The Burden of Proof

Throughout the final week of 2015, I found myself chatting at all odd hours of the day with friends and strangers alike. Conversations ranged from the mundane and unremarkable to life-altering and thought provoking. Through each conversation, however, there was a common thread; I found myself wondering Have I effectively managed to get across the nuances of my personality in this interaction? Do they understand that there is so much more to me than this?

A conversation among friends.

I should mention that this internal struggle is not a recent development. Rather, it’s a pesky question that has followed me through most of my life. Usually, it’s paired with the even more frustrating Where do I fit in? How do I make myself fit into the spaces I desire to occupy? Each and every relationship I forge is always skirted by a halo of doubt that somehow, I will be misconstrued. That this individual will take a parcel of my person and assume it to be my whole.

I would argue that this fear is not unfounded. From coworkers to bosses to even (and especially) friends and loved ones, I’ve found a tendency to generalize, stereotype, and simplify people based on appearance, habits, or actions. In one of the conversations I had this past week, I was told that people want to be judged for their intentions, but judge others by their actions. I, too, am guilty of this behavior, which only serves to bolster my fears. Perhaps I can save my hypocrisy by saying that my simplification is a defense mechanism or a preemptive strike?

Maybe it’s a classic case of chicken or egg, nature or nurture. Which came first? The habit of oversimplifying or the experience of being oversimplified? Does it even ever matter? At the end of the day, I’m still left wondering what I can do to convey all the facets of my being; what can I do differently, how can I work to be understood?

I haven’t yet found The Answer™, though I highly suspect that there is none. What I have come closer to understanding, though, is that we can apply an (admittedly bastardized) concept of the Burden of Proof to this issue. What I mean to say is that the burden is not on you to prove yourself whole to the world.

You are a whole person. Every morning, you wake with blood pumping gloriously through (hopefully unclogged) arteries and a host of interests, fears, questions, and desires. Those do not go away when another refuses to acknowledge them.

The burden of proof that you are somehow less, somehow too weird or too excitable or too loud, rests with the other party.

They are the ones tasked with rifling through the boxes of your personality and finding enough proof that you are somehow not worthy of their time, attention, etc.

It’s a strangely comforting conclusion as, despite having absolutely zero impact on the way that people continue to judge and parcel you, you begin to develop a core belief that it isn’t some inherent shortcoming on your part. The burden shifts away from you convincing people that you are worthy of the life you’re living to just, well, living it. Going out and doing and being and allowing that to speak for itself.

Surround yourself with those willing to take on the burden.

Is this a cure-all for insecurity? No. Will I finally feel 100% comfortable in my skin and my surroundings? Uh, hell no. But it’s a step. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but this time around, maybe just this time around, I’ll resolve to absolve myself of the burden of proof.

I deserve this life I’m forging. I deserve to be multi-faceted and I deserve my complexity. And I hope you know that you deserve the same.