As I read through comments from yesterday’s “Surprises” post, I had to laugh.
My goodness, but our differences show up everywhere. Even in something as simple as whether or not we enjoy surprises, or reading the ending of the book before we actually arrive there.
Max and I have spent a lot of time talking about the homogenization of our world – the attempt to make everything like everything else. We all like Olive Garden and Applebees, Red Lobster and Texas Roadhouse, but those are symptoms of that homogenization. We are much more comfortable in places we are familiar with.
I know, I know – they each offer meals that we enjoy. But those are safe meals. There’s no adventure. And we like being safe. I like eating at every one of those restaurants.
We shop at Costco, Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens. With those stores, we’re assured that no matter where we are in the United States, we’ll find the same thing that we find at home.
In the seventies, enclosed shopping malls cropped up everywhere across the country. They were ubiquitous (they still are). Malls were filled with chain stores that people were comfortable shopping in. I have to tell you that the Mall of America disappointed me. There were no stores in there that I couldn’t find anywhere else. It was just bigger and had some entertainment opportunities. In the last twenty years, they’ve built outdoor shopping communities. All across the nation, the same stores gather into one spot. I can shop at the same places whether I’m in Omaha or Columbus, Ohio.
Google’s results have been tamed to things that we’ve already expressed an interest in. No longer do I get lost down rabbit holes because something fascinating showed up when I did a quick, mundane search. The algorithms are built to keep me safe. Not safe from outside predators, but safe from anything that might be uninteresting to me.
When I was in school, I was one of few people with curly hair. But I wanted to be just like everyone else with their long, straight hair. It was never going to happen. Adults would stroke my hair and tell me how beautiful it was and how they wished they had hair like mine. I’d have traded with them in a heartbeat. I thought I wanted to look like the crowd. Mom told me that it was my uniqueness that made me Diane Greenwood. I wasn’t anybody else and I should never want to be like anyone else. It was a lesson I had difficulty hearing but has resonated with me throughout my life.
The thing is – I know that I’m obviously different than the large percentage of the rest of the world. Why do I say that? Because if the rest of the world were like me, there would be unique restaurants on every corner of every city instead of chains; there would be mom & pop hardware stores and small department stores; there would be little grocers scattered throughout neighborhoods and bookstores tucked into alcoves.
We are the ones who demand safety and the commonplace in our daily lives. I’m not about to go into all of the psychological reasons as to why that is, though I have pretty good ideas about that. But the truth is, if we weren’t asking for chain restaurants and stores and safe Google searches, they wouldn’t exist.
We like things to be the same.
We aren’t comfortable with differences.
We aren’t comfortable with people thinking differently than we do.
We aren’t comfortable when people look differently than we look.
From long hair on boys and men in the sixties and seventies to tattoos and piercings; we consider those as outliers and exclude them from our comfort zone. When someone who looks different than others does something extraordinary or kind or beautiful, we get excited because we never expected good behavior from them.
As readers, I assume that we see the world differently, with hearts and minds that have been exposed to more than just what our little world defines as our comfort zone. But even still, we forget how easy it is to insist that our thoughts, our understanding of the world, our preferences, our beliefs and our prejudices should be followed by everyone.
I will not tell you what my prejudices are – that’s not what this is about, but I will tell you that every single day I face those demons down and force them to sit still while I interact with folks. They aren’t what you might assume. My prejudices are found in such odd areas of life it wasn’t until I realized how I was reacting to certain people that I discovered they even existed.
So whether or not someone else reads the ending of a book first, or likes coffee rather than tea; whether they have a different belief system or plan to vote for the opposing candidate; whether they wear tattoos or leathers or fancy pink frilly dresses … it’s the differences that make us better as a whole.
A person who loves to run can not comprehend why everyone doesn’t understand the benefits and joy of running. Those of us who are ravenous readers can not find a reason why others don’t feel the same way. Those who love pedicures and manicures don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it. We can’t understand why everyone doesn’t go to church on Sunday morning. In fact, many churchgoers can barely understand why people go to a different church. It makes no sense why people don’t like to travel and see the world, or why anyone would live in a city … or why anyone would live anywhere but a city. We just can’t understand why … on and on and on.
Differences give humanity strength.
(Now all of a sudden I feel the urge to type “Rage Against the Machine,” but that might be overkill.)
Be different. Don’t just accept differences in others – expect it from them. Look for and celebrate those differences.
You don’t always have to be right – others don’t have to see the world the way you see it. As much as you think you want them to agree with you, you really don’t. Trust me. It’s just not that interesting when we’re all the same.
Look for differences, expect differences, and then celebrate them.