Earlier this Fall I attended my younger daughter’s “Meet the Teachers Night.” To illustrate for the parents the nature of the students’ work, her English teacher handed out examples of the poetry they would be analyzing this year. One of the poets whose work she shared was E.E. Cummings.
The teacher explained that one of the reasons they would be studying Cummings was for his unconventional use of punctuation, grammar, linguistics and presentation. At that point one of the parents made a face and then stated loudly “As soon as I saw this I could tell he was weird.”
I found this proclamation quite interesting. Well, to be completely honest, in the moment, I found it to be a really ignorant thing to say. Of course all that proves is that I still possess an unflattering capacity to be rather judgmental.
Yet once I got past my own reactivity, I started to see a broader point. And I started to question my own biases.
When faced with the new, the unusual, the unfamiliar, how often is it our default position to declare that person or thing as scary, bad or just plain strange?
If we don’t understand it, is our tendency to label it wrong or inappropriate?
If you don’t look like me, vote for the same candidates or worship the same Higher Power, do I reflexively invalidate your beliefs and push you away or, worse, go on the offensive?
It’s not the least bit difficult to come up with examples of things that started out as weird, but are now taken for granted. I’d imagine that whoever decided to drink cow’s milk for the first time wasn’t seen as mainstream or completely normal. The greatest artists have all defied convention. Picasso, Monet, Hendrix, Dylan. and scores more, were all initially seen as weird when they first put their art out into the world. By definition, innovative thinking and products aren’t what we are used to and are often initially dismissed as “too out there” or impractical.
Merely being different or shattering the conventional wisdom for no particular purpose, doesn’t automatically make something valuable or especially interesting. By the same token, just because I don’t understand it–or it initially makes me uncomfortable–doesn’t undermine its validity, inherent worth or ultimate impact.
Now more than ever, I think the world could use a little less judgment. I think we all would benefit from dialing down the dismissing of–and outright hostility towards–people and ideas that are different from our own.
Maybe we could understand that different isn’t always bad and that our job is not to shun the unfamiliar but to work to overcome our ignorance.
Maybe sometimes “weird” is actually a compliment.