I encourage my children to stand out, to not follow the crowd or do things just because everyone else does. This is something many voices today are encouraging us to do. So much so that being different is the new norm (or so we are led to believe). The irony of a person with face piercings, crazy hairdo, odd (to me) looking clothes hanging out with a crowd of other people that look just like themselves is obvious. But that is ok. It is ok to be different within a crowd of people who are different in the same way we are. Cliques and peer groups can be helpful. They give us strength and courage that comes part and parcel with comradery. But this is exactly the kind of difference that the world likes for the most part. It is sometimes helpful but mostly benign. It can change things, but only if it is led by someone who is truly different. Someone the world fears and especially governments and religious elites hate. Without these people the crowd is just a crowd and when the crowd reacts it becomes simply, yet horribly, a mob.
When I tell my children to be different I don't mean what the commercials, coming of age movies and young reader books mean. They perhaps are meaning something more along the lines of being original. When I tell my children to be different, to not follow the crowd, I don't mean "original" (which is sometimes ok too), but rather to stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong. I mean to be a Gandhi, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Smedley Buttler, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, or the likes. Not because I agree with everything they believed but because they song something that needed to be said or done and they said it or did it.
Did these people start out with large crowds following them on freedom marches? Did everyone want to publish their books? Did people come in droves to shake their hands or come to their defense? Early on they stood alone or spoke to small crowds or wrote without the hope of ever publishing (or self-published). They were a crowd of few or one. But they still spoke up. They were different in the best sense of the word.
We feel that their message or activity is validated but mostly because of the crowds. How many supporters of King heard his speech or read his material? How many lovers of Gandhi know anything of his ascetical lifestyle, his heartbreaks his failures? Rosa sat alone and was arrested alone (though she was not the first. Do you know any of their names?). But now the bus from that event is in a museum and people walk by thinking to themselves, "If I were there I would have stood by her. I would have done something. I would have said something". Who cares what you would have said? What are you going to say now? That is the question we must answer. When you are in a crowd it is easy to shout the "right" thing. But what about when you are outside of the crowd and the crowd is shaking its collective fist at you? What you say or do then is what really counts.
Being different must be done within a context that includes a set of restraints or boundaries. And this is the part of being different too. At least it will make you different. People don't like restraints of any kind, especially in America. We can't just say, "Be different!", and leave it at that. What good does that do? A serial killer or pediphael is different but we certainly don't want people to be that. Everyone has restraints even if they don't like to admit it. Even hedonists have restraints all the while they are calling for the abolition of them. Having these also make one different. They sometimes can be exactly what defines the difference. We homeschool our children and that is both based upon and creates a number of boundaries and restraints. And that certainly makes us different even in a day when the popularity of homeschooling continues to soar. But keep in mind these restraints can also be the thing that causes the crowd to leave you (or you leave it) and make you enemy number one among those who once claimed to be your supporter. Here, probably more than when you made your initial leap of faith to put yourself forward as a trouble-maker, is where you will need to be strong. Even Jesus asked his disciples when 500 people stopped following him, "Will you leave me too"?
Yes, be different. Be original. But be really different. Be really original. Think! Think hard. Don't stay silent. Act! This will take vigilance on your part. You can't just coast along but you must always be testing yourself to see if you are now just a member of the "different crowd" or if you truly are following your conscience, doing and saying what is true and good and right. Even if you are alone.