By Jess McGuire
‘Frederick’s dreaminess, his otherness – it’s on him like a scent, and everyone can smell it.’ – Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Frederick is a quiet, clever young boy. He has one friend at school but he enjoys his own company. He is intelligent and loves birds, so much so that he often spends his days with his nose in a book learning about all the different species. He has a lovely house and a good family. But Frederick is small and weak and in 1940s Germany, where strength, fitness, and agility win out over everything else, it makes him a target. His otherness sets him apart and he becomes the scapegoat for the rest of his peers.
Society has a way of publicising and shaming our “otherness” — our differences, the qualities that make us unique and interesting. It’s not just a problem that our generation faces, it’s one that history is riddled with, one that has been passed down from age to age.
I had a friend at school who was often the class scapegoat because he was the only one not afraid of his otherness. He was a talker and he had a huge belting laugh. He always tried to find the comedy in every situation and even half way through a film in the cinema he’d be telling a story about something funny that happened yesterday. He’d always have a go at things, even if he ended up doing something wrong. He read books that nobody else read and watched TV shows that nobody else watched but he still wanted to tell everyone about them. He didn’t shy away from being different but it usually meant that a few break times and lunch times were spent tending to the wounds created by his classmates. They weren’t huge, gaping wounds but sometimes a paper-cut is enough to make a mark. When he was openly and blatantly reminded of his otherness, he retreated into himself, as if he was angry and ashamed that he was different.
I like to think that I give people a fair chance. I try to be open and accepting and to take people for who they are. I always root for the underdog in books and films and life. I like to think that there are more to people that meets the eye. I stick up for those who are too shy in their otherness to do it themselves. I sit and eat lunch with those who are outcast because of their otherness. I defend people’s otherness because I couldn’t bear a world in which diversity didn’t exist. How boring would it be? So I told my friend at school to accept who he was and I celebrated his otherness with him, as he celebrated my otherness with me. I gave him a plaster for his paper-cut and I told everyone else to grow up.
I am, in every sense of the word, an introvert. I love sad books and staying in to binge-watch old kids films on Netflix. I hate burgers and being late. I keep everything I get from the children at the place I work because I can’t bear to throw them away. I shout at the TV when somebody takes the lower offer on The Chase. I have a mass of notebooks each with only a couple of pages of quotes or shopping lists written in. I rearrange my bedroom so often it’s a different place every time I walk into it. I still watch Friends religiously.
I’d like to believe that we can live in a world where those kind of things don’t need defending or justifying. I’d like to believe that the next generation will grow up knowing that they won’t be outcast for their choice in clothes, music, or films. I’d like to believe they will grow up knowing that it’s okay that they want to stay in instead of going out. I’d like to believe that they will grow up being accepted and accepting others. I’d like to believe that everyone will walk around armed with plasters, stitches, and bandages, and will learn to tell people that their otherness is the best thing about them.
I really believe that our society is getting better at embracing otherness. Every day. But I still believe that we have a long way to go. It’s the quirks — the otherness — that makes us different and exciting. It’s the nights we spend disagreeing over the importance of reading. The nights we argue about what music should be played or whether the milk goes in the cup before the teabag. It’s the days we spend listening to stories from travels that we ourselves weren’t brave enough to adventure on. It’s accepting that we are all different, every single one of us.
So let’s embrace the otherness of friends, family, and strangers. Better yet, let’s celebrate it!