Being different is something I have always been comfortable with, partly because my father told me years ago that my last name 'Akanet’ means 'A different person'. I know that it is completely natural to want to fit in, and I sometimes do too, but there are situations where being different is actually good. It is interesting to see that even three year old girls at a party want to wear princess dresses, like their friends, to fit in. The question then is whether to let them have what everyone else has, so they can feel included, or whether to use it as a learning experience to teach them that we do not always have to follow the crowd. The consequences of such parenting decisions then add up to contribute to the personality of the child and how they view the world. This is why I think parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and it is unwise to be too rigid or too relaxed as a parent.
Most of our friends have a manner and view of the world that is generally acceptable to us, but we all know someone who doesn’t quite seem to fit in with what we consider to be normal. It might even be someone who has shared the same upbringing, educational or other experiences with us, so it makes us wonder why they have turned out differently. The same experiences can produce different outcomes in different people. The interesting thing is that it sometimes takes certain situations to bring out people’s real values and priorities, which can be shocking if we expected them to be similar to ours. As close as siblings and friends can be, we all experience life differently, so understanding where people are coming from, helps us to relate better with them, in spite of the differences.
Following on from my previous example, two girls may have been told by their mothers that they do not have to wear dresses to parties like other girls. One girl could turn out absolutely confident in herself, feeling no need to conform to latest fashion trends and building true friendships over time; while the other girl could turn out to have very low self esteem, feel deprived and bullied because she did not wear pretty dresses like other girls. There is no absolute formula for how people will react to different situations and parenting styles, but it is worth understanding that our past experiences and reactions to them all contribute to who we are today. The successful professional or businessman we see today may have been an orphan who worked hard to overcome poverty, or the son of rich parents who sent him to the best schools. We can all achieve success if we stop comparing ourselves to others, choose to have healthy coping mechanisms for tough times, focus on the positives, think long term, and make the most of our circumstances and differences.
Since we cannot always control what life throws at us, it is a better idea to try to manage our reactions. It is sad to see people blaming situations from many years ago for the mistakes they are still making and bad attitudes they still have today. I recently heard someone talk about how fault and responsibility do not always go together. It may be someone else’s fault that we had a tough time, but it is our responsibility to sort out our own lives and choose happiness. It seems fair for the parent, person or organisation that messed up to take responsibility for fixing the mess, but this is not always possible. It is our responsibility to look back and analyse where we have come from, what has made us how we are and determine to let it all work towards our happiness and progress, rather than using our past as an excuse for being less than the best we can be, or worse, letting old baggage ruin new relationships. If we have been blessed to have had positive past experiences and/or reactions, we can try to be more understanding and tolerant of other people’s characters, lifestyle choices, motivations and decisions by realising that where you come from is different from where I come from - even if it is the same village!