Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Fierce Desire to be Different.

Since at least the First Grade, I have noted in myself the fierce desire to be different from my fellow man.  I have not always thought of this desire as completely beneficial or justifiable, but I have never stopped being influenced by it.  It explains so many of the decisions I have made throughout my life and continue to make each day.

Lately, I have noticed variants of the "Be Different" principle stated by various people, especially in the bodybuiding community.

An example is one of the characters, "Mad Dog", in the steroid documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster.  His dream was to become a professional wrestling star.  At one point in the film, he is quoted as saying:  "The biggest fear I ever had in my life is being an average Joe."

And right around the same time, I read the bodybuilding autobiography, Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder.

In this book, Fussell not only outlines his own reasons for pursuing bodybuilding, but also interviews others about their motivations.  One such bodybuilder, Nimrod, answered this way:
"I want to look like something you've never seen before ... More than anything else in the world, whatever it takes, I don't want to be like you.  I don't want to look like you, I don't want to talk like you, I don't want to be you."
And I must say, right or wrong, this has been a guiding principle in my life:  to be different from other people.  My wife tells me I have overachieved in this regard, and that it is now safe for me to quit trying so hard.

Maybe the Kinks said it best, in their song "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" ...

I won't take all that they hand me down,
And make out I smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won't take it all lying down,
'Cause once I get started I go to town.

'Cause I'm not like everybody else,

I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else.

And I don't want to ball about like everybody else,

And I don't want to live my life like everybody else,
And I won't say that I feel fine like everybody else,
'Cause I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else.

But darling, you know that I love you true,

Do anything that you want me to,
Confess all my sins like you want me to,
There's one thing that I will say to you,
I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else.
Of course, some may prefer this version by the Chocolate Watch Band:

At its worst, this fierce desire to Be Different from others may be mere misanthropy.  But at its best, it can be simply an unwillingness to settle for less than the fullness of the unique vocation with which God has called each of us.

Everything That Rises Must Diverge

In The Future of Mankind, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said this:
Take the two extremes confronting us at this moment, the Marxist and the Christian, each a convinced believer in his own particular doctrine, but each, we must suppose, fundamentally inspired with an equal faith in Man. Is it not incontestable, a matter of everyday experience, that each of these, to the extent that he believes (and sees the other believe) in the future of the world, feels a basic human sympathy for the other -- not for any sentimental reason, but arising out of the obscure recognition that both are going the same way, and that despite all ideological differences they will eventually, in some manner, come together on the same summit? No doubt each in his own fashion, following his separate path, believes that he has once and for all solved the riddle of the world’s future. But the divergence between them is in reality neither complete nor final, unless we suppose that by some inconceivable and even contradictory feat of exclusion (contradictory because nothing would remain of his faith) the Marxist, for example, were to eliminate from his materialistic doctrine every upward surge towards the spirit. Followed to their conclusion the two paths must certainly end by coming together: for in the nature of things everything that is faith must rise, and everything that rises must converge.
Now leaving aside the dubious propositions (a) that Marxists are on any sort of rising trajectory; and (b) that the Christian has faith in Man ... let us focus instead on his most famous statement here, that "everything that rises must converge".

Granted, we must and do share some things in common, and these are precious, the things that pertain to our common humanity.  But my contention is that, as people grow and mature, they become more and more uniquely themselves, unlike all others.  One baby, to the disinterested eye, is like another.  But one old man is quite different from another.  They have grown apart.
If you all want me to settle down,
Slow up and stop all my running 'round,
Do everything like you want me to,
There's one thing that I will say to you,
I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else.


Prester Scott said...

Actually, I have of late been coming to terms with the fact that I am like everybody else.

Anglican Beach Party said...

And did that make you feel disappointed, or relieved?

Prester Scott said...

I had always been raised to believe that I had exceptional potential, and therefore I had no excuse for falling short of excellence. But I learned that such a belief is a terrible lie, an insufferable pride, and a tragic burden. Initially I was crushed -- over and over again, as I inevitably failed to achieve the perfection that was expected and demanded (and so did everyone else around me... fortunately I didn't impose those expectations as much on others, or I'd really have been insufferable). So much of my self-image was wrapped up in it. But in time I have come to realize that I am better off without the burden of greatness (whether real or imagined). God loves average and below-average people just as much as He loves above-average people. He created and redeemed them all. I can be free to be myself and not worry about whether or how I am "different."

Jim said...

Wonderful essay. I have the same sensibility, which makes us the same, so in this there is irony. But my striving to be different, as I assume yours, is genuine not a desire to be different simply for the sake of being different.
The distinction is in the level of performance, the best at what one does, not simply being different. I think in this way we fully use our gifts and please God who blessed us with them.
And to the average, well God loves all even the lowly, but this is not about whether God loves those who don't perform to distinction certainly he does. This is about attaining that distinction and fulfilling the desire that God has apparently placed there for a reason. The call can not be ignored. Some might call it obsession, but that is a negative expression of the burning desire to be outside and ahead of the "pack".