The Hearts at Home blog hop's topic this month is "Love Your Uniqueness." I will admit that as much as I love a prompt, this one has me a little stymied. I have a pretty healthy self-esteem, but I am also realistic about areas I need to work on. I'm also a little wary of the school of thought that tells us to love ourselves without a hearty dose of clear-headedness about our strengths and weaknesses.
We humans also have quite a bit of trouble with uniqueness anyway. We tend to prefer when everyone is comfortably like ourselves. Different is hard. When people take a different path, it tends to make others nervous; not everyone, but in general. I think this is because when people do things that are unique, it makes us question what we are doing. I find this to be particularly true with parenting. The minute a mother chooses something different from the crowd, a minor brouhaha erupts. Pick your topic... breast feeding, working, vaccinations, sleeping arrangement, all the way down to what kind of toys you buy. I remember talking to a mother who felt compelled to hide the plastic toys her child owned when a certain group of mothers came over for a play date. They were in the 'wooden toys only camp' and she was embarrassed by her plastic playthings. I often find mothers to be the piranhas of the human world: when frenzied, we have a tendency to attack and eat each other. (Metaphorically, of course.)
Why do we do this? I've watched it happen over and over for the past 21 years, and I'm sure it happened well before I was a mother. You want to know what I think? You must, since you're reading this. I think there are at least two reasons. There are probably more, but I think these two are high in the running.
First, we lack personal reasons and convictions as to why we do things. We go along with the flow and everything is okie-dokey until someone does something different. It's as if we have been living with the shadows in Plato's cave, and watching someone make very different life choices is like suddenly being shown there is a world that we had no idea existed. It's hard to realize that there are other ways of doing things when you just assumed there was only one. Psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance. It's unpleasant to experience, but it is how we learn and grow. Except when we don't. Sometimes we just want to go back into our caves and pretend another way of doing things doesn't exist. It might even make us feel better to tell everyone how wrong that other way of doing things really is. We do it because we often don't have real reasons for why we have chosen something. It feels threatening to be shown that there are other options.
Let's use my experiences of telling people I'm homeschooling as an example. When we first began homeschooling, it was still a relatively unusual educational choice, especially when you live in an area where people pay exorbitant taxes for the nationally ranked school systems. I found there was one of two possible reactions when I told people we wouldn't be sending our daughter to kindergarten. The first was outright shock. Why would we do that? But we lived in a 'good' school district! Is that even legal? I could tell the people who reacted this way were completely thrown by our decision. The other reaction was "That's interesting, how does that work?" The people who were OK with our decision were ones that I knew had done some real thinking about how there were going to educate their children. Some had chosen public school and others had chosen private school, but all had real reasons for why they sent their children where they did. Our decision didn't affect them so much because they had already put so much thought into what they were doing.
There is a second reason that would seem to be contradictory to the first. People with strong reasons for what they do can also be uncomfortable with uniqueness. We lack humility. We may have many reasons why we do what we do and we think they are really good reasons. It wouldn't make sense to do something for a bad reason, would it? We have a tendency to think our really good reasons for doing something are the only really good reasons out there. If someone chooses something different, we know without a doubt that they are wrong. And sometimes we want to share why they are so wrong. We assume that a unique life choice, one that is different from our choices, must be inferior. We can lack humility.
I have really dealt with just superficial things here and haven't even really touched on more personal character traits where it can feel even scarier to be unique because they touch on who we really are. My point in all this is that it is difficult to accept our own uniqueness if we have difficulty with uniqueness in general. Being unique is often just double-speak for oddness and not fitting in. To love your uniqueness means that you have learned to accept uniqueness in others as well. How can we really love what makes us individuals when we are so busy wanting everyone to be just like us? It seems that would make everyone the same and would do away with any uniqueness we may have. Since belief follows action, it would seem that if we make a habit of accepting the quirks and oddities and differences in others, then we will become more comfortable with our own quirks, oddities, and uniqueness. Really, once again, it comes down to putting the focus on others and taking it off ourselves, and in the process we will become more comfortable with who we are.