Jim Bishop: And now for something completely different …

I am unique, just like everybody else, the saying goes.

Don’t we all want to be considered unique, distinctive, to stand out from the crowd?

When we perceive or call someone else “different,” usually it’s not meant as a compliment. More often, it translates as weird, odd, peculiar, even bizarre, and we take steps to avoid them. Yes, but different compared to whom or what? Who decides what is the norm?

It gets more complex when you’re plunked into another culture. Then what is the measuring standard? Who is different? Who needs to adjust?

So, who wants to be considered different?

I’ll speak for myself: I do.

I don’t want to follow the herd instinct, but still desire to be heard. It’s not difficult to be ostracized or discounted for holding a minority view on certain issues or advocating an unpopular cause, dressing a certain way or refusing to jump on the latest fad bandwagon.

I grew up being different. I knew it then and didn’t mind it. As a youngster, while my peers were out riding bikes or playing ball, I was at my parents’ roller desk, using a fountain pen to create stories and sketch drawings of the comic book characters I’d created of Hamey Humbug and his gang.

Or, I had my ear literally glued to my Silvertone 6-transistor radio, grooving to this strange new sound of rock ‘n’ roll emanating from a tinny speaker (or earplug when I was tuned in during classes).

My first car, purchased for $300 in 1962, was one of a kind, much like its crazy driver, I liked to think – a BMW Isetta 300. The miniature motorcar opened in the front to let in its occupants, had a 12-horsepower, 1-cylinder engine, got 53 miles to the gallon and delivered me where I wanted to go, albeit more slowly than my distracters.

Today, if I didn’t already have a vehicle that serves me well and I had the cash in hand, I’d be driving a Mercedes SmartCar, a modern-day replica of the Isetta but with more safety features and more horsepower than a washing machine motor.

I also like hot weather (this summer a case in point), as long as I can be swimming or crusin’ and playin’ the radio (with prehistoric tunes from the 1950s; thank you, Mr. Berry) while others huddle near the air conditioner and complain about the heat.

The central question to ask in this discussion, I believe, is not so much how (ital.) one is different but why (ital.) – what is the bottom line motivation? Is the impetus largely to say, “I’m different,” just for the sake of being different, refusing to be squeezed into the mold of uniformity?

Or, does that drive arise from a higher calling – to challenge the status quo, to offer some alterative ways of looking at things or even offering a prophetic word, however unpopular, amid the myriad voices of uniformity?

I enjoy interacting with some – not all! – persons whom I see as “different.” We may not agree on many issues and have different tastes, personalities, mannerisms and outlooks on life. But isn’t this what helps keeps life intriguing, unpredictable, challenging, as long as we’re willing to listen to and learn from each other?

Part of what keeps life fascinating for me and the person closest to me in this life, my spouse Anna, are those differences that could erect walls between us if we’d allow it but instead we determine to respect and celebrate as channels for growth in our journey together.

This doesn’t mean we don’t change, however.

Recently, while returning from a quick trip out of town, Anna remarked, “Are you getting soft in your old age? You filled the car with gas before we left instead of waiting until we’re running on vapors, you stopped at a convenience store for me that required a left turn across the roadway and since my bunion surgery you’ve been walking beside me instead of a step or two ahead as you used to do.”

Just trying to become a little different from the old me, wifey.

To be or not to be . . . different or unique . . . that is my ongoing question.
 
 

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.


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