As a Kemeni girl in the UAE, I never felt like I truly belonged. When I brought mahamri to school, I felt embarrassed because none of the other kids brought mahamri to school. They would get sandwiches and crisps and Capri-sonne. I was sure they had no idea what that strange dark bread that dark-skinned girl was eating. Summers in Kenya were not any better. I didn’t fit in there either, even though they were fully aware of what mahamri was.
What I regret most from those days is that I spent so much mental and emotional effort trying to fit in when I could have spent it to stand out. In Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed, and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions, and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay. That era has come to an end.”
I agree with him; “fitting in” is so yesterday. Nowadays, we live in a post-globalized world where social media has helped melt borders and introduce cultures to one another. And while many people might be tolerant towards intercultural differences, there are still some who are really hung up on keeping their own culture homogeneous so they try to destroy the concept of individuality. In other words, just like you’re born in the tribe, you’re supposed to eat, talk, think and behave like the tribe.
But that’s practically impossible, because we’re all unique. Take an example, ask everybody you know,
“How do you eat your cereal?”
You would expect the answer to be; with cold milk, but that’s not always the case. I’ve met people who never outgrew their love for baby food and like their cereal soggy with warm milk. Others have it with no milk. Then there are those who are sequential eats; they eat the cereal, and then wash it down with milk.
We may have gone to the same schools, hung around the same people, but we all experience the world differently. So today’s post is about celebrating your individuality; a skill that needs to be honed more in our Asian & Middle Eastern & African (AMEA) societies. Here are five practical ways;
5) Mix languages in a unique way. Some people are serial linguists; they use one language per conversation. However, many people in this part of the world are multi-lingual so be unique and mix words from different languages in a single sentence. Speak 3arabenglish for a while. Or as they say in Swahili goes, shoofil qurabu fog ilmabamba.
4) Engage in hobbies you enjoy around people who don’t. Sometimes, we hide our interests and hobbies in order to fit in, because we’re scared of the strange glances and the whispered comments, but we need to be comfortable with those “you’re so weird” glances. And in case you’re looking for a comeback to those who call you weird, you might say, “I’m not weird. I’m just unique.”
3) Be brutally honest. Even if it pisses people off. Especially if it pisses people off. Try talking to conservative aunties about ideas related to feminism and watch the fireworks. After some time, you might even start enjoying pissing people off.
2) Learn to say no without giving any reasons. Many times, we want to please others and end up saying yes to requests we would rather say no to because we’re trying to be nice. While it’s very easy for people to take things personally if you deny them requests, life has taught me, they just get over it and find someone else to do those things. And if someone really resents you for saying no, then – hint, hint – you don’t need such people in your life. So exercise in front of a mirror.
“Because I simply don’t want to.”
1) Be tolerant of other people. Mocking others for being different and judging them is just a sign of a closed mind. It cultivates the sort of environment that makes people bury their authentic selves, hide beneath masks and basically stamp on their own individuality. So basically, celebrate your individuality by allowing others to celebrate theirs.
So what are you going to try today to celebrate your individuality? Whether you decide to mix languages in a unique way, become brutally honest, engage in hobbies you enjoy around those who don’t, say no without giving any reasons or practice tolerance towards others, try it and tweet me on @ahechoes. Also don’t forget to tell me; how do you eat your cereal?
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Also, check out my short story collection, “All Bleeding Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast,” and the non-fiction book summarizing a lot of ideas in the personal development field if you want to change your life but don’t know where to start, “Mine your inner resources”.