On being different

“Our acceptance rate is only 8%”. 

The cold condensing tone of the admissions manager in Netflix’s latest series, Unorthodox, provoked a thought I had been continually feeling as I watched the episodes of this stunning take on conformities and subcultures I knew so little about.

We are instinctively wary of anything different – it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know enough. Our brain cannot make sense of it just yet. An extreme discomfort can take over our body making us squeamish or shifty. And that makes us feel uncertain – on shaky grounds, vulnerable.

We feel an obligation to know what to do or say. But we don’t. We begin to feel helpless and we don’t like that. We need to prove ourselves yet we can’t. Now we feel threatened. So we reject it, our feeling – through body and mind, but most often through words.

Rejection – it’s our biggest fear. Born out of our biggest need – to belong. Most often misunderstood as – to fit in.

I use superlatives knowing fully well that superlatives are simply a crutch – to make us feel certain, that we know.

Always. Never. Words we use frequently so we appear to know.
We assume these give us the power to test [others] and ultimately give our verdict. Accept. Or reject.

Often when we don’t find acceptance for who we are [because we are different] in our environment, we feel the need to escape and go somewhere vastly different. We hope to find different “always and never” from those around us so that maybe we’ll identify with these other superlatives.

What we forget is that with every “always and never”, is someone who has over-identified with them. Someone who fears rejection as well, mainly because they have faced it closely themselves. They probably overcame it by forming a new way where they could “always” be themselves and “never” have to be someone they are not – they now call this “being different.”

They project this onto anyone who comes exploring their way, looking for a new place to belong – do we measure up to their way? Because if we haven’t followed their path then how can we belong?

So, once again, we face rejection.

We start putting acceptance up on a pedestal, making it feel like the unattainable trophy we yearn for. We need to prove ourselves with our battle scars to those who personify [or over-identify] with the superlatives we seek to belong to, the ones that they have deemed common (to them).

Going back to my thought on acceptance rates – be it at colleges or companies, or cliques – we aren’t faced with a genuine curiosity to know us as we are. Instead, we are faced with a cautious warning to not get our hopes up of being accepted into this exclusivity. Counterintuitively our mind now starts to think “how can I prove that I am worthy of acceptance.” 

Why do we feel the need to draw these invisible lines? Insider vs outsider. Aren’t they just made up by someone like you or me? And so, can they not be redrawn? 

Why can’t we simply look at things for what they are – the many different possibilities, the strokes of chance? Some may get it, others may not.

At least then, there won’t be a facade for being accepted because we are worthy and rejected because we are not. We won’t have to go through the vicious cycle of measuring our worth to belong by someone else’s superlatives. We will know we can be ourselves, and that will enable us even if this chance did not. We can choose to follow our heart, let curiosity lead us to follow our instincts and see where it takes us. We can focus on how things feel when we want to do something, and not simply because we have to do it.

Because isn’t that the true sense of belonging? Where there is no obligation.

Belonging isn’t a land of superlatives and absolutes. There isn’t only black or white. There are all shades of grey. We can identify with one shade or many, and maybe some shades more than others. The thing to remember is that these shades exist to help us make sense, feel familiar. But they are not finite in number. 

We always have the power to add in our mixtures, and chances are others will identify with these new shades. Once we choose to see this possibility, we will expect more and more shades and we will become open to them [these differences]. Now nothing will feel unfamiliar. And superlatives will no longer hold the judgement. 

Everything will fall within an infinite spectrum. 

Now we will understand this. And we will be certain of this uncertainty. 

Now we won’t need to fear it. Now we won’t need to reject. 

We will all be many shades of different – on different days, in different places.

Now the norm for acceptance will be – being different.

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