Friday, March 4, 2011

The Nightly Note

One of the great challenges we face in life, is trying to fit in with the rest of society. While I think we typically associate this painful experience with our adolescence, it's as true for adults as it is for teens and pre-teens. The only real difference is that as adults, were more accustomed to it. It becomes a game we've learned to play, instead of the one we're playing awkwardly for the first time.

In that sense, fitting in isn't unlike the sports we play, repetition simply makes something difficult more routine.

Don't think you try hard to fit into your world? Think about it for a minute. From the clothes you wear to the style of your hair, the places you shop at and dine, or the car you choose to drive - you're likely putting out a well rehearsed image of who you are. For the most part, that image will be at least a loose reflection of how you were raised and will blend perfectly into whatever environ you've chosen to immerse yourself. You won't find many wall street businessman in their board rooms in board shorts with pink hair. You won't find many country folks pulling into a rural bar in their BMW 5-series while wearing a three piece suit.

It just doesn't fit.

But for some people, fitting in just isn't an option. For those people, for one reason or another, it can't be done.

Frequently, it's not a choice. A birth defect or body scaring accident can lead to someone sticking out like a sore thumb wherever the go. We've all seen the person with the one lazy eye or a terrible burn on their face who for some reason we just can't look in the eye without feeling a little uncomfortable ourselves. For others however, it may be a choice to express who they really are. That expression an be a manner of dress, or the temerity to have an idea that extends beyond the bounds of otherwise widely held fact.

Either way, society can be unforgiving. Numerous studies have shown that people who fit a narrow description of our physical ideals tend to get preferential treatment both in society and in the workplace. As a result, those who don't fit into those ideals - or worse, sit outside the norm, are most at risk for discrimination.

Intuitively, we all know this. We've seen it happen. Heck, we've probably even done it ourselves once or twice. That doesn't necessarily make you a bad person or anything, a lot of that is nature. The difference comes in how we tend to judge the different groups of non-conformists.

Whereas we are more likely to pity those who have no choice over their inability to blend in, we tend to reject - frequently violently - those who choose not to blend in. This isn't a product of our world as it exists now either, it's always been this way.

Throughout history society has both shunned those who were different - think of our treatment of the mentally ill or handicapped until very recently - or just murdered them. We've killed those who've dared to have new thoughts and those who've dared to have new or different religious beliefs.

Even now, in our civilized modern western culture we still do these things. Both on a small scale - avoiding the funny looking guy at the office - and on a large scale - homophobia. People who are different, either by nature or their own daring, are pushed aside and castigated. Sometimes they're beaten and killed for no reason other than being different.

I'm as guilty as anyone of being dismissive of those who are different, and for a bevy of reasons. I know that the way certain people have acted - whether too outlandish, too quiet, or too... weird - has led me to disregard their opinions, or not give them the time of day at all. I also know that when I find someone too eccentric, I can occasionally be downright intimidated.

I have a friend who does this to me.

She's gay and she has the look and attitude of an aggressive gay woman. Her haircut is extreme, shaved on the sides, and long and flowing down the middle. Her clothes are masculine. Her personality is frequently aloof and almost utterly carefree. Of course, like everyone else, it's an image she projects to tell the world who she is.

It can be a startling sight. She has the redeeming quality of being a physical specimen. The kind of woman who, in normal dress and with a normal haircut, men would drool over. Indeed, I've seen plenty do so anyways. As for me, I'm just intimidated. I always have been. Frightened of how to approach her, frightened of saying or doing the wrong thing.

In her case, her decision to look and act different than what society at large expects has probably hindered her. During the time I've known her she's struggled to hold down a job for any prolonged period of time. Not because she's a bad employee: from everything I can tell she knows how to act on the job, is prompt and professional. But she just doesn't fit. She could choose to blend in of course. Grow the right haircut, dress the right way. She could choose to behave more in accordance with our desires. With her physical attributes, it'd likely lead to fast advancement and a prolonged retention.

But she doesn't.

Instead, on a daily basis she chooses to face the world as who she is. I don't know if she cares what others think of her. I've tried to pry an answer from her and failed time and again. To her it seems to be a non-issue. It's just her. Once you get over how damned uncouth it all can seem, you realize the behavior for what it really is.


that'd be near impossible and definitely not always advisable.

Instead I'll request something small. Don't perpetuate the inconsiderateness. While it'd be nice to live in some Utopian world where we could all accept one another without hesitation or qualification, that's just not feasible. Instead, don't shun those who are different. Instead, respect the courage that it takes on a day-to-day basis for those who are different to simply walk into a world that wants them to go away.

Be warned: It'll take some courage on your part.

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.  

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