Yesterday I asked a friend, “Do you think there are people who feel they are like everybody else?” My friend started laughing and answered, “You. You are exactly the same as everyone. Not different at all. You fit in perfectly.”
My entire life (and it’s been 40 years!) I have struggled with the issue of belonging. I was an odd duckling in first grade, an odd owl in seventh grade and the odd Jew at the Christian girls-only high school my parents sent me to in South Africa. I still feel very odd today.
In first grade I blamed my differentness on the fact that everybody else knew each other from kindergarten while I had just moved from Haifa. Later I felt different because of the physically-distancing thick lenses of my glasses. In the army I attached great importance to the fact that I was the only soldier whose parents lived in the U.S., and that I never went through the Israeli matriculation exams. Also, I hadn’t watched “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and I didn’t know that “Roxanne” was sang by The Police till I looked it up this morning. A lost cause.
Brene Brown, in her book Gifts of Imperfection, distinguishes between belonging to a group and fitting in. Fitting in means giving up certain aspects of our personality in order to be like others in the group. To belong, however, we must be truly ourselves. I love this distinction. My social chameleon skin is slow and often too confused to change. Of course, being myself hasn’t quite helped me either.
But might everyone feel different the same way as I? Margaret Mead said, “Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Friedrich Nietzsche, in a strangely-optimistic quote, said, “At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.” Some quotes celebrate uniqueness, but others tell the truth and admit that being different is hard. As e.e. cummings said: “To be nobody but yourself in a world doing its best to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight and never stop fighting.”
I wonder if belonging, ultimately, is about opening up to the opportunity of belonging. Could I, for example, have belonged to that group of girls in my army training? Was it me who kept myself aloof? Was I too attached to my differences and failed to see any point of similarity to those twenty-three girls I looked at as the group?
I think I’ll start an “I am different, hence I belong” group. You can come even if you watched the “Rocky Horror Show.” No credentials necessary. You can be the same if you want.