As a child I was an outsider. Unpopular with the popular ones, unpopular with the unpopular ones. Sure, I had a circle of friends, each of us trying to find our place in the world. Who we were. What we liked. How to express it. I was a goth for one year, then a Brosette the next (which meant in those days hoop earrings with crucifixes attached, were the only constant). As an adult I still found myself at odds with any community I attempted to join because trying to define yourself, meant trying on other people’s tastes and belief systems for size and more often than not finding out they didn’t fit. You don’t fit.
Like when you arrive at a political debate between Labour and Tories only to find out that you’re pretty much opposed to both party’s policies. So you try going to a Lib Dem conference because after all you’re socially liberal and fairly progressive but they’re not green enough for you. But the Greens support the republicanism and actually you quite like the royal family. Where do you belong? Can you take mishmashes of policy and create your own belief system and by inference your own identity? It might mean being alone with only your beliefs for company. Or do you prefer being part of a larger whole? Accepting those things which don’t resonate with you, or rather not bothering to define what does, because how important is it really to find your tribe? How much of yourself can you compromise to belong?
For me the answer is clear. If you have to sacrifice yourself, then you will not be happy in the communities you find. Because self-expression and communication help you attract those other birds of a feather. By exploring your ideas in a public forum you start to find people who feel resonance with what you say. Many more don’t. The hard part is when those people who’ve been your loyal supporters, even friends over many years come across a showstopper in your thinking. Something which they decide personally offends them. Many of my articles are controversial and have been notable both in a number of new followers and in those who abruptly stopped following.
If I had been a wiser blogger, perhaps I would have considered the ‘business’ impact. But that’s a slippery slope isn’t it? Because even if my writing helps others define their identity, it’s more about defining mine and doing that according to a barometer of popularity is dangerous. I know as I accumulate more knowledge, as I define my identity over a lifelong journey, it can change and sometimes that means losing those you considered friends.
In trying to define yourself, you might agree with your circle of friends on some important issues and disagree on still more. Where this leads to clashes, you risk being ostracized or you agree to disagree, managing around your idiosyncrasies hopefully being able to maintain a friendship. In some cases it’s impossible because there is no middle ground, and to accept each other means accepting values which contravene those values you have defined as your identity. Those relationships you think will last, may pass, and you end up appreciating them for what they bring, for what they brought, as opposed to their longevity. Not necessarily romantic relationships, but sure those too.
You wonder whether it’s always going to be this way. Are you destined to be alone if you are to be yourself? You hope that at some point, you will find people like you. Then comes a revelation. You realise there is no one like you. No one person is like you. So to find your real community, you cannot simply hunt for ‘people who share your tastes’, at least not the way you have always thought it. You find out that a community is not really about common values, or even about shared experiences although those who have gone through a similar evolution might be more likely to come to an agreement about what ‘community’ means. Because being in a community is about supporting each other to become the best you can be. Not about how best you can fit in, but about how best you can fit ‘out’. You support each other to be different. All amazing in your uniqueness. Individuals supporting one another, together.