When I was a kid I liked to read the dictionary for fun. Would sit in my room for hours devouring new words. Sometimes I’d find a word that excited me, like ‘soliloquy’, and I’d write a poem using it. True story.
But the problem came when I’d go to school and use my new found vocabulary. The other kids would look at me like I was some kind of alien and then tease me. I always knew it was coming, too -first the look of confusion on their face and then the insult. “Dork.” Or, “Oh, look at you so smart with your big words…”
It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I internalized this feeling early on, and actively spent time dumbing myself down as a result, actually going out of my way to ‘speak dumber’ and de-intellectualize myself. This went on for years. 23 to be exact.
I’m 33 now and vowed just last week to stop doing it, though admittedly, it had been a long time coming. Out with some friends my age last month, I used a word in a sentence to describe the current political climate. I believe I said, “The conundrum facing the D.N.C. right now is how to please the far left and the moderates, all the while keeping everyone at bay with the help of media manipulation.” A voice spoke up. “Conundrum…ha ha ha – big word you got there!” They all started laughing at me. That old familiar feeling I had came rushing back. There must be something wrong with me.
Then it dawned on me that that the dumbing down of myself was for others and I had been attempting to fit in for so long. There was nothing wrong with me. Being smart is not a crime, and if it were, I was done paying for it. I looked at them for the first time like something was wrong with them. Repeated, ‘conundrum’, shook my head, and gave them a look that said, “grow the fuck up.” They continued to laugh.
It never ends.
We as human beings face great pains when we are not accepted. It’s a basic need to be included; at school, at work, in groups, in a family unit. It’s how we’re built. And that’s why it takes great courage to be ourselves, and to stand up for what’s right when no one wants to be the outsider. The need to belong is so powerful we’ll change core values and watch injustice happen on a daily basis so as not to rock the boat of inclusion. It’s a far stretch, but is it so far? We lie about our political beliefs so as to not upset our grandmother. Hide our sexuality to fit into our families. Pretend we have no interest in politics because it’s not ‘what ladies are into’. Or fashion because it’s not ‘masculine’. Dumb ourselves down so that people who don’t even accept themselves will temporarily accept us…
What a waste of the perfect you you already are. I won’t waste more of my time mourning the me I could have been, but I for damn sure won’t be reverting back to lonely, insecure nubile I once was. Figuring out who you are lessens that need to belong, and strengthens you core values. Loneliness turns into aloneness and that aloneness lends the courage to stand up for your convictions and change the world. For when you are comfortable being alone that need to belong disappears immensely.
Sound just a smidge idealistic? Perhaps. But, I encourage you to analyze if there’s a sphere in your life you’ve been disguising – to suss it out and abandon it. May this post galvanize you into rumination and vicissitude! 😉