Dear Kids, It’s Okay To Not Be Different

Have you seen this article? I’m not sure how popular it is, or if it has been circulated widely enough to be deemed “viral.” I’ve seen it attached to a few irate Facebook statuses. Though, while I’m sure there are some who agreed with the article, I can’t say I saw anyone defending it. There is a good reason for this—the article is sloppily written and blatantly offensive to women and mothers everywhere, a point which the author of the article acknowledges and defends. According to her, she intentionally used provocative language “to start a conversation” (read: to get more views courtesy of the article’s sheer absurdity.)

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Whether or not it had the intended effect, I know not.  Whether or not it is wise, or helpful, or truly productive to make sweeping, offensive claims merely to get people talking, I know not. That is a question for another day.

I mention all this only to clarify that this is not a “response” article—not in the sense that this is a serious discussion and I am responding to her claims as serious claims. I do not attempt to debunk her arguments, not simply because I don’t take them seriously, but because the author herself doesn’t take them seriously. I’m not going to waste my time debunking an argument that even the arguer knows is unfounded.

I am, however, responding to one underlying assumption of the abominable article, an assumption made far too often and accepted far too universally for my comfort.

Referring to mothers, the author states:

“They are the most common thing, ever, in the history of the world……You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.”

Now, most of the responses I have seen address these statements head on, debating whether or not motherhood affords one the time, energy, freedom, or mobility to be exceptional. I am not going to argue about how much time, energy, or freedom motherhood affords. Likewise, I am not arguing whether or not motherhood is a historically common occupation (it is).

Rather, I am addressing the assumed position of the author that “exceptionality” is inherently desirable.

Before we move on, let’s define out terms. While we tend to use the word exceptional interchangeably with words like “great,” “exquisite,” or anything to the effect of “really, really good,” that isn’t what it means. Despite the modern colloquial usage, to be “exceptional” is simply to be an exception—to be different, in some respect, than others.

And being different from everyone else in some respect is not necessarily better than being the same as them.

 

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^Although that yellow umbrella is pretty sweet^

To be sure, it is entirely possible to become so good at something that you become an exception. Experts, connoisseurs, professionals are very often exceptions in their respective fields due to their level of knowledge or skill. But there is a significant difference between being exceptionally good at something and simply being exceptional at it.

To be an exceptionally good dancer you must be so much better than every other dancer that you become an exception. To be an exceptional dancer, you need only to dance differently than every one else. It is possible to be both exceptional and bad at dancing. Trust me.

Anyone can be exceptional. Live on Twizzlers and cream cheese and you’ll be exceptional. Stop showering and you’ll be exceptional. In fact, everyone is exceptional. Ironically, given that no two people are exactly alike, to be exceptional is the most common thing in the world.

My point is that “exceptionality” is no substitute for value.

This may seem like a trivial point, but it is one worth making. Why? Because today’s society worships the notion of being “different” and “unique” and “exceptional.” No one likes to be “typical”, and we go to great lengths to prove that were are not.

 

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I, like so many others, grew up in a world that constantly reminded me that being different is not bad, that we should appreciate the variations within humanity, that we are all unique and that’s a good thing, yada yada yada. No argument there; to be different is not inherently bad.

But the glorification of the unique is no less superficial or asinine than the worship of conformity.

It is as though we realized the stupidity of conformity for the sake of conformity and replaced it with the equally silly pursuit of nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that it is as good to be different as it is to be good.  Artists, writers, fashionistas; there is no need to pursue greatness in your field, for you have only to be different, unique, exceptional.

 

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^Lady Gaga is certainly exceptional^

Unfortunately, applauding something for the simple fact that it is different is just as silly as criticizing it simply because it is different.

Regarding the original article, the popularity of marriage and childbearing does not diminish its value. In fact, it seems far more reasonable to conclude from its popularity that it is highly desirable, rather than shallow or un-valuable. (Let me be very clear; I am not saying that motherhood is valuable because it is common, but that it may be common because it is valuable.)

You may point out that doing things in new ways can be refreshing, and can lead to real progress, and I would agree with you. Changing things up, employing new approaches often leads to innovation and progress, developments with true and tangible value. But these differences are not valuable merely because they are different. If that were the case, any change would be an improvement, and that is simply not true.

That we are all individuals with various eccentricities, differences, unique qualities is a fact—one that adds to the beauty of the great tapestry that is the human race. That we are all humans with many similarities is also a fact—one of which we ought not be ashamed.

 

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There is no shame in falling in line with the rest of humanity. It may take some humility to admit this, but, given the many similarities humans have with each other, what is good for the rest of humanity is very often good for us.

We spend a lot of time consoling children, letting them know that they shouldn’t be afraid of being different. I think it is high time we started reminding them that they should not be afraid of being the same.

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9 comments

  1. Good, very good (dare I say exceptional?) analysis —
    But isn’t there a sense of the herd among those striving to be different in superficial fashion trends – piercings, tattoos, crazy hair — whatever…So in “rebelling” they are joining the herd..and really are conforming…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great post. The band “King Missile” summed your point up perfectly Johanna, in their song “Saturday”, capturing the banality of the pursuit of “difference”. Take a listen (language warning).

      Like

  2. This is absolutely my favorite post I have read today. We struggle to find the happy middle between criticizing common retail employees for having unexpected piercings or unique tattoos and encouraging new grads to go out of their way to separate themselves from the rest of the pack when job hunting so someone might remember you after looking at 100 similar resumes. You know what? Many people are similar. We can’t chide people for marching to the beat of another drum and along the same vein encourage those who are ‘too plain’ by some standards to pump up their personas. People are people- the interconnected-ness of us all, rather than the comparison between individuals, is the important thing to remember in our daily interactions.

    Liked by 1 person

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