What does it mean to be “different”?
Why are some people labeled as “different” while others automatically fall under the category of being called “normal”?
Well, that statement alone begs the question, what is “normal”?
We use the terms normal and different frequently and casually in our American culture; however, every person has their own connotations and ideas that come to mind when hearing each of these words. Yet, there are some general ideas that can be assumed about each of these words.
Normal is often thought of as…
“not being weird”
“similar to everyone else”
In contrast, the word different is completely “different” than normal: people labeled as different are often thought of as being…
“unlike everyone else”
“not fitting in”
Most people don’t want to be seen as different. However, let me ask,
Why is this the case?
Can people be different and normal?
I prefer to think of the label different in a more positive light, such as:
Or “Stands out”
The better question yet is why wouldn’t we want to be these things?
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a girl. This girl was seemingly “normal”; she had brown hair, hazel eyes, had a passion for music, was smart, loved to read and learn, was kind, and came from a seemingly “normal” family, but… she was a little bit shy. Although she loved performing music, when it came to interactions with people she did not have a lot of confidence. This last characteristic about herself she did not necessarily like, but it’s the way she was. She was a people pleaser and wanted people to like her, and the best way that this girl found to please people was to be nice, smart, and quiet. Although being quiet is by no means a bad thing, being quiet and shy frustrated this girl. She blamed her quiet nature for having trouble making good friends in school. She had plenty of “friends” and most people seemingly liked her, but nevertheless she felt alone. At recess she would often ask her classmates to play with them, and on days when she didn’t feel like asking she would swing alone or go talk to that day’s recess supervisor. She came to the point where she didn’t look forward to recess as everyone else did; it became the time when she knew she would have to seek acceptance instead of being overly welcomed by true friends.
You may have guessed it by now, but this little girl was me. And let me explain that the point in me telling you this is not to create a “poor Reyna” pity party – not at all. The point in me sharing this with you is because looking back now I know that I am not the only kid in the world who experienced feelings similar to this. And although I didn’t enjoy it at the time, looking back from ten years later I can say that I am glad I experienced these times of loneliness. Not because it was fun, but because it gave me a perspective that notices when someone is left out. The feeling of being left out… the feeling of being alone… this is one of the worst emotions a person can experience in my opinion.
The feeling that you don’t matter, of invisibility, and that if you’re gone no one will notice.
The feeling that you are completely alone and that no one understands what you are going through.
The feeling that you are weird and different from everyone else.
The feeling that nobody else can relate to you and what you’re going through.
The feeling that you aren’t normal.
Why is it that people are made to feel this way?
God did not create us with the intention for us to feel abandoned or alone – instead, he created us to feel loved and to love one another. However, humans are selfish creatures. We tend to be self-absorbed and don’t take the time to notice when someone is hurting or experiencing something that is troubling them. Not only that, but we tend to be fearful of the unknown and unfamiliar. We don’t enjoy experiences that make us uncomfortable. When we’re scared it’s often because we don’t understand, so ultimately we end up avoiding the situation altogether. A common fear among many people is the “fear” of what people think – the fear of judgement. I think I can make the assumption that a good majority of people on earth have at some point become preoccupied with what others think of them. The fear of what people think… of their image becoming tainted in a way that they don’t like. Yet, why is this the case? I suppose it’s easy to say, “who cares?” but to actually not care… that’s a completely new challenge entirely.
However, on the flip side, does anyone really notice half of the things you do? I’m not saying that people don’t notice you, but many of the things that we are aware of and believe to be so obvious about ourselves most people don’t even notice (a good thing in my opinion). So why do we waste all of this thought, time, and energy on worrying about what others think? Why don’t we push that energy outward and instead focus it on others by showing them kindness?
I follow a blog specifically on kindness by a woman named Nicole Phillips. A line from one of her latest blogs caught my eye a few weeks back when she wrote:
We each have the opportunity today to breathe life into another person. Sadly, we don’t know for certain what that person is going through, so if we don’t do it, if we don’t slow down and build someone else up, it’s possible no one will. That makes us invaluable – at any age, at any stage, in our lives. Your best moment isn’t behind you. It’s right in front of you. It’s today.
The moment I read this it completely resonated with me. It reminded me that my moment is NOW. That I need to quit worrying about myself and what is to come and instead focus on others – specifically on those who seem disconnected. I –along with most people- need to make a greater effort to do “simple acts” of kindness for everyone around me.
An act of kindness could be as easy as initiating conversation with the shy new girl who hardly ever speaks in your English class.
It could be helping the immigrant from Tanzania at church find a job.
It could be engaging with the barista who is making you’re macchiato at 7:32 in the morning, who appears tired and drained but because of your optimism seems to perk up just a bit.
It could be keeping a pack of granola bars under your car seat, so when you see the homeless woman on the side of the road with the cardboard sign that says, “God Bless, Anything Helps” you can smile, roll down you window, and offer her something to eat.
It could be inviting to dinner your neighbor with autism who speaks a little funny.
These are simple acts to do; yet, sometimes we’re too busy and consumed with what we’re doing to even think of doing such deeds as easy as this.
As humans, as people who God created to love others, we should be able to meet individuals where they are at. We should embrace people for who they truly they are – their differences included. My brother is on the autism spectrum. Most people do not take the time to understand my brother and are quick to judge and label him as being strange and different. I have another brother from Haiti who I have also watched attempt to conform to American ideals in order to gain acceptance. They, along with many others, seek to win approval from others. However, I do not feel that either of my brothers need to change, nor anyone who is “different.” Instead it is the seemingly “normal” people who should be able to meet individuals where they are at and to embrace who they truly are. We need to learn to appreciate different perspectives, diverse communication, and understanding people and the world in a unique way.
I believe that through effective communication, patience, and acts of kindness that this can be accomplished.
There are over 7 billion people on this planet and that number is only increasing. Can you imagine if we were all the same? What a boring world it would be! Thank GOODNESS we’re all different; so let’s learn to appreciate and embrace our differences!
After all, as Dr. Seuss so famously once said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out.”
My brother Leif and I
My brother Ronald and I
currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she works remotely as a Policy and Communication Manager for the First Lady of North Dakota. Photography and writing are a passion that help her better appreciate the details of the world.