Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Embracing the Complicated Mess of Individuality

“Who-o are you-oo?” puffs the caterpillar Absalem when confronted by Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Many people spend their lives defining the answer, because we are not only more than we’re led to believe but also sometimes different from what we and others expected. When Alice is called upon to become a warrior to defeat the vicious Jabberwock, she is certain the characters around her have the wrong Alice. Each year we add more layers to ourselves, hoping we don’t lose track of our original self and what we want to do with it.

Barbara Holland calls our present society “splintery” in the chapter “Homogeneity” of Wasn’t the Grass Greener? She seems disconcerted by the many cultural directions currently pursued by diverse populations. She grows nostalgic for the days when we seemed alike—watching the same three TV networks, listening to the local radio stations, studying the same literary classics in English class. But the fact that TV and advertising portrayed us as all alike never made that true—even if you looked only at those who were white, Protestant, and straight. We pretended and convinced ourselves that fantasy was real and right.

In the charming British romantic comedy Finding Your Feet, the central character concludes she betrayed herself for 35 years in a tolerable marriage. She fulfilled the expectations of her husband and family without satisfying her expressive self—a commonly assigned sacrifice for women. She must defy her old role if she wants to escape the box where she has been kept away from her joy. She is more.

Identity becomes painful when we’re told we cannot be who we know we are. Those who feel comfortable with the old lie that we were meant to be alike may physically and emotionally force anyone who deviates to fit their concept of the mold. In the film Boy Erased, Jared Eamons tells his true story of discovering he is not the straight, religious son his pastor father wanted. He is sent to conversion therapy to correct the “error.” He tries valiantly to please his father, but the therapy consists of crushing the sense of self born into homosexual clients. One friend tells him to pretend so he can escape the emotional torture. Another, whose family brutally accosted and rejected him for not being converted, helps Eamons leave before he himself commits suicide.

Freddie Mercury, who began life as Farrokh Bulsara from Zanzibar, gained fame as a rock star. In the film Bohemian Rhapsody he struggles to earn the respect and recognition of his family while suffering to learn how to sort real relationships from ones in which he is a victim. Society hadn’t given him guidance because his path was not the same as most. If he cannot love a woman romantically, is there any hope of true love for him? He discovers the answer when most of his life is done.

The reality is we do not arrive on Earth as clones of one another. We are meant to have contrasting personalities, sexuality, interests, spiritual practices, and cultures. Perhaps the differences in our skin colors are meant to remind us we don’t have to match. Each is designed to be an individual with free will to make individual choices and take individual responsibility. As we mature as a species, we are meant to look at a bigger picture than our separate tribes. We’re directed to see not our up-close differences but the huge fact that we share membership in humanity. That is our unity. Humankind is ours to make more or less loving as we learn to love and enhance the differences within ourselves.

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