What's the Difference? ~ Ray Lovegrove

Freedom is a word that is banded about in lots of ways, and often its exact meaning is only vaguely implied. Of course we have freedom of speech, political freedom and various other freedoms usually, though not always supported by any constitutional foundation (that is for those of you lucky enough to live in a country with a written constitution). One freedom that is rarely supported by law or constitution is a very basic and simple one, the freedom to be different.

A glance at the history books is enough to show that ‘being different’ has always come at a cost, sometimes from penalties imposed by the state, but more often by the attitude of others to individuals or groups that are ‘different’. Often these differences have been that an individual or group is not of the same race as the majority of the population are not of the same religion, or the same sexual orientation; in other cases, it may be that the individual is breaking the rules of dress, lifestyle or behaviour in a harmless way, but still a way that upsets others.

When we are young, past the age that our parents have undue influence; being different can be very important, but as youth turns to middle age the pressures of conformity become greater and we are ‘forced’ by social and economic factors to ‘toe the line’ and behave, dress and do the same things as other folks. Some of us, however, are made of nonconformist stuff and cut our own furrows through the fields of ‘sameness’.

Some years ago the Ohio Yearly Meeting (Quakers) published a rare and brief comment on their Facebook page ;
“As Christians we are called to nonconformity to the world. What does nonconforming mean to you and how do you go about it?”
It’s a question that we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis. Are we nonconforming? If we are, why are we doing it? To be different from the rest, to make a statement, or because we have looked at what the majority of people are doing and decided that it’s just not right for us to do that?

Mennonite farmer, and peace campaigner Arthur Gish once wrote;
"To be a Christian is to be subversive, or at least that is how he will be viewed by society. Since his loyalty is to one who is beyond history, he cannot give his ultimate allegiance to any government, business, class, or any other institution. His views cannot be expected to coincide with the majority view around him. He can be expected to be in continual conflict with the structures of society, for to be at peace with God means to be in conflict with the world."
Mennonites understand what being different can mean better than most of us. We can all learn much from them. How we are viewed by society depends very much on the honesty and integrity that we present to the world, even though they may see it as ‘weirdness’.

We also need to take care that 'being different' does not become 'being awkward' nor to assume that others, by their nonconforming, are displaying awkwardness themselves.  In my small, overwhelmingly Anglican, rural community, I am the only plain dressing, homesteading, vegan, Quaker ~ that doesn't always make for ready acceptance. In Britain we have a strange attitude to being different, we do not tolerate it well when it is the ‘man up the street’ or the woman in the supermarket queue, however, if that person is ‘so different’ and so unlike the majority of us, then we elevate them to the status of ‘national hero’ (Grayson Parry, David Bowie, Keith Moon, Quentin Crisp, William Blake etc.). Perhaps then the answer is for us all to be unconsciously nonconformist and wait for the world to accept us that way!

(C) Ray Lovegrove 2016

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