it ain't easy being different

It seems like it's really hard for women to be different from each other.  

  • We seem to care a lot if other women wear yoga pants or have cleavage.  
  • It seems to matter if other women work or don't work.  
  • We seem to be upset if other women homeschool or don't homeschool.
  • We seem to be afraid that if we become "successful," other women won't support us.
 self and friend, walking the beach in the Dominican Republic  (photo:  Andy Bruner)

self and friend, walking the beach in the Dominican Republic  (photo:  Andy Bruner)

Last night, I sat around with a bunch of women from The Marcella Project, and we talked about this problem:  why do we so often act like crabs in a bucket, pulling down anybody who tries to climb out?  

And why do we obsess over the possibility of being pulled back down into the bucket, to the extent that we never even try to climb out?

While there are probably a millionjillion reasons we could come up with--patriarchy, insecurity, scarcity mindsets--here are three pieces of the puzzle that I find interesting and helpful.

1.  Deborah Tannen's research 

Tannen identifies a core value in relationships among women: sameness.  While men often emphasize differences in conversation with each other, women are socialized to identify sameness in other women as a basis for relationship.   (Read more in You Just Don't Understand, by Deborah Tannen)

Recognizing sameness is a great skill set to have, when it comes to building strong families and welcoming communities.  

But I think that the need for sameness can create a near-insurmountable gravitational pull for women as well.  

When the time comes to step up into our own individual selves, sometimes we almost need a rocket blast to get us clear of all the sameness-ties that bind.

I think as women we need to recognize the way we've been socialized for sameness so that we can identify our own fears, and the fears of other women that may come into play when we're trying to make positive change in our lives.

I think if we're prepared for our own internal resistance to different-ness, and if we're able to anticipate the fears other women have about our different-ness, then we might be all be able to release ourselves and one another from the rigidity of sameness with a little more grace.

We don't have to reject sameness altogether.  We just need to recognize its limitations, and accept differences without all the fear and drama.

When we understand that sameness is a limited good, we don't have to be defensive about our differences, and we don't have to be threatened by the differences of others.

And that leads me to the second piece of the puzzle:

2.  What Lucy Saw

You know how much I love Narnia, and this is one of my favorite scenes, from Prince Caspian.

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” said everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean--?” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk to me like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t *think* I saw him. I saw him."

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was - up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He - I - I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?”

“He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now,” said Trumpkin, “if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. “The DLF doesn’t understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn’t talk about him like that again. It isn’t lucky for one thing, and it’s all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, DLF. What do you vote for? Up or down?”

“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards.”

“What do you say, Susan?”

“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”

“Edmund?” said Peter.

“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago - or a thousand years ago, whichever it is - it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”

“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.

“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope--”

“Oh shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”

“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly.

“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last the of party, crying bitterly. (CS Lewis, Prince Caspian)

How many of us know where we're supposed to follow, only we don't, because nobody else sees what we see, and we get talked out of it?

How many of us are sacrificing our whole lives to sameness?

I wonder how many of us are like Lucy, coming along behind and crying bitterly?

This leads me to my third puzzle-piece:

3.  We really don't have that kind of time

Anne Lamott tells this wonderful story in Bird By Bird:

“But about a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me.

“We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time. Pammy was in a wheelchair, wearing her Queen Mum wig, the Easy Rider look in her eyes. I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. People used to tell me I dressed like John Goodman. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’ and she said to me slowly, ‘Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.'”  

The truth is, we don't have that kind of time.  None of us do.

If we think we've got time to waste on our own fears and the fears of others, we're just kidding ourselves.  

All we have is today.

How much of this glorious gift of today have we given away to the sameness, to the fear, to the real-or-imagined judgment of others?

And how would our lives be different if we lived instead in the fullness of Love, confident that we're safe and precious and blissfully okay even when we're different?

Where would we go if we fearlessly followed Love, instead of being held back by sameness?

I don't know what this would mean for you.  I'm not even sure what it means for me.  I just want to be less afraid, and more willing to strike out into the unknown.  

Even though that means I'm different.

Here's a theme song I love:  Try Everything.

Because the next best thing to Narnia is a really excellent animated movie, and you guys.  Zootopia forever!!

Let's turn it up and make some good mistakes today, without pulling each other back in the bucket.  Instead, cheering each other on.  

I messed up tonight, I lost another fight
I still mess up but I'll just start again
I keep falling down, I keep on hitting the ground
I always get up now to see what's next

Birds don't just fly, they fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it wrong

I won't give up, no I won't give in
Till I reach the end and then I'll start again
No I won't leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail
I won't give up, no I won't give in
Til I reach the end and then I'll start again
No I won't leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail

Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh

Look at how far you've come, you filled your heart with love
Baby you've done enough, take a deep breath
Don't beat yourself up, don't need to run so fast
Sometimes we come last, but we did our best

I won't give up, no I won't give in
Til I reach the end and then I'll start again
No I won't leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail
I won't give up, no I won't give in
Til I reach the end and then I'll start again
No I won't leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail

I'll keep on making those new mistakes
I'll keep on making them every day
Those new mistakes

Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh
Try everything
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh

Try everything

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