“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Who am I? This is a question that haunts us all at some point, especially when the people around us are trying to constantly answer this question for us. How do we remain true to ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to make us something else? I can tell you that it isn’t easy.
Life isn’t black and white. It’s a million gray areas, don’t you find? Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Life is all about compromise and perspective. Conventional knowledge states that there is a right and wrong (again, the idea of duality). Freeman dispels this notion and says that there is no definitive way to decide what is right and what is wrong, so one must combine elements of both sides of a given argument to discover the real underlying truth. Humanity is fighting itself and maybe one day a phenomena might occur and the world will have to come together as humans at the end of the day.
Being human, we often look at others through the tunnel vision of our own life experience. But it doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that using our own limited vision of life can lead to discrimination, misunderstandings, even hatred. Although we are much more similar than dissimilar, we all have our own unique upbringing. Some of us have had a relatively easy ride, being born into financial comfortability and possessing a stable and encouraging family life. Others are not so lucky. Some children are born into situations which are, quite frankly, almost guaranteed to remove any hope of that child growing up to lead a happy, productive life. Given that we find it very difficult to see outside our own square at times, it is important that we do not become rigid in our attitude to certain topics and that we allow our minds to retain the flexibility of seeing both sides of every story. These topics include those touchy subjects: abortion, homosexuality, drug use, prostitution. The list goes on. It’s always easier to say that abortion is wrong, homosexuality is wrong, drug use is wrong, than it is to think about how the situation came about in the first place. It takes energy to think. But it is permanently rewarding. I came across this saying recently.
I don’t know who wrote it, so my accolades go to the person who did. It simply says: Always put yourself in others’ shoes. If you feel that it hurts you, it probably hurts the other person, too. This is a great concept. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the mother who murdered her autistic son because her husband had walked out and she struggled on alone without assistance for years, helps us to understand the desperation that she was feeling. Judging her as a murderer is dead easy. Understanding and accepting her actions as all too human requires thinking. It’s very easy to state categorically that abortion is wrong, period. It’s much harder to look at the reason why an individual woman made that decision and then nod and say “Yes, now I understand.” It’s the same with drug users. No-one would choose the end point in the life of a crack user, for example. But again, there are reasons why some people stop at half a dozen cigarettes on the school bus while others go on to die alone in a dirty backstreet from an overdose. But it takes exercising the grey matter to even begin to understand why? I encourage readers to metaphorically put on the shoes of the people they do not understand. It can be very fulfilling to feel and understand the pain of others. Life really isn’t black and white at all. It’s truly a million shades of grey.
You have the power to see a person the way you want them to see – even right now. Use this power well. Don’t make the same guesses everyone else around you is making. Be honest and open as soon as you look at somebody.
Do you know now where it comes from that it is the way it is? Because you go through life with an open heart… Yes, it requires courage. Yes, it requires commitment and a clear Yes… saying Yes to yourself… Only on the soul level, a real person is looking for another real person. Deep inside of you the heart is not deceived by pictures – at least not for a long time. It understands that love must be honest. If you love someone, you also find the courage to say: “You are my mirror”.
You look into the eyes of a loved one and accept what you see – even their imperfections. If you do that, these imperfections are suddenly not as terrible anymore. The secret is in feeling loved, and this feeling makes the picture in your mind fall to pieces. It is terribly stressful to live up to a picture. Pictures always want to be perfect.
Pictures are afraid of being exposed; they must be something special and never show any weakness. If you start to see yourself honestly in the mirror of another person, a lot of stress will suddenly fall off from you. It is a real relief. And once the picture has finally faded away, love can relax and grow in the joy of another person’s heart.
I can lean back, be relaxed and look forward to what I see and feel… completely incomplete… aLIVE… I see myself in you when I meet you… whenever I look into your eyes, I see my love… do I give enough of it? Do I let my love flow? With an open heart? Looking into your eyes, I get the answer to these questions…
Being different is a self-definition I struggled with for years, which I now deeply appreciate.
Although it is not always an easy path, I hold my differences as precious. Conformity would be stifling. I want to be me, not some mythical “normal” that only exists in my imagination.
Being different has tremendous value.
Here is how ▶︎
Being different is a source of connection and belonging.
I find shared experiences when I speak with people who know what it is like to feel different—people with disabilities, migrants, creative people, gay people, introverts, recovering addicts, and many others. Though we don’t share those particular characteristics, our mutual understanding of what it is like to be different connects us, powerfully. We know what it is like to be judged because of who we are. We know what it is like to feel like outsiders or freaks. We know what it is like to try and hide our differences to fit in. But fitting in is the opposite of being yourself. It leaves you sick inside. What we really crave is to belong. When we are accepted despite or even because of our differences, we have found true belonging.
What we have in common easily trumps our differences.
We have empathy built into our brains. Mirror neurons mean that when we hear someone tell a moving story, we feel what they feel. Heck, Tiny Buddha is built on our ability to care, learn from and identify with the experiences of others! We all want to be understood. And science has proven what we instinctively know: we are more alike than different. So, take the risk of hearing and being heard. By telling your story you invite others to understand you, and to understand themselves better, too.
My differences are a source of motivation.
Looking back on the life choices I have made, I can see how my desire to help others feel they belong and are valued has influenced my career and relationships. One of my favorite jobs involved providing careers and business guidance to refugees, amongst the most stigmatized and stereotyped people in our society. These were often highly qualified and had been doctors, lawyers, and businessmen and women in their country of origin. Having left that behind, they found themselves without the respect, financial security, and social standing they had previously known. They were portrayed as scroungers, while being excluded from working by regulation, discrimination, and lack of confidence. I found a vocation helping them navigate these obstacles. Many of my colleagues were refugees themselves, who, having found their own way, wanted to pass on the learning to the next generation. Our differences motivated us to help others in the same boat.
Being different is intensely creative.
As I began to take more pride in what made me different, I began to research other people who went against the social norms. I discovered that artists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and other world-changers were always different from the people that surrounded them. Like me, they had often felt excluded from the “popular” kids group at school. They thought differently. They made connections (with other people, or between ideas) that others had not previously made. And they had the courage and resilience to put those ideas out into the world—the courage to take the risk of being judged, and the resilience to try again when they were. In the process, their ideas were tested and improved and tested again. Some made it big (think Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama) appealing to a mass audience with their new ways of seeing; others appealed to a niche with similar tastes. In every case their creativity was rooted in their differences.
You, too, have value hidden in your differences.
Though we may never escape all judgment and discrimination, we can learn to value our own unique perspective.
Then at least we can stop judging ourselves.
“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”
While this quote has been credited to everyone from Francis Phillip Wernig, under the pseudonym Alan Ashley-Pitt, to Einstein himself, the powerful message does not lose its substance no matter whom you choose to credit. There is a very important yet often overlooked effect of not heeding this warning. One which can be applied to all aspects of life. From love and happiness, to business and marketing, copying what your competitors are doing and failing to forge your own path can be a detrimental mistake.
We spend the majority of our adolescent lives trying desperately not to be different. No one has ever been picked on for being too normal or not being different enough. We would beg our parents to buy us the same clothes little Jimmy or little Jamie wore. We’d want the same backpack and the same bike everyone else had. With the rise of the cell phone and later the smartphone, on hands and knees, we begged and pleaded for our parents to buy us the Razr, the StarTAC (bonus points if you didn’t have to Google that one), and later the iPhone. Did we truly want these things? Yes, but not just because they were cutting edge and nifty. We desired them because the people around us had them. We didn’t want to be the last to get these devices. We didn’t want to be different.
Thankfully, as we mature we begin to realize the fallacy that is trying to be normal. We start to become individuals and learn to appreciate that being different is often seen as beautiful.
We unconsciously and naturally seek out the normal, and if we want to be different — truly different in a way that creates an advantage — we have to work for it.
The truth of the matter is, anyone can be different. In fact, we all are very different. Even identical twins with the same DNA will often have starkly different personalities.
“I want to say when I was little, like Maleficent, I was told I was different. And I felt out of place and too loud, too full of fire, never good at sitting still, never good at fitting in,” Angelina Jolie said in her speech. “And then one day I realized something — something I hope you all realize. Different is good. When someone tells you that you are different, smile and hold your head up and be proud.”
No better way to express it!