These words have been in my vocabulary for a very long time. I live those words, I love those words. I think each of them as something that adds to the very fabric of what we call community.
I notice, particularly on Facebook and other social media, that the call to express your truest self, your deepest self, your unique self, is strong. There are memes about each of us being different and these are presented either as funny, but serious, or as assertive and aggressive. Either "Ha Ha Look at me, funny, silly unique me," or, "This is me, damn it, and you can like it or lump it." Those memes and the comments about them seem to really declare our love of our own difference and a claiming of difference.
I have always thought that the deepest fear we each have is that we are deeply ordinary thus the internal pressure to find something, anything, that we can cling to and say 'This make me uniquely me.'
So I cry 'Difference' not with shame but pride.
Here's the thing.
Kids hear us.
Ruby has heard me blather on about diversity, difference and disability her whole young life. In fact everyone in her life has expressed an honoring of difference and diversity and disability. Those are the messages she has gotten.
And, exactly how well did that serve her?
She tells a story about going to camp with a bunch of kids. They did an activity wherein each child was given a piece of paper with one of the group members names on it and they had to write down a statement about what they liked about them. So the papers flew around the group, each child pausing, writing, and passing along.
For one of the children, Ruby wrote, "You are different," she read it again, she thought of it as a really positive thing to say, but in her ear was a warning, there was something telling her that this might not be taken the way she meant it, so she added "... in a good way." She felt a bit silly doing that because different was just different, not good or bad, but for safety and clarity she felt better adding those few words.
It seems we want to declare our own difference, we may not want it pointed out.
But, then, why?
If we truly live a mile past shame's house, then difference is just difference, something to be honoured and claimed. But many memes fall apart when tested in the real, not virtual, world.
Difference is not honoured on the mean streets of our community.
Difference is a slur used to belittle others.
In the safety of the virtual world, it's what gives us cache.
It's the real world that needs to claim the difference that each of us have and in the real world we need to claim who we are.
Differences and all.
Go ahead and call me different.
I'll thank you for it.