Some thoughts about being different: It is okay to be different. After all, we all are. 

i have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks doing a lot of self-reflection. The in-your-face realities of a deadly worldwide pandemic, my dad about to turn 80 [this Saturday], hearing of a new colleague on a board i just joined losing his life in a car accident, are all things which can make you want to think about your life and the way you live and the impact you may or may not be having.

One of the things i have been thinking a lot about is this idea of being different. Which, at various points in my life, feels like it has been thrown at me more as an insult or caution than something to be celebrated. “Oh look, there he goes again” kind of vibe! And it has generally arrived in two different ways:

[1] You are just being different for the sake of being different. 

This is an interesting one and i have heard it a lot. It feels like there is a lot of assumption attached to it on two levels.

One, that people actually know my intentions and motivations explicitly. This is always stated with certainty – i have never that i can remember had someone say to me: I think you are behaving differently for the sake of being different. No, they always know!

Two, the underlying suggest that being/acting/behaving/looking different is bad thing. i will get back to this one later, but let’s just say this may be one of the single most causes of some of the world’s biggest pain when it becomes the way we view other people. Hello racism, sexism, etc.

When i was thinking about this the other night, my Aha! moment was that i have very rarely in life been different for the sake of being different. But i may have on many occasions been different because I AM DIFFERENT! And how more often [i hope!] than not, that has been a really good thing.

When i was in a very traditional church, the difference looked like rebelling against set-in-stone ways of doing things that never seemed to critically question and ask why and join the dots. Because i strongly believed in living out the belief i had in Jesus in every part of my life, that would often bring me head to head with others who didn’t.

In youth ministry we had some quite weird and strange practices in our group that appeared different for different sake. But they were also part of an amazing bonding process that we had with our young people who knew without a shadow of a doubt that in this space they were loved and cared for and looked after and so the difference factors were often useful in terms of creating community. At the same time, to be honest, there were a few then that were definitely different for the sake of being different and a little bit too out-there for today’s world, but even a lot of those helped forge relationships that are still going strong today.

When we returned from the States, being different meant tackling racism and anti-racism both in my own life and in the spaces around me head on and that often didn’t go down well with those who were very comfortable with a life where those aspects were not brought up so forcefully.

But also a whole lot of other things with way less significance attached to them such as changing my hair colour [bleached, black, green, purple, leopard print – not my best work – and more] because i liked having different colour hair, being a fan of Monty Python [often some very unconventional and what i see as super clever humour that tends to shake up the box and get people thinking differently], coming up with ‘Hey man’ as a greeting cos i struggled with remembering peoples names and more. Not in an attempt to be different, but simply because i sometimes just enjoyed different things.

Being Different

[2] You are just being an attention seeker. 

This is another interesting one that i had thrown at me at various times from different people through my life. i don’t know that it was ever really true – at least not in my conscious state – that i ever said or did things for the sake of getting attention [for attention’s sake!]

Now there are definitely times when i have used a controversial talk or magazine title or some kind of out-there analogy or even action to grab people’s attention [The infamous Westerford CU ‘penis talk’ of 1999 comes to mind!] but that was always with the intention of challenging or inspiring or teaching something that would remain in people’s minds. And some of those – The Beep Beep machine, The Chocolate Cake and Icing analogy, the “Church is the people, it is not, the, place” song i made people sing over and over – i’ve had people come to me ten years later and tell me how the message stuck with them. So grabbing attention very specifically with an end goal in mind.

But when it’s tossed out as an insult it’s with this idea that attention is the end goal. You just want people’s attention on you. Which feels like such a weird thing to me and consciously i honestly think that has rarely, if ever, been the case. As a follower of Jesus it was the message, as a youth leader it was the community, as an activist these days it’s about the justice that we seek for all. There is always an end goal that is far higher and loftier than just the attention. Possibly as a kid that may have been true at some stage, i don’t know, but these days as an adult-type there is always an end goal of being and doing better that i am trying to direct people to.

So yes, i have definitely engaged in a number of different things intentionally to get people’s attention, but pretty much always with a very specific intention at the heart of it that invited people to live life differently and better. Very seldom, if ever, just for the attention.

Being Different

Permission to be Different

Here’s the thing: In a world that where violence to women is a constant threat in most countries and spaces in the world and where men tend to be the ones causing the majority of that violence, if you’re a man, be different. [Here are 40 ways to get you started!]

In a world that has both historically and presently made anyone who is not white feel substandard or less than or even less-than-human in so many different ways, the call to white people is to be different. [Here are 40 ways to get you started!]

If you live in a country where gun violence is out of control and yet the running dialogue from too many people in power is to ‘Add more guns into the equation’ despite all the studies and evidence and far-too-regular-mass-shootings, choose to be different.

When the world screams “Blue is for boys and pink is for girls” despite there being no evidence beyond ‘That’s the way we’ve always known it to be’ or “Girls must play with dolls and boys must play with cars” when, again, that’s just a story that’s been told that we’ve bought into.

 Whenever hate is chosen over love, choose to be different. Especially if you are part of an organisation that claims that loving people is part of their number one command to follow.

But also, if you want green hair [Hi there!] dye your hair green [it doesn’t dictate your politics!] And if you want to wear crocs [okay, i’m digging deep here!] wear crocs proudly. If you like country music or eating your french toast with sugar and tomato sauce [Do not mock this til you’ve tried it!] and even if you like pineapple on your pizza [And breathe, Brett Fish, just breathe…] then do that too. Paint your nails black, pierce that eyebrow, eat breakfast for dinner, watch darts on tv, and so on.

Celebrate Being Different quote

Audre Lorde was on to something: “It is not our differences that divide us. Is it our inability to Recognise, Accept, Celebrate those differences.”

i mean, that’s it right? Too often we have made someone being different, liking something different, behaving differently to us or looking or speaking differently a reason to judge or mock or bully or push away as opposed to being a source of Curiosity to draw us closer.

If the world [or even just the world on social media for starters] could replace Judgement with Curiosity, oh how different we would look. How absolutely transformed our interactions and engagements might be if, discovering someone saw things a different way caused us to ask insightful questions rather than throwing obnoxious insults.

“Blessed are the Curious… for they shall live!” 

Quote about Curiosity

This feels like a significant piece for me because Curiosity is my 2021 Word of the Year: Check it out!

But also because i find myself in so many spaces where Curiosity seems to be glaringly absent. In churches desperately trying to hold on to the way things have always been done, in areas of almost or totally all-white leaderships who refuse to acknowledge how problematic and blind that might be in a country where they make up 8.5% of the population, in schools that keep getting hit by regular race scandals but refusing to make any significant movements towards change. And countless people on social media who refuse to engage significantly on topics of race, gender, religion, politics and more but prefer to insult or meme or block or hold on so very tightly to what they believe.

A helpful place to start when something that is different is making you nervous is to ask some of these questions? 

Why does this scare me? What am I worried that I might lose here? What would happen in the world if this other person’s opinion turned out to be true? Why do I believe the thing I believe? Why do we do things the way we do them? What would curiosity look like for me/us in this space? What might we gain from trying to do this differently? What voices are missing or silenced in this space? What voices or people are dominant in this space? What is one change we can make that keeps us consistent with our values but has us looking different in some way than we did before?

i’m sure you can add some more of your own.

For this week that lies ahead, i want to encourage you to lean in every time you see or hear something different. Maybe test out some of these questions or some others you might come up with. Try and be intentional in hearing other people’s voices speaking to the difference. Maybe start in front of the mirror, asking the person you see there: What is one thing you can do differently this week? 

Please come back and let us know how it goes… Run with Curiosity!