Different



Different:  Unlike in nature or quality. Distinct. Unusual. Special.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary

Learning about being ‘different’ spans various stages throughout our lives.
As a teen, it was probably a cause for ridicule in most cases, unless being different entailed total coolness, as in perhaps, sporting long hair as a male and toting a guitar around. Or as a female, being the first to bare one’s midriff with the newest style blouse of the day.
We’ve most likely witnessed the shy one who avoided volleyball games and never raised one’s hand to read aloud in class, maybe even eating lunch alone. We’ve noticed that those particular traits did not warrant poking fun as much as that of labeling. “She’s weird,” or he’s ‘a loner.’
Along the way we’ve come to learn that there’s the ‘popular’ DIFFERENT and the ‘unconventional’ DIFFERENT. The latter often inviting criticism, gossip and even discrimination.
Being gay, for instance, falls into the unconventional category, regardless of the openness and change of legalities concerning same gender marriages and transgender issues. We hear and see how people speculate whether or not a person is ‘gay.’ If a guy wears tight jeans and a pastel colored polo then ‘he might be gay. Or a pretty boy.’ If a woman or older teen girl has tattoos, wears chunky tie-up boots or has her hair cropped close to her head, ‘she might be gay. A Lesbian.’  We’re discovering research with findings that gay people do not wake up one day and say: “Gee, I want to be gay from now on. It’s such an easy non-judgmental lifestyle.” Then we come upon religious groups who point to passages in the Bible to refute any such findings.
If you’re a senior, you might be feeling age ‘segregation,’ when at age 62 you are able to join certain senior centers in order to partake of low cost lunches and a variety of activities with other people in the same age group and older. It speaks of, without words, the fact that with age changes swoop upon us that often bring physical limitations from wear and tear or arthritis, loneliness, due to the passing of spouses and/or friends, and a change in appearance…grey or white hair, creases, wrinkles or balding. The things so many older people try to hide with hair dye and cosmetic surgery. We who are older notice that we are called: “Mamm” instead of “Miss” or ‘Poppi’ instead of ‘Mister’ and that people give up their seat for us on the bus or train. We receive gifts that are ‘age appropriate.’ Muted colors and CDs of ‘light’ music. Beyonce or Lady Gaga is never on the list. Some of us older folks feel invisible at times because being older tends to equate being out-of-the-loop.
Being ill and/or disabled brings its own sense of segregation. Wheelchairs and scooters. Crutches and changes in physical appearance and abilities tend to give others pause; make them nervous or unsure of how to act. 
We travel through our neighborhoods and find that various nationalities group together in their own areas. There are alcoves of Hispanics, Italians, Russians, Jews, Arabs, African  Americans, Haitians, and Asians. The signs on many of the shops in those areas are written in the particular language of the specific nationality of the neighborhood. If a house is for sale and a ‘different’ race or nationality of people move in, the neighbors tend to keep their distance.
Ironically, it is even the same in the world of animals. Once my parents rescued a green parakeet from the local wild birds of sparrows and starlings. They had repeatedly attacked the parakeet because it was different.  Or so it seemed. Perhaps, to them, it was an invading species. A threat of some kind.
And there we have it. At least a brief scanning of ‘different.’ I am sure there are many more differences such as, marital and financial status, being childless, educational levels,
career positions and all the many classifications we have labeled ourselves into.
I once heard the spouse of a friend say that her husband was ‘homophobic’ because gay guys threatened his masculinity. You know the expression: “real men don’t eat quiche.”
Perhaps that can sum up the reaction many of us have to what is ‘different’ than our own lifestyle, choice and situation.  Maybe we feel threatened, or are afraid of what we don’t understand. Or we can actually see ourselves in these seemingly ‘different’ people and it surprises us or intrudes into our safety net.
 It seems that the longer we live, the more differences begin to fade because by a certain number of years, one gets to meet and know all sorts of people and experience many aspects of life, including careers, sexual orientation, illnesses, and of course, aging.
And then, after acquiring gay and straight friends, tending to our older parents, eating dinner with our Chinese and Ukrainian co-worker, cooking for and talking to a homeless person, attending a Jewish Seda dinner, witnessing young people going to see the Rolling Stones still performing rock-n-roll in their seventies…it seems that we transform into an accepting, empathetic and compassionate person in regard to what is ‘different.’ We realize along life’s journey that we really aren’t different at all. We might not look the same, and walk another path than the next person, but inside, we all have a heart and a soul. We all need love and respect. And amazingly, we all share the same DNA.  All humans are 99.9 per cent identical and, of that tiny 0.1 per cent difference, 94 per cent of the variation is among individuals from the same populations and only six per cent between individuals from different populations.
Basically, we are all one.  And that's a good thing. We are really never alone, no matter how 'different' we tend to feel. A comforting thought.
So, it seems that it is beneficial to not hide our true selves. To go to that Beyonce concert if desired regardless of being 50 or even 80 plus. To wear pastel clothing if it appeals, no matter our gender. To attend festivals and restaurants and shop in stores of a different ethnicity.  Perhaps, once we see the Divine in everyone, the Divine in them will see it in us. 

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