Dear you, self-appointed stranger from outer space,
it took me Dream On, after Turning Tables, Light Up the World and Don’t Stop Believin’ before I got started tonight. Spotify is good at hinting inspiring tunes. More truly, both my psychologist and my recent muse have advised I elaborate on a number of topics, as an exercise for me in reaching out. And as always around here, privacy and discretion mandate that the words stay shaded, which you might also appreciate for plausible deniability.
The first topic is a direct exercise follow-up to my session today. I was explaining how I had issues projecting myself in a new group-oriented activity, such as theater which I would love to try out, by fear of rejection. To summarize the intermediary steps, it happens that I have issues interacting with new people, where I often quickly get a clear feeling that my ways and background are tremendously foreign and incomprehensible by my new peers; and conversely, although possibly less often, that their ways feel equally foreign to me. This wakes up unpleasant feelings and memories, not the least those of an age, fifteen to twenty years ago, where foreignness implied immediate exclusion from the group. As a result I often opt for voluntary isolation, of which at least I can claim control over.
Forced isolation is the commonly accepted price for a breach of the social contract. However, my opinion has always been that the social contract seems unpleasingly restrictive. How cruel is it not that we must follow silly rituals, for example silly moral values, the mandatory awareness of the latest fashions, or perhaps more disturbingly the signs of machismo and violence expected from masculinity, in order to avoid being excluded from the social norm, and its ultimate reward, social acceptance?
For so far I can remember I have always rejected this constraint with pride, and I struggled to face the consequences. On its own, this attitude is productive: it places you “outside of the box” and opens a realm of opportunities to become creative, and a source for inspiration to yourself and others. There are a few aggravating factors however that make the burden more difficult to bear.
The one I’ll share today is the circumstance where this self-determined choice combines with an unavoidable, “part of who you are” psycho-physiological difference. Maybe you are slightly higher on the intelligence scale than your peers; maybe you rank slightly “higher on the autism scale”; maybe you feel you are an introvert in a world that values extroverts. Maybe also your personal history has given you an extra, out-of-the-ordinary cultural, skill and knowledge baggage which is now part of your identity. You might be also considering non-standard gender identities or relational preferences–although in my case this last point was irrelevant because I had no other image of myself than “boy-next-door-still-virgin-heterosexual-male” until much later (but that’s a story for another time). The real issue here is that you don’t get to choose these parts of who you are, and the cruel world is quick to pick on those “real”, “natural” differences. On any of those grounds, even without considering the occasional physical violence, those I had to grow up with had sufficient motives to either pick on me at one end of the scale or ensure that I receive minimal social attention of the “good kind”, the loving kind really, on the other end of the scale. You can probably imagine a situation where all are combined.
(Your Killer Toy now playing)
That “life sucks” and “most people are either stupid or cruel,” when not both, is really the lesson you don’t want to have first in life. I despise it, and I still cringe at the number of years it cost me to fix my resulting perceptions of fellow humans.
One of my deepest regrets was to not reach out earlier and let my friends help me in this process; it could have been sped up much earlier had I trusted them!
(As it turns out, there is a sweet and sour realization that comes much, much later, when you eventually realize that most bullies end up having terrible, terrible feelings about what they inflicted on others, and that they eventually turn out “ok” out of shame or simply maturity. I don’t like it too much, but it does mean that a population of humans at a later age is factually more accepting of diversity than at a young age. Disclaimer: within a given generation. This does not apply across generations. For example my parents are more accepting than themselves or their peers when they were younger, not necessarily more than the current youngsters.)
Hopefully, at some point in life the page turns and the bad stuff is no more than an unpleasant memory. However, the differences stay, and their impact on social contact need to be dealt with. The word “omgaan” carries the meaning more than I can find in words from other languages. In most cases, I just learned by trial and error: does that behavior pay off? Keep it. Does that one cause discomfort or disapproval? Drop it, or keep it only for closer friends. Vanilla process.
Still, I do have more ambition than that. I am impressed by people with charisma and I want some of my own. This requires me to really “connect” and put myself in the shoes of others to properly entice them into my ways. But how satisfying is it to project myself into those who, most of the time, are either slightly less smart, or slightly more uncomfortably extroverted, or have synapses arranged in a different way, or are less educated, or are less tolerant of cultural diversity? That’s where the little extra effort happens: I accept the mandatory distance, bridge it and accept that I am the one who has to make the extra step in their direction and not the other way around. Sometimes it is boring, sometimes it seems non-rewarding (who wants to “waste time with idiots”?), and it is certainly always taxing my energy levels. Draining actually. Yet… It works, much better than trial-and-error on interactions. It allows intimacy, closeness, and an emotional bound that makes it totally worth the effort.
As I see you, you probably already know all this. Yet I have sensed in your company a shadow of my own former indecisive self, searching outwards for confidence and missing the opportunity to find it “here and now,” combined with a tremendously greater ability to achieve and accomplish, deliciously decorated with an awesome eclectic relationship to music and visual art, and complemented by various physical abilities and attributes with far greater potential than I will ever hope for my own. I look at you and I see “man, this one is going to get further in life than I will ever hope.” And then I also see an extra hint of unhealthy destructive self-depreciation, and a form of fragile and vulnerable bluntness, which I, perhaps mistakenly, identify as fresh scars or recently closed wounds. Then I think “man, that seems cumbersome.” And then maybe, I figure, you are still hesitant to acknowledge that you are not alone, and that there are others who will understand you and help you navigate this strange world.
Well, obviously, you’re not alone. And you’d be surprised how good it feels to share. And you can expect comfort and support. It’s all legit and fair. I’d have given you a hug already, but unfortunately, y’know, there is this set of silly social stigmas and assumptions that makes it weird when two guys hug for no apparent reason, and I figured maybe you have enough “weird” already around you. So it’s your call.
As a closing word. I remember a story from last year. I’d like to dedicate it to you today.