Mocked for being different

✦ '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'.

Three teenage girls with mobile phone
The modern symbol of belonging to a tribe - the mobile phone

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

Gustav Klimt

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?

Famous Klimt Art: The Kiss
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (Lovers) (1907–1908). Courtesy of Galerie Belvedere.

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.

Hua Mulan

Mulan 2020 Movie by Walt Disney Pictures
Mulan 2020 Movie by Walt Disney Pictures

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.