I don’t know when being different became such a dreaded thing to be, a state that when taken to extremes is responsible for homicides and suicides. And I further don’t know why society hasn’t put its collective foot down and fought this condition with a vengeance.
Being different usually means becoming the object of rage, ridicule, torment, and torture. You’ve seen thousands of cases of it and have probably experienced some of it yourself.
There are bunches of flavors of how this gets expressed, but it all comes down to being different, and rarely do we proclaim “Viva la difference!”
THE CLASSIC DIFFERENCES
One of the classics, of course, is being a different race from the next person. I am grateful that I grew up in an environment that was relatively unaffected by racial hatred. I did not have hatred shoveled into my mouth like coal into a steam engine, which in turn left me shocked as an adult to discovered how cruel racism had shaped our history.
Being a different religion is another big one, often a bloody one. Again, I am grateful that in my youth my path did not include being taught to be vile and violent against someone else’s religion.
I was brainwashed in school — along with a bunch of others — that America is a glorious ethnic and cultural melting pot. Aren’t we wonderful? Yet if you watch any Ken Burns historical documentaries about American life, you see that our melting pot has been rife with racial or religious conflict. More like a melting pot crock.
Being a minority of sexual orientation is often a ticket to nonconformists’ hell. A gay friend once told me, “No one would deliberately choose this lifestyle if they knew how much pain it creates.”
Being from the designated wrong side of the tracks or wrong side of the country or wrong side of the law is another one. (What? Wrong side of the law? Well, sometimes being on the wrong side of the law is the right thing to do when the law oppresses people. That’s how the United States of America began.)
Zillions of smaller-scale differences have caused people great amounts of emotional pain, too, despite how insignificant those differences should be. One example is women who grew up tall. I have heard over the years stories of woe from tall women and the suffering their physical difference caused them while growing up (and up and up.) It is ironic for me because I have always loved tall women. To hear them bemoan the quality that I adore makes for brain weirdness.
Skip this paragraph if descriptions of female genitalia offend you: I once knew a woman who was painfully embarrassed that she was born with pronounced labia minora. Her humiliation was to the point that she disclosed this information way ahead of any disrobing to avoid a hurtful rejection scene; she apparently had emotional wounds from the past. She thought I was just being nice when I later conveyed my joy over the exquisite sensual experience her difference provided. Little did she grasp my true delight and fascination.
The list of these smaller-scale differences goes on and on. We’re amused by differences that others deal with yet seem especially focused with angst about our own. I’m often attracted to the very thing that others find weird or strange.
I hate the suffering I’ve seen in people who have been vilified and abused for being different. It seems to be a rite of passage most of us go through at various degrees of severity—some through mild teasing, some through tragic torture—and perhaps it’s just part of life in Earth School as set forth by the cosmic curriculum designers. I still find it an awful state of affairs.
I hope it is true that younger people are growing up smarter about being different. I hope the message that diversity is a good thing is taking root. It seems to be more so as younger people are much more approving of such things as gay marriage and interracial marriage and even alternative lifestyles.
Still we see a steady stream of news stories about young people who have committed suicide because they were outed and bullied for being different. They could not take it. They felt their world was already doomed, so they ended their lives.
I wish we as a society appreciated differences more. I wish we celebrated them. I wish teenagers could get excited about being the soul they are that are dwelling within the bodies they genetically inherited. I wish they did not feel they had to jump onto the conveyor belt of conformity and mold themselves into the exact match of their friends. I wish they could wear their external and internal differences proudly.
These days, so many young people are getting tattoos. When I was growing up, only rebels and warriors were tattoo-prone. Like, join the Navy, get a tattoo. Later a few adventurous women got tattoos but usually hid them in intimate places well out of normal sight. Body tattooing now has reached the point where it is nearly conforming to be inked. Being different is not succumbing to peer pressure.
In my youth, long hair on guys was the defining difference of those who wanted to conspicuously conform-me-not. But that meant that males growing long locks were simultaneously being different and similar depending on who was looking at them. Long hair eventually became stylish in a more mainstream celebrity way, and something else had to replace it to denote uniqueness. Enter hair dyes in bright colors and new spiky dos.
So frequently society ridicules those who don’t fit in with the majority — including guys with hot pink hair. Yet time and time again, the nonconformists come up with the great ideas. Nonconformity often starts with being socially rejected. People somehow deemed as too different to be “in” go searching for their peace in some other venue — athletics, the arts, science and technology.
People who don’t make great clones often think out of the box better. Not so lured into being the same as the next person, they are more free to follow the beat of their own drummer. Independence is the essence of creativity — to look at what everyone else is looking at and seeing something different, often remarkably so.
Of course, some people with differences choose anti-social routes to seek revenge for their pain. Prisons are full of people who took their differences into a life of crime and punishment.
LOVE YOUR DIFFERENCES
The bottom line from me would be to love your differences — yes, even if they currently upset you.
It’s often challenging to feel good about those qualities that people say are weird about you, but give it a shot. Look for the gifts in your differences! Look at how other people have handled their differences.
I think there is a myth about the perfect life. We all seem to think that there is some special way to be where everything is peachy keen and mighty fine. Success! Triumph! We often look at our celebrities as examples of people living the good life. They must lead charmed lives and have everything. Well, yeah Michael J. Fox has Parkinson’s and Annette Funicello died of complications from multiple sclerosis.
Spiritual teachers are more inclined to say that the life you are living now is the perfect one for you. All your imagined flaws and defeats, along with your advantages and successes, are part of a lesson plan your higher self provides for you.