✦ 'Normal' is just a setting on the washing machine.
Do you remember your adolescence where there was this mysterious unspoken law that made you and your peers want to be like exact photocopies of each other? The same way you'd roll up the sleeves of your school uniform, the way you shared the same lingo and way of speaking, the way you all wanted to be interested in whatever was trending then…
Those of you who are parents of teenagers will heave a sigh of relief when we say, we hear your stress of "When do I allow my kids to have their own mobile phone?! I wish they'd stop pressuring me to allow them to own one!" It's not really about the phone if you think about it. It's much bigger than that. The phone is a symbol for a teenager that they belong in the 'tribe'.
It's really all biology. Just like in caveman times, we need to feel like we belong in a group, a tribe, a community where we share something similar. It made us feel safe.
Because to be different is, frankly speaking, terrifying. It means I do not belong, I am not part of the tribe, and speaking from a survival point of view, a member that is excluded from a tribe faces predators on their own and are left to fend for themselves. In the 21st century many of us may be lucky enough to live in urban places where there are no lions running after us, but the primal feeling still remains - we need to feel like we belong. Lions or no lions.
Celebrating friendship, diversity, inclusivity
July is a month where we celebrate friendship, diversity and inclusivity at Brilliant-Online. And we want to celebrate those who have embraced being different and who, in spite of being misunderstood and judged, have found a way to set themselves free and even contributed to their communities or societies.
At some point in our lives we may have felt we were different from others. And often it's a 'negative' different like feeling inferior, or not belonging, perhaps even thinking we were strange, there was something 'wrong' with us, we were 'defective' and that nobody could possibly understand us, much less love us. But when we discover the true value in our differences, life can change and take us down a path we may not even be able to imagine.
You'll be familiar with all of these names and they have all been people who've once felt ostracised, misunderstood, or even discriminated against. And we also know that every single one of these people are incredibly amazing and have done so much that we know and remember them even after such a long time. They have gone down in history in spite of, or perhaps, because they were different.
In this 21st century, our challenge as a planet would be to embrace and celebrate our differences and use that to create a more enriched world that has infinite space for variety and diversity.
After all, in the world of nature, the ecosystem thrives precisely because of diversity. Ask any farmer and they'll tell you it's good to mix certain crops together because they benefit from their differences. And anyway, can you imagine how terribly dull (and creepy!) the world would be if we were all exactly the same, like some dystopian future where we were all clones?
People who were different
You'll know him from the famous painting The Kiss, but did you know Klimt's work which often depicted voluptuous bodies totally scandalised the Viennese establishment?
As he progressed in his artistic development, Klimt began rejecting traditional approaches to painting and his period of experimentation and rebelliousness got him dangerously close to being rejected. In fact, in 1897, Klimt broke from the traditional Vienna Artists' Association to form a radical group called the Secession. He was the group's president.
Critics objected to his style. They were not comfortable with what he had to express. Klimt stood by himself and refused every form of support from the state.
And are we glad Klimt stuck to his guns in being different, because if not, we would not have the rich treasury of paintings he left behind. His daring to be different led to the Viennese Expressionism, it influenced the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivists as well as the Art Nouveau and Cubism that were to come.
So everyone knows Disney's cartoon Mulan and her unforgettable motormouth dragon but the original ballad of Mulan of course has no dragons in it.
We all know the story of how when she got news about drafting men into the army to serve the country, disguised herself as a man and went to war in place of her father. One can only imagine not just the courage needed to even just go to war, but also the risk of being discovered, and also to take on the label of not being like other 'normal' girls. According to the ballad, she returned triumphant from the war and the only reward she asked for was to be reunited with her family.
One may wonder how she managed to stay disguised having spent 12 years in the army with men and not having her cover blown. To dare to do something so different clearly showed Mulan had more than enough courage to not just go to war, but to also make her own decision about what it was she had to do.
This needs no introduction. Hawking was struck with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) when he was only in his 20s. When diagnosed he was told he had only a few years left to live. The disease progressed to a point where he could only move his eyes and flex a finger.
But that did not stop his indomitable spirit. He never stopped making discoveries, travelling the world, going up in a hot air balloon at the age of 60 and just when you think he couldn't do more, he took part in a zero-gravity flight on board a special jet when he was 65!
¨I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.¨ - Stephen Hawking
Mention Einstein and we think about all the mind boggling theories on relativity and the universe and what an incredibly intelligent person he was. Having an amazing brain does not protect one from the challenges of life. He was a longtime pacifist and a Jew. And this meant he became a target in Germany. A month before Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Einstein decided to leave his country and emigrate to the United States. He was never again to return to his home country.
“The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” – Albert Einstein
Nowadays if a woman wants to be a nurse there are opportunities to study, train and work. In Florence Nightingale's time, that decision was enough to rock a few boats. She was so clear it was her mission in life to be a nurse, but as a young, unmarried woman in Victorian times, she had no power to make her own decisions. Even her family could not understand her decision and she did not get any support from her family. After all, nursing was hardly considered 'suitable' work for a woman like her.
Stuffy societal norms did little to stop a heart so ardent and intent on doing more. Instead of sitting around doing embroidery and giving in to the oppression, she got on her own two feet and went around visiting the poor and the sick to try to help them. Her kindness extended even to animals that she picked up.
Florence Nightingale's father finally gave her permission to train as a nurse in Germany. When the Crimean War broke out, she was asked by the British government to actually lead a team of nurses to care for injured soldiers at the hospital.
This was one brave woman who knew what she wanted, did not care that she was different to others in her society, and did all she could to make a difference.
Yes, the King of Rock & Roll was also someone who paid a heavy price for being different. Unless you're a diehard Elvis fan, you may only know him as a famous musician and you can hum a few of his famous tunes. Those who do know his story can tell you it is a heartbreaking one, and beneath all the glitz is someone who fought to stay true to himself and his music in spite of the manipulation that was around him.
Elvis grew up in a black area, which influenced how he interpreted music, and he had the magnetism and charisma to inspire his fans to throw away inhibitions to scream and dance freely. In a time of more conservative etiquette, being with Elvis was freedom to simply be how one was.
Read Elvis' story, and get ready to fall in love with the real man behind the music all over again.
People who are different now
There are also ordinary people in our communities who have had their own struggles at being different, finding acceptance and learning where they truly belong.
Jessica Gardner is a 21-year-old Australian who has endured criticisms all her life. She had been mocked for her appearance, her weight, her hair, her face. She grew up with family dysfunction, abuse, battled with mental health and suicide attempts and body dysmorphia. She found a sense of belonging and community when she reverted to Islam. Practising a spiritual path brought her back to life, it brought her dignity, a better future, and a community of people to support her. Today, she is a much happier person and living a full life, even though her choice of religion continues to bring her criticisms and mean comments because of misconceptions and prejudices.
Imaan may be small in stature but he's huge in personality and talent. He is a 3 feet 6 inches Australian comedian and actor of Lebanese descent. He and his sister Rima are the only two known cases of "Rima Syndrome" which is a genetic condition causing small stature while retaining normal proportions. He performed at the Tortuga Festival and has been performing since he was 15.
What is being different?
Being different is not about being special, unique or better than others, any less than it is about being lesser, unworthy or a loser. It is simply about the courage to know who you are, be who you are, regardless of how others perceive or treat you. Being different takes courage. One can be born different, but to dare to be different allows one to create an amazing life, for oneself or for the greater good of the society. We want to extend a brilliant invitation to celebrate everyone's differences, and to see how our differences are coming together to create a strong and vibrant society that will continue to be all-embracing and accepting for generations to come.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost.
What does your path look like? However it is, embrace it. And celebrate yourself for walking on it.
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