I recently heard a new cover of an old song, John Fogerty's version of Rick Nelson's 'Garden Party'. I first heard the original song played on the radio years ago, and although I understood most of the lyrics at the time, the passage of years helped me hear it this time around with deepened understanding.
The song gives Nelson's thoughts on the negative reaction of some of his fans when he wanted to branch out from playing the 50's style pop music he was known for into 70's country rock. The full lyrics can be found here (and an explanation of some of the more obscure references is given on the Wikipedia link above), but the lines which really struck a chord with me this time around were those of the chorus:
"But it's all right now,
I learned my lesson well.
You see, you can't please everyone,
So you got to please yourself"
It was the notion of pleasing yourself that really got me thinking. Normally you hear the words 'Please yourself!' as the dismissive end to an argument, or being told you seem 'pleased with yourself' is an accusation of smugness.
However, what if pleasing oneself meant having the bravery and integrity to live up to one's own standards rather than those of others?
"When I got to the garden party,
They all knew my name
No one recognized me,
I didn't look the same"
"If you gotta play at garden parties,
I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang,
I'd rather drive a truck"
In other words, people were happy with him while he continued to play the part they wanted him to. But when he found his own direction in life and ditched the preppy image and 50's pop for a more hippy style that reflected where he was at that time in his life, he found himself booed offstage. Even so, he decided he'd rather be true to what he believed in than pander to popularity.
In the song, I think Nelson is talking about coming to terms with the fact that although you can't please everyone, at the end of the day the important thing is to be true to yourself and your own ideals and ethics. In witchcraft, many people, myself included, subscribe to what is known as 'The Wiccan Rede' which appears in many forms, the most simple and concise of which is, 'An it harm none, do what thou wilt' - in other words, as long as you're not hurting anyone (or anything?), it's OK to do whatever you like. In some ways this may seem way more permissive than other codes of behaviour such as the Ten Commandments, but actually it is very robust. It is clear: Harm NONE, not harm as few as possible, or 'harm not thy neighbour'. Harm None.
Although it is impossible to pre-think every single action through to all potential outcomes to ensure it will harm none, I believe that it is important to try to live our lives in non-harmful ways, taking our co-existence with the needs, feelings and rights of others into consideration. Christianity says the same thing in another way, 'Do unto others as you would be done by them'. My notion of pleasing myself may mean living up to my own ideals, but I do not exist in a vacuum, and I know well that I am part of a complex interconnection of other beings. Being pleased with myself means not doing things just to please others, but choosing to do them because I can see how they contribute to the creation and well-being of the kind of world I want to live in. A world of beauty, balance and delight (in the words of Donald Engstrom-Reese).
I am trying to please myself in this lifetime. Being true to my own beliefs and ethics and living up to them. I don't always succeed - sometimes I displease others by not doing what they want, other times I am a human doormat - but I keep trying so that on balance, I can say I am pleased with myself. You truly can't please everyone, but you can try to please yourself.
P.S. Link to a Youtube video of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxdiraVxwkI