Monday, February 3, 2014

Why I won't teach my children to be different

It's okay to be the same--look how cute we are!
Okay, before you start freaking out, I won't teach my children to just "be the same" as everyone else either. At least never on purpose.But lately I think society has taken an interesting turn from valuing sameness to valuing contrast. Nowadays it's all about what you know that other people don't; what you wear that other people don't; what you say that you think other people won't; what you do that you think other people don't. It's like when we were all kids and we couldn't choose the same favorite color as any of our siblings--heaven forbid Clare and I both love the color pink! How will anyone ever see me as more than just Clare's sister if we BOTH like pink?!?! [Note: true story. That's why purple was officially my favorite color growing up. But you can't tell me I'm the only kid that went through that! Please tell me I'm not the only kid who went through that....].

My point is, it's all getting a little ridiculous. I had written various examples to describe just how ridiculous I think it is, but that made this post really long so I cut them out (you're welcome).

I definitely suffered from "gotta be different" syndrome through all my teenage years--basically right up until I turned 20 (I say suffered, but my symptoms were never that severe--at least not comparatively). For instance, I never wore make-up basically until I got married. I'll admit part of it was that after going so long without wearing make-up, the attention I got when I did wear it was embarrassing to me. But, I also liked that it made me different from my peers. It made me feel like I was better than other girls--like I was less vain (ironically enough). I felt like me not wearing make-up was cool because I was saying "no" to a popular trend.

We got engaged in China. Try to beat that hipster!
You see, that's just one of the problems with the different movement--putting yourself above your peers in one way or another. When I talked to others about not wearing make-up, it made me feel like all those other girls didn't even KNOW. The reason that being different feels so good and can be almost addicting, is because it feeds our vanity and pride into big enough traits to block out other big traits like self-doubt and insecurity. Unfortunately, the easiest way to deal with our own feelings of low self-esteem is to make ourselves feel superior to another person--either by putting them down, or raising ourselves above them, or both. Trying too hard to be different, does both. It puts a person up on a pedestal while making others look like idiots.

Now, this is not to say I think being different is bad--that is NOT my point! If someone is different without needing to show it off, they obviously don't fall into the same pitfalls as those trying so hard. It's the intense need to feel different that I think can be so damaging to people. So many people seem to be rejecting the idea of conformity (which I agree definitely has it's own problems) in order to value being different, but in fact both ideals have the SAME main problem: both require basing personality off of everyone BUT the person in question. In other words, whether I'm caught up in trying to fit in to what everyone else is doing, or whether I'm caught up in trying to not be like everyone else, all I'm really doing is giving the power of personal choice to everyone but myself.

I don't want to teach my kids to conform to whatever their peers are doing. But I also don't want to teach them to base their self-worth off of how much they stand out from the crowd. I just want to teach my kids to be themselves--no matter what anyone else is doing or being. Let me reiterate for emphasis:

Be yourself--even if that means being different and even if that means being the same.

Because that is the only way we can truly learn to love ourselves and love all those around us. And what is happiness but the giving and receiving of love? I want my children to live the happiest lives ever known to the human race! And that means teaching them to find out who they are by looking within, not without.

Loving this girl for everything she is
It's something we all struggle with--trying to find the balance of loving ourselves without falling into a false sense of superiority. But it can be done. I still sometimes fall into the trap of wanting to be different just to make myself fell better. But I have to remind myself that whether I'm different or the same doesn't matter--as long as I'm me.

So, let's not be afraid to like the color pink, too! And what's more, let's not even let it bother us. In the end, individuals are individuals--there will always be differences enough for real loved ones to treasure. Maybe we should take time to treasure the similarities, too.