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We live in a world that constantly reminds us to conform unquestioningly to whatever idea, concept or movement is trending at the moment.

Whether it’s via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, friends, family, colleagues – if there’s something that everyone else is doing, eating, reading, thinking, buying, we’re programmed to believe, ‘I need to do it so that I’m not left out’.

Many of us grow up with the notion that we must do whatever we can to fit in or else we’ll be the odd ones. Nobody will join us if we do something different and then we’ll look like fools standing by ourselves.

I’ve heard parents and teachers tell their kids, ‘Do this or everyone in school will laugh at you’. What does this even mean? Are you telling a child to do what you say unless they want to be mocked at, humiliated and insulted?

Hmmm…and we tell kids that bullying is wrong.

A lone ‘goody-two-shoes’ looks at his/her friends smoking or doing drugs and remembers, ‘Do this or everyone will laugh at you’. A child who dreams of building robots or helping orphans or eradicating a disease remembers these words and picks the same study-path that every other child in his/her class does.

Peer-pressure? More like a lack of self-confidence.

If you’re not confident of who you are, you’ll be anyone for anyone.

You’ll change course whenever the winds change and drift along through life as aimlessly as a boat without a crew.

You’ll do whatever it takes to fit in with the ‘cool’ group of friends. You’ll accept abuse so that you can be the husband/wife your spouse wants you to be. You’ll follow a life that society’s already mapped-out for you.  You won’t question anything. You’ll tolerate bad treatment at work, in life & in your relationships because “If you don’t follow the system everyone will laugh at you.”

What if we taught kids that they shouldn’t live in fear of the people who laugh at them? What if we told them that the people who laugh at them only laugh because they don’t know better? That they’re more confused than everyone else and to mask their confusion they laugh at the people they don’t understand?

See, I’ve found that when you own whatever it is that makes you different, nobody can use it against you.

Whether it’s poverty, a speech impediment, a physical challenge, a learning ‘problem’ (People learn differently. It’s only a problem when you expect everyone to learn the same things in the same way.) or some other aspect of your life/appearance/ideas that makes you different, if you run from it, you’ll always be afraid of how someone is going to use it against you.

We’re taught that being the odd one out is a problem. On the contrary, I believe that it’s a gift.

So, continue asking the questions that only seem to be popping into your head. Follow the path that’s been calling you for decades. Do the big, audacious, ‘ridiculous’ projects. Challenge the system. Colour outside the lines.

Be different, because you are.

Unearth whatever it is that makes you ‘odd’ and embrace it. And when you see others embracing their ‘oddness’ let them know that you’re here to help whenever they need it. Help them amplify their voices.

Help them remain different. It’s how the world changes for the better.

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