Saturday, September 22, 2012

You're Not Weird, You're Fantastic. And Either Way is Okay.

"Editor's" Note: This isn't a NCCC/FEMA Corps post, because there are days when I don't do that or there's nothing much to write about. I've got several completed blogs just sitting on my computer for days like these. If you're just here for the NCCC stuff, apologies, come back tomorrow. If you're interested in what else I have to say, read on, Macduff.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a friend or an acquaintance or a random stranger say something unusual or interesting or awesome about themselves, and them follow it up with some variation on the following phrase: “I’m weird like that”. If you hang out with interesting, often introverted people as much as I do, you’ve probably heard that phrase too, or perhaps one of its variations. Language notwithstanding, the underlying sentiment in there has always bothered me, and I’m going to try and talk out the why of that in this space.

 It seems to me that there are two basic meanings for that phrase, given the words and the context in which it is typically used. The first, by far the more common, is apologetic. It’s saying “Hey, there’s this aspect of me that is unique or uncommon or, for whatever reason, not generally accepted by most people I talk to. Because of that, I feel as though I need to give this little half-apology for it, as though I were ashamed of my uniqueness.”

That bothers me because you’re not really apologizing for your habit/interest/behavior, whatever’s under question, are you? You’re saying ‘sorry’ for yourself, for the way you are that guides you towards those interests. By apologizing for a specific manifestation of your personality, you’re apologizing for all of yourself, in a sense. And you should never—you should never have to—apologize for yourself. I like to tell people that there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure, because why be ashamed of the stuff that makes you happy?* The same thing goes for your behavior or habits. If you’re not hurting others with your actions/beliefs/habits, I really don’t see the need to be ashamed of them.

The second meaning of the phrase is more self-congratulatory then anything else. It’s an attempt to take that unusual trait and leverage it into prestige. Using “I’m weird” this way is saying “This unique thing that I do also makes me unique. I am better, or at least more interesting, then you because I have cool interests and you don’t.”

I’m definitely prejudiced against this trait because a certain scumbag that I used to know did it often, but it still rankles me even without the taint. Your interests are certainly part of you, but they don’t define you. They don’t impact who you are as a human being. And more importantly in this context, they don’t make you unique or special. What you do or say or like is part of you, but it neither defines you nor makes you better than anyone who doesn’t share that special quality. You’re not smarter because you read POLITICO instead of People or more fun because you wear flip-flops instead of sneakers. Personality comes from inside, not outside.

You could think of those two meanings, apology and pride, as straying to one or the other extreme of a long continuum. Your interests/behavior/habits are part of you as surely as your  frontal lobe, but they’re neither something to be ashamed of nor something to crow over. What you do is just what you do. I think both meanings come from perceived societal standards; the apology from supposedly falling short of them, the pride from thinking you’ve transcended them. In reality, neither is true or needed. It’s okay to just be you, whatever that means. No apology is needed and no self-glorification will be accepted. It’s just you sitting right in the middle of the continuum, and that’s not weird, it’s fantastically, gloriously normal. And that’s much more liberating, because it helps you realize that everyone has “weird” interests; everyone is stuck in the middle with you. Far from flouting a standard, you’re part of a vast and interesting crowd. I think that’s absolutely wonderful.

*Assuming that poisoning kittens or whatever isn’t what makes you happy. There are society-wide standards, in my book anyway, but they’re much broader and more allowing then what people typically assign themselves. Just… leave the kittens alone.

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