Because They Were Different

The Cast: Myself (a little introspective).

Everywhere I look, I see something odd that I love.

It started with this guy.

Isn’t he cute? Those tiny little legs!

As I played with the toy, my mind began to wander (as it does when I play), and I asked myself some questions I don’t normally ask when I play. These questions lead to some interesting answers and some more questions. The first one, the one that matters, in this instance was: Why do I like him? (referring to the Beastman figure)

My answer almost shocked me: Because he’s different.

Using the Beastman example still, I delved a little further. The reasons why (the differences) were plentiful—all of which pertain to the original He-Man action figures, not necessarily to this particular toy: He had longer arms than the others. His feet were not like the other villains. He had arm accessories—no one else did. He had a unique chest armor—it did not attach like the other figures’ armor. And there were plenty more. And while Beastman is not my favorite He-Man character it led me to think about the ones that are (Man-at-Arms and Merman—the reasons why would take pages to properly explain).

That line of thinking caused me to reflect on many of my favorite things. Most of which are odd. And that’s why I like them. Because they’re odd. They’re different. I like the different things. Huh… I never really noticed before. Maybe I knew, like deep down somewhere. But, up in my head, in my active, forward/awake thinkings, I didn’t notice.

Walrusman, Hammerhead, and Snaggletooth. Three of my favorite Star Wars action figures. Look at their feet! They couldn’t drive any of the vehicles because their feet wouldn’t let them sit in any of the vehicles. Photo by toystoystoys4.

For some-time now I’ve known that I see things differently than most. My good friends and family understand, and I get very little teasing over it. I don’t reason the way most do. I don’t see the end result the way most do. And maybe most importantly, I don’t want to do those things the way most do. Because I think and reason the way I do, I find solutions that others miss. The only downside, few people understand.

I had one boss that I had attended school with, we were both studying graphic design. We got along well and respected each other’s unique abilities. When I went to work for him—years later—we often talked about how my input could be frustrating to him, but he didn’t mind because he knew I was trying to find solutions to problems that he may never have even considered. I was always trying to make things better, and looking out for our customers. I wanted to solve problems before they became a problem. He liked that, and appreciated it.

Currently, I work with special needs students at a local middle school. I have been more and more involved with assisting in math classes. And I know what the students are going through when they read the problems. My students are trying to figure out what the questions are asking, and I am too. I’m 45 years old. I’ve been doing this for about 8 years (I know the material, it repeats every year). I empathize with the children. We sit there and brainstorm and try to find solutions. I try to help them understand how to think. And when they understand that, suddenly, they do better. They can solve on their own. I owe that kind of understanding to one summer job.

Many years ago, I worked for the Boy Scouts of America during the summer. My wife and I worked at a summer camp, Thunder Ridge Scout Camp. I loved it up there. One summer my boss had only one position open: C.O.P.E. It stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. I had never heard of it. But I needed the work, so I took the job.

As it turned out C.O.P.E. is basically obstacle courses with learning applied. You teach those that attend, lessons, and force them to think, listen, and learn. Apparently, I was good at it. Real good. I took to that type of mental-break-down-to-rebuild-into-better like a duck to water. Go figure: the Marine Corps. I helped young men see potentials. See new ways to solve old problems. Teamwork. Understanding. Compassion. Quick side story: We had a game where we asked the Scouts to put themselves in order of importance. Ideally, there is one solution: a circle. For in a circle, nobody is more important than anyone else, we work together (they love that reveal). They are equal—while still different. We would help the boys see that and it would help open their minds to new possibilities. As groups would wander about trying to figure out how to solve this challenge, eventually we (my staff and I) would tell them “No” to their possible solutions, multiple times. On one occasion I was not prepared for what happened.

As one group ordered themselves as they believed to best answer the challenge of ‘Order of Importance’, my staff and I once again, silently watched and waited. Eventually, the Scouts tolled us they were ready and we responded with our typical challenge questions, “Why?” Followed by, “How does this work?” What came next I have never forgotten. The young man at the ‘back’ of the line was the Senior Patrol Leader. The young man in the ‘front’ was the newest member of the Troop. They went from most senior positions to youngest/newest. It was explained that as the oldest, they had been there/done that sort of thing, they weren’t important. And as the youngest, that youngest was most important. They needed to have all the attention of the others’ experience to become the best of them all. I spent the next half-hour holding back tears of pride for those young men.

Anyway, as I was saying before, that style of thinking I do well—the not normal. I see things differently and attach myself to the unique. I love them. Those things/people that aren’t quite the same as the others.

What I do involves lots of patience—of which it seems at times, I am limited. There are days where the students I work with drive me crazy! But then they’re sick, and gone from school, and I find myself missing them. Missing their odd behavior. Their silly ways of doing things.

At the middle school, my boss has come to respect my unique mind as well. It makes things good there too. Like my other boss, there are times when I know I drive her a little crazy, but she knows that my priority is to the children. I only want them to succeed, and do well. She tolerates my thoughts and intrusions with kindness and respect. I couldn’t ask for more.

Mercer Mayer is one of my favorite storytellers. We have one book—that when I saw it—I couldn’t pass up: Just a Little Different.

It’s about a new critter on the block, and he’s different. All I could think was, “Cool! A turtle-bunny! Dude, this guy’s awesome.” In the book the new-critter deals with a little prejudice because he’s different, but it all works out in the end and everyone becomes friends. I just didn’t understand why there was an issue in the first place. Now, I know this is used to help teach children, I get it. I do. It’s just, for me, it was a no-brainer. He’s a turtle-bunny for crying out loud! The kid already rocks!

I think I’ve lost track of where I was going with this whole thing… Gimme a moment.

Okay, so, I guess my point was that I know I’m different. And I am grateful that I have people in my life that support and celebrate my odd behavior. I just never realized how much I gravitated toward other “odd’s”. I prefer them. They let me know I’m not alone.

I may have mentioned this in another story, forgive me if I have—I looked but couldn’t find where—but one of the most pivotal moments in my mental health was in graduate school. I was attending Radford University—online—and was taking a Design Thinking course. The first night, the first video brought me to tears. While all my life I knew I was different, it wasn’t until I was older that I started to pretend to think like ‘normal’ people. It made situations less… awkward.

Anyway, as I sat in my chair, watching, listening to what Design Thinking is, I learned about a company: Ideo. As I watched these people work, think, interact… They were doing it all like I did. They were just like me. Tears started. I walked into my bedroom, my wife asked what was wrong. I told her I just found not only a group of people that thought like I did, but they were celebrated for it. I had found my people. She smiled and said, “Then all this is completely worth it.” You see there had been some struggle with my graduate studies and changing schools, and money was even less available… But my wife… My lovely wife. She understood how much that moment meant to me.

I operate under what I like to call “The 5th Doctor” mindset” (no, it has nothing to do with Dr. Who). Some of you may remember those older commercials where they would say something like, “Four out of five doctors…” and then they would recommend toothpaste or some such product. My mindset is not about being disagreeable to the rest of the group. It just means that I don’t see the same thing as the rest of the group. That 5th doctor might not be disagreeing with the other four. That 5th doctor just has a different take on the situation. That’s typically the way I see things. I’m the 5th doctor (which, if you are a Dr. Who fan, you would know it would be better to be the 4th doctor).

Being different is good. It is not easy. Knowing most people don’t appreciate the unique/revolutionary talents, abilities, thoughts, etcetera you might bring, is hard. It’s hard to know that when I present an idea, it is met with the same condescending response I have heard too many times to count, “Well, um… Yeah… That’s certainly one way to look at it.” Translating to: “You’re an idiot. But I’m not going to say it to your face because that’s rude, so I will smile and pretend otherwise.” But even with those countless condescensions, I would not give up being odd. If you’re one of those unique minds, know you are not alone. Know that you are a refreshing addition to the ‘normal’. You improve it. You elevate it. You make it better. You add flavor to the bland norm. Be alright in your unique mind. Your unique way of seeing the world. You help make the world better.

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