I don’t remember where I was when the doors to epiphany swung wide open and a previously unpondered thought beckoned to me. I do, however, remember the path to the epiphany began with feeling sorry for my girls. As the odd daughter of parents who did not fit in with much of society, I spent many years wishing away the differences that marked me as disconnected from the web of normal. Now an adult and comfortable with my own peculiar way of thinking and living, I know my girls are bound to feel the sting of being raised by nontraditional parents as they make their way through the rest of their childhoods. Is there any way I can help them grow up to be freethinking, compassionate, conscientious, community-changing adults who believe in the goodness and potential of people and treat the earth and all that is in it with kindness and respect without making them feel uncomfortable? After all, they’ve already been through so much that sets them apart from their peers. Is there any way, I wondered, to teach them to ‘be the change’ while ensuring that they never feel out of place?
No. I’ve declared countless times that one of my core beliefs is each individual has the responsibility to be the change they wish to see in the world (thank you, Ghandi) and it never fully dawned upon me until last week that being the change means being strange. After all, changing anything means seeing and doing it in a way it’s never before been seen or done. People often look askance at anyone who has the courage to ignite change in their particular sphere. Nearly every new take on literature, medicine, technology, philosophy, and regular ol’ day-to-day living has been greeted suspiciously. While not every new idea is a keeper, every single advance in the way we understand the world and the people around us came about as a result of someone daring to be different than the status quo. And the people we praise as innovators and influencers were once thought of as batty by those who were comfortable with the way things have always been done.
Being the change is often lonely and uncomfortable, even painful at times. Knowing this and knowing that I want my children to be the change anyway, I thought of what I want to teach them, what I want to say to them when they question why we cannot just be normal like everyone else. I send the following message out to them and to you and to myself for the days when I wish I could find a box to comfortably fit within:
As you go through the days of your life, you will find yourself asking ‘Why do we do it this way?’ in your job, your relationship, your community. If you think long enough and deeply enough, you will think of a new way, perhaps even a better way, to accomplish the tasks in front of you. Listen to the question, honor the answer. As you start to explore the world outside yourself, you will encounter many situations that feel wrong to you, make your stomach ache, and bring tears to your eyes. That ache, those tears are a call to you. You cannot be responsible for the thoughts or actions of anyone else, but you must be responsible for your own. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. You must be strange. If you look and act and think like everyone else, you are not changing anything. People, even people you love and who love you deeply, will doubt you, loathe you, do their damnedest to discourage you. Be the change anyway. You bring to the world the gift of your perspective, the gift of your heart. Know yourself. Trust yourself. Find courage in your convictions and in the pioneers of change who have gone before you. If possible, gather supportive friends around you. But even if you’re all alone and shaking in your shoes, be the change. Be the strange.