The Risk of Standing Out
“Must your statements be so blaring?”
“I said nary a thing!”
“I grant that’s true, still I stand deaf.
I think it’s what you’re wearing.”
~D. L. Diehl
One of my Owl Sketches of the Day this week is a mashup of bright styles, mixing the colors and geometry of Miro and Kachina dolls. She’d stand out in any parliament of owls!
This sketch was inspired by a particular type of bullying on the Internet. I see lots of shaming on social media of people whose personal style does not conform to mainstream norms. Some use the term “snowflake” as a pejorative. These self-appointed fashion judges set arbitrary boundaries of self-expression based on their own personal limitations.
Does it really matter if we stand out or fit in?
Except for very specific times, like when finding a mate, evolution dictates that standing out can be risky. It’s not smart to garner the attention of a predator. It’s better to blend in.
We don’t have to fend off sharks and tigers these days. But there are plenty of social predators–those narcissists, sociopaths, and busybodies who take pleasure from ridiculing others. You know the ones who pounce at any sign of weakness. They’ve moved from the schoolyard to the Internet. We give them the too-kind name “trolls.” There are much more descriptive terms that are NSFW. They can dish out some scathing emotional blows.
Are you really helping?
Then there are the well-meaning folk; they can be loved ones who only want to help. These are the friends who snidely remark, “You’re not going out in THAT dress, are you?” Or “You would be so pretty/handsome if you just…” Fill in the blank with whatever advice they think they are experts about.
This kind of “helping” can be especially damaging to children who are developing their identities. A few careless words can create emotional wounds that last for years–and costs hundreds of dollars in therapy bills. Words have power.
Some of our derisive behavior comes from a strong desire to belong. We feel better when we are surrounded by our tribe. It’s comforting to have our personal tastes validated by those around us. But at some point, it’s just none of anyone’s business. We each live in our own skin and get to define our personal standards of comfort and joy.
Getting a thick skin for yourself and your kids
The risk is real. Many people just don’t know what to think of a truly individualistic person. They feel compelled to say something, verbally or non-verbally. Growing a thick skin is imperative for maintaining self-esteem.
If you have a child who prefers to stand out, it will take focus to help them develop the kind of armor they need to thrive in a world that prefers the protection of the herd. It may require restraint on your own part to hold back on comments that might stymie their ability to shine in their own special way.
But the smiles of genuine joy at being themselves will be well worth it.