Unique, Not Freaks

When I was in high school, a good friend of mine ran for student body president. His campaign slogan was “Unity through Individuality.” Admittedly, back then, although I understood each word, I didn’t fully understand what his slogan meant. Older and wiser now (ha!), I think I’m finally getting it. People need each other, not so much because we are alike, but because we are different. Or as my son often reminds me, we should celebrate diversity, for it is through diversity that we become and remain strong.

There have been several movies recently that have reminded me that, although each of us is different in our own way, that is how it should be. In other words, we are unique, not freaks. A boy with a grossly disfigured face turns out to be, well, a normal, thoughtful boy in Wonder.[i] A group of circus performers, that most people consider to be freaks, embrace their uniqueness and share their talents for their own self-fulfillment and for the enjoyment of others in The Greatest Showman.[ii] A mute woman discovers love with a misunderstood water creature in The Shape of Water.[iii] Similarly, a young, gay man learns that love comes in different flavors, including his own particular one, in Call Me By Your Name.[iv]

But celebrating diversity is not as easy as it sounds. The world keeps getting smaller, but that only makes differences in culture and language more pronounced. William G. Eggington, a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University, described it this way:

“We are most comfortable when we are with ”our people.”… But … we spend more and more time proximate to people from other families, … other cities, regions and nations…. In essence, we interact more and more with – and are closer and closer to – people who speak in strange tongues and who do strange things. We are living in a world of strangers….

“We can choose to respond to [these] challenges … in a number of ways. We can withdraw into our sameness – our family, friends and regional and national identities – setting up barriers that protect us from interacting in meaningful ways with those who are different. Some people of the world have chosen to do this by withdrawing geographically behind walls of national or religious exclusion. Others choose to do it in more subtle ways, relying on technology, so that even though they are physically surrounded by those from different backgrounds, they can always be “virtually” at home, encased in their familial comforting iPod music, their electronic Facebook and Twitter friends, and their same-minded political blogs and digital social networks…. Our challenge then is to overcome our … reluctance to interact with those who come from different languages, dialects, and cultural backgrounds.”

So how do we break down those artificial barriers we build around us? The simplest answer is often the best. In Wonder we are reminded (quoting American self-help philosopher, Dr. Wayne Dyer), when choosing between being right and being kind, chose kind. Here is a trailer from the movie containing a collage of scenes illustrating this theme:

To kindness we can add acceptance. The Shape of Water is the story, set during the Cold War, of a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibious creature who was captured in a South American river and is being held in captivity for experimental purposes. My favorite quote from the movie is by the mute woman (given through an interpreter) about the water creature: “When he looks at me, the way he looks at me, he does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am. He’s happy to see me. Every time.” What a wonderful world it would be if each of us felt that kind of acceptance.

In Call Me By Your Name, a teenage boy falls in love with an older (but still) young man who is visiting his family for the summer. The setting is in the 1980s, well before same sex relationships were considered acceptable. In my favorite scene from the movie, the young man’s father encourages his son to find whatever works for him. Everyone should have parents this understanding, regardless of the issue:

Part of celebrating diversity is realizing that each of us have unique attributes. Often, though, we realize we have these unique attributes but are not too happy about them. Most of us don’t like being different. Instead of hiding those differences, we should show them off, as did the circus performers in The Greatest Showman. Here are the words to one of the songs from the movie, This is Me,[v] which should become an anthem for all of us who feel different (and therefore alone) in one way or another:

  • When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
  • I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
  • I am brave, I am bruised
  • I am who I’m meant to be
  • This is me
  • Look out ‘cause here I come
  • And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
  • I’m not scared to be seen
  • I make no apologies
  • This is me

Through emphasizing our uniqueness, we can team with other unique people to accomplish almost anything. I love this quote from the book, The Boys in the Boat,[vi] written by Daniel James Brown, about the U.S. gold medal rowing team of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin:

“Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made up of conflicting stuff…. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower…. And yet, at the same time … no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does….

“The psychology is complex. Even as rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities … [I]f they are to row well together, each of these oarsmen must … be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat….

“And capitalizing on diversity is perhaps even more important when it comes to the characters of the oarsmen. A crew composed entirely of eight amped-up, overtly aggressive oarsmen will often degenerate into a dysfunctional brawl in a boat or exhaust itself in the first leg of a long race. Similarly, a boatload of quiet but strong introverts may never find the common core of fiery resolve that causes the boat to explode past its competitors when all seems lost. Good crews are good blends of personalities; someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to think things through; someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh. That’s the steepest challenge.”

Our challenge is similar.  Let’s be proud of our own uniqueness and kind and accepting of others and their uniqueness. Through our unified individuality, we can create a society of inclusion for everyone, regardless of race, religion, geography, political view, gender, economics, or physical or personality characteristics.

[i] Wonder

  • Production Company: Lionsgate, Mandeville Films, Participant Media
  • Director: Stephen Chbosky
  • Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky and Steve Conrad (based on the novel by R.J. Palacio)
  • Starring: Jacob Trembley, Owen Wilson, and Julia Roberts
  • Release date: November 17, 2017

[ii] The Greatest Showman

  • Production Company: Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Director: Michael Gracey
  • Screenwriter: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron
  • Release date: December 20, 2017

[iii] The Shape of Water

  • Production Company: Bull Productions, Double Dare You, Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Screenwriter: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
  • Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon
  • Release date: December 22, 2017

[iv] Call Me By Your Name

  • Production Company: Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features
  • Director: Luca Guadagnino
  • Screenwriter: James Ivory (based on the novel by Andre Aciman)
  • Starring:Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg
  • Release date: January 19, 2018

[v] This Is Me, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

[vi] Daniel James Brown The Boys in the Boat, pp. 177-79.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s