"And here comes the snow... A language in which no word is ever repeated."
Over the weekend, the sky was filled with falling snow. It was the most snow I'd seen in a long, long time and the area where I live declared it a blizzard. Where I'm from, we get snow, but blizzards are rare. Watching all of those snowflakes fall down, I was reminded of a book called Snowflakes that I once picked up in the bookstore. I recall picking up the book and flipping through it, utterly fascinated by the images of snowflakes, each unique and each so magically beautiful. (Today, after going to Amazon to grab the link to this book and checking out once again, I decided to order it. I rarely buy things for myself this close to the holiday, but I couldn't resist its beautiful images...) I can remember standing in the aisle, holding that book, and thinking, "Wow. This really is amazing." We're all pretty familiar with the idea that all snowflakes are unique, but seeing them in all of their unique glory really hit home for me. (If you haven't already clicked on the link, check out Snowflakes on Amazon and "Click to Look Inside" to see some of the images from the book.) I've always known snowflakes were unique, but seeing them really makes it more real.
And, of course, it brings me back to that analogy between snowflakes and people that implies that we, like those little flakes of snow, are all unique. While there are so many similarities between us as people (which can be a great thing!), we really are all so unique and, when you think about it, that's pretty amazing. There are so many people -- just like there were so many snowflakes in the blizzard I saw this weekend! -- yet we're all uniquely who we are. It's so cool to think about it that way, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. How can we be unique and still keep our connection to others? How can we, like snowflakes, come together to make the world more beautiful? When you think about how rarely we really see an individual snowflake, how we see them falling from the sky in clumps, clinging to each other, we really can see how much we are like them. We are unique, but we want to be together. We need to be together.
This is a concept I've often struggled with. For the most part, I've had the desire to be different. I've always wanted to be unlike anyone else (though, in high school, I'll admit that I bought in quite heavily to that whole conforming thing). To be compared to someone else has always been irritating to me. Even when it's been complimentary, I always think to myself, "I'm nothing like that person. I'm me." Perhaps that's one reason I clung so much to that Snowflake book. I wanted to be a snowflake. I wanted to be so unlike anyone else. Just like a snowflake, I wanted to be something that could be examined very closely without it being at all difficult to tell how I was different from all of the others.
It's so easy to place ourselves and others in boxes. It's so easy to define each other by appearances or skills or qualities. We want that, I think, because it makes us feel like we've got people figured out. It's always so much easier when we can describe someone simply. Think about how much easier it is when you can say to someone, "Oh, she's really nice. You're going to like her," rather than those times you have to say, "Well, she's nice, but... She can have a bad attitude sometimes. But usually she's nice. Most of the time. Don't worry, you'll like her." When people are easy to figure out -- when we can put them neatly into a category like "nice," we like that. We want to be able to simplify things, and I get that. It makes things a lot easier, and who doesn't love easy?
Unfortunately for us, when we get down to the heart of it, we can't really put people as neatly into boxes as we'd like to. People are more complex than that. People are more unique than that. Even the nicest person in the world can be mean. Even the most horrible person can be sweet. (For more examples, think back to 1998 and check out Everlast's "What It's Like," with lyrics that go something like, "I've seen a rich man beg/ I've seen a good man sin/ I've seen a tough man cry/ I've seen a loser win/ And a sad man grin/ I heard an honest man lie") As you can see from these lyrics (and thinking about examples you've probably seen in your own life), you know it's not always that easy to compartmentalize people. Every person, every situation, is unique -- and instead of trying put people into categories, we should embrace them for who they are.
Just like when I was flipping through the book filled with page after page of unique snowflake images, it can be overwhelming to see everything as separate and independent and so, so different. We want things to be in categories so we can understand them. We like to be able understand things and sometimes we come across things or people that just don't fit into categories. When this happens, we can feel overwhelmed. But what if we stopped having categories? What if we realized that we could all be uniquely who we are all the time and that we didn't have to fit into anyone's categories (even our own)? What would that be like? Scary, yes. Overwhelming, yes. But also liberating.
What would it be like if we came across people the way we might an exotic animal? What if we assumed nothing and waited to learn about them, waited to hear what they had to say about the world instead of making assumptions based on their appearance or our preconceived notions of what a human of their age/type/race/gender/ethnicity/religion/etc. should be like? What if we started out with every new person we met as a completely clean slate? What if we truly saw everyone for the unique person that he or she is? If we stopped comparing and contrasting and realized that, no matter how hard we tried to categorize someone, he or she would only fully fit into one box -- his or her own -- the world would be a lot better. We wouldn't be assuming people should act or be a certain way. We wouldn't be judging others with the harshness that can sometimes jump so readily ahead of even our most kind thoughts.
7 Ways To Celebrate Uniqueness In Others
- Have an open mind. It's easy to focus on what's familiar to you and to look for things that you have in common with someone else, but, when you open your mind up a little bit you might find that someone's differences are much more apparent and those differences can be pretty great. Embrace the ways your mind can help you see someone in a new light.
- Think independently. Of course it's easy to go with the flow and go along with what other people are doing. If you hear from someone else that a person is negative, for example, it's easy to start thinking of that person that way. But stop for a minute and think about how unique people are, you'll probably realize that it's best to assess others for yourself and find out what's really going on with them.
- Avoid harsh judgments. Sometimes I find it so tempting to label someone very quickly after only one or two interactions, but it's never a good idea to jump quickly to assumptions. Additionally, it's never a good idea to judge others harshly. Most situations and people are not as simple as we'd like to think they are, which is always something you should keep in mind.
- Stop stereotyping. Stereotypes make it so easy for us to put people in boxes. They make it easy for our minds to think they understand someone, but, while we can't deny that there must be some reason for stereotypes, it's pretty safe to say that using them is a bad idea if you're trying to celebrate someone's uniqueness.
- Look below the surface. When you meet someone for the first time, it can be so easy to make quick judgments based on appearance alone, but think about how that would make you feel. Would you like to be judged based only on your appearance? Aren't you more complex than that? I'm sure you are and so are others. Look below the surface to find their unique traits.
- Don't fear the unknown. We are often quick to put others into categories because we are scared of not knowing what they are. We want to be able to understand them, but, really, if we just put them in a box, we're not truly understanding. To celebrate the true unique nature of someone else, you have to get over the idea that the unknown (or unlabeled) is bad.
- Seek the positives. Just because something is different or unexplainable to you doesn't mean it's negative. When you're looking at others and trying to celebrate the ways we are all unique, think about the good things. Think about all of the ways it benefits us as people for us all to be unique. All of our differences are awesome and it's so important to see the positive in them.
We are all snowflakes. We are all independent of one another and, though we are drawn to one another, and may even have similar designs, we deserve to be seen as independent, distinct creations that cannot ever be 100% defined. Like snowflakes, we are changing. We are snow and ice and water. We are like each other in many ways, but we are never the same. I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember this, to know that, though it may seem like you've seen a "type" of person before, you should never assume that you know everything about him or her. He or she, just like you, is unique and it is this uniqueness that makes us all so amazingly awesome. Don't forget about the uniqueness in others and, just as importantly, don't forget about the uniqueness in yourself. Cliche as it might seem, you really are unique. There is no one -- and never, ever will be anyone -- just like you. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty cool. Embrace your uniqueness and celebrate it every day and in every way you can.
How do you celebrate the absolute awesomeness of being uniquely you?
What tactics do you use to remind yourself that others are unique?