“When we honestly ask ourselves which people in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen
One great benefit of being physically different is that you will always have a better understanding of the pain and challenges associated with standing out. In earlier posts, I illustrated some of the key challenges as described by those we interviewed. Sometimes people may feel like they understand how someone else feels because they have read a book on the topic or have seen something on TV. Watching or reading about someone else’s challenges can give you empathy and insight into what they have experienced; however, the true path to empathy is experiencing these challenges yourself firsthand. In this regard, your experience, suffering, and pain can make you one of the “beautiful people” described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross as one who has “compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern” for those who have undergone similar difficulties.
My challenges with weight and height not only help me empathize with those who have the same challenges, but also with others who, for one reason or another, are considered as misfits or outcasts. I remember one particular occasion in high school when I felt this kind of compassion for two guys, Jim and Phillip, who had finally built up the courage to each ask someone to the senior prom, although no one had invited them to be in their group. Remembering my own feelings of being left out, I didn’t want them to have to experience this, so I suggested to my close friends that we invite Jim and Phillip to be a part of our group. I was surprised and disappointed by the reaction of my friends—they wanted nothing to do with these two guys, probably worrying about how the “cool” people might perceive us if we were to include these social outcasts.
As I thought about what I should do, I remembered many experiences in which I had felt left out due to my differences. In this moment, I had the chance to make a difference for these two guys, and the empathy I had for Jim and Phillip was so strong that I decided to stick to my guns, regardless of the consequences with my friends. I told my friends that if they wouldn’t accept these two friendless guys into our group that I would leave them and form my own group. Eventually they relented and said that these guys could be in our dance group so long as they rode in my car! We had a great evening together and I know that Jim and Phillip (as well as their dates, who had accepted their invitation somewhat reluctantly) appreciated being included.
Although your difference might have been painful to endure, what a priceless treasure you can possess! The empathy you acquire from being different will empower you with compassion and understanding, a deepened capacity to help others in similar situations, and a unique way to connect with others. You have the unique ability to relate and empathize with others, and that is a phenomenal strength.
The rest of this post has now been published in my book Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different in Kindle or hard copy.The book includes experiences from 74 people I interviewed who share their struggles and coping strategies on the topics of relationships, belonging, standing out, self-acceptance, working against labels, gaining understanding and compassion, and personal growth. Check it out!
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” –Gautama Buddha