On trying to be different versus trying to be the same

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As a young lad I once read something about how difficult (impossible?) it was to have a “free and independent thought.” This became an unmeasurable goal. I’d squint my eyes, push hard and come up with a thought, and then I’d examine it to try to determine where I might have derived it from. This introverted pastime soon merged with a wider desire to do things differently. Think Natalie Portman’s character in “Garden State”. From taking random missteps as I walked down the driveway at home, to making up new words each day (complete with pygmy clicks and space whale groans…), I set myself up to be a perpetual victim throughout my younger years. Fortunately I was socially adjusted (or societally adjusted?) enough to keep a little of this under the radar. Ginger lad plus imaginary friends equals a lifetime spotting locomotives and collecting other peoples cats.

Many years later I proudly explained to Kara (the anarchist-Canadian) that I’d spent my life attempting to think differently to anyone else, to come up with thoughts and ideas that few had considered before. She replied that this was the first serious thing that we didn’t have in common. She’d spent her life trying to find was in which she thought like the rest of the world. And on inspection I realised that was the truly different one in our particular and peculiar relationship. Oh shit.

So my attempts to separate myself from the crowd have at times been a little pretentious. But I honestly find that in many ways I struggle to fit the mould society shapes for its citizens. Just after University (now there’s a while other blog topic…) I flirted with the idea of fulfilment through acquisition,  the quest for happiness through stuff. Despite “Religion 201: An Introduction to Buddhism.” But it wasn’t for me. I found that I could fit all the things I needed to live happily in a 60 litre backpack. I’m content with photos of me with friends, music, and a notebook with enough free pages for me to sketch a characterful face, or write of my feelings for someone five thousand miles away. And though I love the cosy feeling of a home, I feel a constant urge to discover new lands and experiences. I dreamt of visiting Ireland from a very young age. And since discovering a slice of cold pizza and a “welcome, I’m upstairs downing Guinness” note from my sister in a backpackers on my arrival in Dublin, I decided to always set my sites on a new destination. That’s grown into an ever changing wish list of new destinations. Most governments build their structures around an ageing idea of everyone settling in one spot for their existence. But nomadism is back on the rise my friends.

On those years that I’m back in New Zealand I also find myself struggling with the concept of a “polite society”. The unwritten rules whereby we avoid inflammatory conversational topics, the “not talking religion, politics or trans-gender operations” at the dinner table. Recently I explained to a small group of people I didn’t know, that I was “line blind”, so they would have to excuse me when I frequently over-stepped it. Of course I know, I just don’t often choose to care. I don’t like the idea of restricting conversations based on minimising the chance of a difference of opinion. It prevents us from having our less worthy ideas and beliefs challenged. If you abide by all this convention, you’ll end up recycling the same 38 “ideal adult conversations” repeatedly between the ages of 24 and 67. So try not to ask me about the weather, or “how I know Judy” when we meet for the first time. Instead, ask me if I’m as aloof as I appear, or whether I think buddha could take Jesus in a UFC matchup.

There are deeper, more difficult differences within this boy, which I’ll discuss in the near future, but I know now that differentiation may well be the rule rather than the exception. I’ve met enough people from a variety of backgrounds to realise how important it is not to think I have the monopoly on new ideas. I’ve been humbled by the sheer variety of experiences I’ve had related to me. Many of situations and upbringings that others have endured have been uncomfortable to listen to, they’ve brought tears to my eyes and rage to my heart. These people sometimes emerge stronger, and more capable. But it’s not all happy endings, sometimes they’re left terrifyingly damaged. So now I’m disappointed by those who dramatise the difficulties they face, which endanger only their pride, or their societal standing. But all of these encounters help me understand myself, and as someone who wants to share stories of outlandish lives, they are an essential part of my education.

I think the one thing that is important, is that we take the time to understand each others differences, and to learn of other ways to live. It is intolerance and ignorance that conspire to push many of us to the fringes. I hope that eventually my writing will help at least a few people understand the value in living differently.

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