willful criminal who could simply choose to become a more ethical being. His past is unacknowledged; his actions perceived through a narrow lens.
But does that define who we are, and who I’ve always felt myself to be? Are we simply just castaways who deserve our lots in life?
Defining Myself Through Music
Tupac Shakur’s music resonated with me because he was an outlaw, too, and he helped me define what it meant to be one. Pac felt like such an outsider that he even named his hip-hop group The Outlawz. And the rest of us needed someone like him, because Pac made us feel heard and understood, and as significantly, he brought our stories to the wider world, creating a small dent in the prejudices formed against us.
As with other terms that were used to negatively label outsiders, Pac utilized the term O-U-T-L-A-W as a positive acronym, standing for Operating Under Thug Law As Warriorz. If you consider the meaning, you’ll notice the paradox. How can an outlaw operate under the rule of law if the term means what we think it does?
He can’t because it doesn’t!
When Pac gave us a voice, he showed the world that our deviancy only made sense in the context of prescribed social norms; but, unlike the rest, we follow our own rules. Non-conformity makes us who are. But not in any chaotic or destructive sense. Our laws are just different.
One of Tupac’s most famous poems is about a rose growing through the crack of a concrete block. And, despite the beauty of its will to reach the sun, the world only focuses on its flaws. We forget that the rose bloomed against all odds, failing to embrace the struggle which brought it to us.
Becoming Who You Truly Are
In existential thought, we often focus on the notion of becoming who one really is. But what do we mean by that? We mean that an authentic self lies within each one of us: the self who knows what she wants and needs, and her vision for her life. It’s the self who fights to direct us when society fights back against our choices.
Sometimes, our impulses are selfish and destructive, and culture is morally justified in its insistence that we check them. But, as often, it stifles our creativity and the selves we attempt to be, the ones we are deep-down. Most of us live in fear of social rejection, which in itself isn’t a bad thing because we need one another to survive and be happy. But, depending on one’s culture, social compliance can mean the near total banishment of authenticity, what existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called living in bad-faith.
One lives an inauthentic existence when her actions are contrary to her moral code, when she makes decisions based on external opinions. These individuals are our conformists, and through the ages, they’ve easily adapted, thriving through self-negation. However, the outlaws abide at the other end, excluded and reproached, mocked for their uniqueness. Before artists like Tupac and Johnny Cash, few knew, or even cared to discover, what life looked like for these outcasts. Their lyrics streamed with suffering and spoke to our isolation, doubts, and sense of hopelessness. Pac sang for the kids who lived thug lives. And like us, he operated under his own law, acting in accordance with an individualized form of ethics, living in good-faith.
Pac allowed me to accept the righteousness of being myself, of being defiant when I saw fit. I spent most of my life being ostracized and demonized, made to feel my insignificance. And that encompasses the feeling of each outsider, while defining what it means to be an outlaw.
After writing previous articles on conformity and non-conformity, I was asked why my concept of the authentic-self was so vague. So, to respond: it’s because only each one of us can discover who we are behind the veil of mass-compliance. Somewhere deep within, I discovered my own, genuine values and realized that they were inextricably associated with my joy. The one can’t exist without the other. Despite my acceptance of my core-values, I still feel like the bullied kid who couldn’t find a way to fit in, or simply refused to. And a part of me continues to feel like the short kid with big glasses who couldn’t land a date. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away.
But, I do know that, with or without friends or even love, I can find peace in knowing and being who I am. Like Pac, my outlaw status is eternal, and my heart basks in the glow of its authenticity. My damaged petals don’t negate the fact that I’ve reached the sun.
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