I am different. I am not unusual in being different. We are all different in some way or another. But we also have many similarities that bind us together.
It is not difficult to find our similarities but somehow, in these harsh times, it seems that it is so much easier to recognise somebody’s difference and to highlight that instead of their similarities.
This is now a regular means of sharing information about someone: to focus on their differences – in a negative way. I don’t think that it is a good way to get to know people. All this does is to create and enforce divisions and it make difference become perceived as a harmful thing.
I think there is a better way to be both different and to get to know people.
I like being different. I like getting to know people. I like people (although I am often overtaken by intense episodes of shyness that can leave me a stuttering blubbering incoherent wreck – and then nobody would believe, especially not me, that I am a people’s person!). Generally I can talk and mix with people fairly well.
It is very unusual for me to take an instant dislike to someone. I can’t even remember it happening at all, although I do remember feeling uncomfortable around some people, but that is invariably for a reason other than what they look like; it will have everything to do with their character and personality and nothing to do with their appearance. I am aware that some people look at others and because of obvious physical differences they are singled out for special consideration – usually negative; this attention is frequently described as ‘good natured ribbing’. I would disagree; I’d compare it to the Roman practice of putting gladiators and animals into vast arenas and then calling it entertainment as they destroyed each other. I am glad that I am not in the section of society that uses other people as sport.
By this I mean that some groups of people will select other groups of people to ridicule. They spend their time making up names and highlighting real or perceived differences. Then they begin their attack.
The vocal group will often say that saying things like carrot-top, ginger-nut, fatty, or gay is just good humoured banter. I think that maybe it is a bit deeper than that. I think that the perception of what is ‘normal’ is so ingrained in the psyches of people – from a very young age – that even at primary schools the way people cope with things they don’t understand or accept is to make fun of them.
My son tells me that for the past four years at least, in primary and also in secondary school, the insult of choice has had “gay” associated with it. Anybody or anything perceived as wrong or bad is berated with “You’re so gay!” or “That’s so gay!”
Why do people make fun of others? Is there a weakness in their own identity or does the malice arise from somewhere else? Society would be less interesting without some variety in both personality and appearance. We could live in a robot-like environment where similarities are manufactured into each member of society. Thankfully, we don’t yet live like that, but our current heterogeneous society is still frowned on by those who don’t like difference. They start to make jokes and use their ‘humour’ to position themselves as better than the group they are pursuing.
The verbal bullies often target those they believe have low self-esteem. When people with a health level of self esteem are attacked by words they normally ignore the perpetrator or they correct them without feeling victimised. But it is not often that there is face to face, one on one, contact. I feel bullies are the ones with the weak self esteem because they invariably move around in packs and often carry out their attacks anonymously using violence and graffiti in public and private places.
This is their way to cope with what they don’t understand. I’ve always found that when I lack knowledge on some matter, the best way to progress is to find out more. This usually works for me. It may sound simple, but often the simplest things are the most effective. I’ll ask, I search, I’ll read, I’ll look, I’ll listen and I will learn. Then, when I have a kernel of knowledge, I feel able to engage in some form of communication which opens up the channels for even more learning.
In my observation it seems that when the bullies see something different to themselves then they try to destroy it without any attempt to understand it at all. Bullies like homogeny. Bullies are afraid – especially of difference. Bullies deal in a currency of fear.
Bullies transmit their internalised fear into the open. By their frantic actions of trying to control what they don’t understand all bullies remind me of the 19th century colonisers: they see difference and then they label it as the ‘other’ (choose whatever negative term you are familiar with) and then they set about, with the use of the powerful machine of propaganda, to neutralise or subdue it in whatever way they can. Just as, in previous times, Africans were demonised, in a similar way in the 2st century, gay people are being castigated; the universal coping mechanism of ridiculing someone in an attempt to isolate and weaken them is still working efficiently in the schools, playground, classrooms, offices and workplaces of today.
I recently read an article that said what people have to remember when name calling commences is that it’s not what you are called that matters the most, it is what you answer to: a point well worth considering I think when one is aware of their own identity.