I’m left-handed, and so I hate right-handed scissors. Always have, always will. If you are right-handed, you may know them by a different name: simply, “the scissors”, but to me they will always be a fiendish device meant to prevent me from cutting anything except myself.
Growing up STRONGLY left-handed (I still joke that my right hand and arm are only there to keep me from tipping over when I stand) was my first indication that I was different. From there it only progressed: musically inclined, Home schooled, with an incredibly useless talent for remembering incredibly useless information that might have earned me some money on Jeopardy but actually only earned me a reputation as a nerd. I was the complete package, let me tell you!
The thing was, I never wanted to be different. I spent the majority of my formative years trying to fit in. Trying desperately too, I might add. Being different sucked.
Eventually I joined the military, the last and best hope of assimilation into the in-crowd. If ever there was an organization that values homogenization over literally everything else, it’s the military. But, to my dismay, I found out quickly that I was marked as Different there, too!
The first time I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with a group of fellow military officers, I was the only INFP in the room. I should also specify that this was a LARGE room!
Quickly, I realized that my attempts to fit in, even in the military, were not going to work. I was simply too different.
The strange thing was, my entire life, others had been telling me that my being different was inherently a good thing. After all, we are all unique individuals, with different talents, abilities and interests, right? So I should embrace my differences, and celebrate who I am!
So why was that the exact opposite of what I longed for most in life?
The simple truth is that being different is really hard. Society values sameness. Differences are less sources of celebration, and more a reason to tease, haze, and exclude. Humanity is made up of in-crowds and out-crowds. Such is the lot of a social animal. To truly embrace our differences is one of the hardest things we can do.
Don’t believe me? Look at how society as a whole views minorities, the differently-abled, people from other nations, and other manifestations of difference. For that matter, look at how those cast out from wider society by their difference form impossibly tight connections within their own subgroup, creating a whole new category of “in” and “out.” No matter how small we have to go to create our own in-group, that’s all we want out of life.
Some in-groups, in fact, even have nonconformity as their core identity. Think of the Punk movement, biker gangs, and the Goth scene. Yet, each of these groups demands strict conformity to their own standards of nonconformity! Otherwise, you’re out.
The fact is that truly embracing the things that make us different is one of the hardest things anybody can do. Our entire being reacts against it, knowing that we are resigning ourselves to being, in some way, part of an out-crowd. And, while our societies may tell us that they prize the unique, the innovative, the different, we can see with our own eyes that this is patently false. Getting comfortable with being different is going to be painful, and costly. There’s no other way around it.
There is, however, a way to validate the goodness of our differences. We’re never going to completely do away with in-crowds and out-crowds in human societies. But we can, if we are authentic and honest with ourselves and each other, recognize and validated the struggle that each and every one of us goes through. Bringing it back to what I began this post with, it was really nice when, as a kid, teachers and friends understood and sympathized with how difficult it was for me to use right-handed scissors. It wouldn’t have been healthy, or productive, to only be provided with left-handed, or hand-neutral scissors, because then I would never have learned how to adapt from my own preference.
We’ve got to embrace our differences, but we’ve got to embrace them in a way that enhances, rather than calcifies, our ability to adapt. In my mind, that’s where we’re headed as a society today, and it worries me. By hardening our stance against making any changes to our personal preferences, we only hurt our own ability to learn and grow. Learning how to be an effective, efficient military officer while remaining true to my INFP personality has taught me a lot about myself and about other people. It’s also enabled me to understand how to adapt and change with the situations I find myself in. If I’d just given up, left the military, and found work more suitable to my preferences, I would be less of a person than I am today. I’d encourage each of you reading this to take a similar plunge into your own differences and the things that make you unique. It’s going to really suck at times, but it’s better than developing a rigid inability to change, or else living with a perpetual dissatisfaction with yourself as a person.