There are infinite ways that a person can feel different from everyone else. Being unique is a very big theme in the Ivy books, and even though most of us do not experience being different on the levels that these characters do, we can nevertheless take a lot of wisdom from their experiences.
First of all, if you are different, be careful not to distance yourself too much. You may be more like other people than you might think, even if you’re different in some important ways.
Everyone, no matter how “normal,” has felt left out, self-conscious, or just plain alienated at some point.
Ivy started experiencing this very shortly after her first contact with regular people:
I wanted to crawl under something or fly out the door; my self-consciousness had climbed to record levels. What was happening to me anyway? —Ivy, Book 1, Chapter 6
After all, I knew that looking strange made other people uncomfortable. I studied myself in the mirror, not sure right then whether I liked what I saw. —Ivy, Book 1, Chapter 8
“I don’t fit into anything, I’m not the same as anyone at all.” —Ivy, Book 3, Chapter 14
Anyone who knows Ivy is well aware that she’s usually a headstrong, forceful person with plenty of ego and a big helping of self-esteem. She usually feels pretty good about herself, and if SHE can be knocked off that pedestal by something as simple as another person’s opinion of her, you’d better believe it happens to everyone. Just remember it’s best to stick to what YOU feel and believe, and don’t let other people’s opinions matter too much.
Perhaps one good way to make sure others feel comfortable with something different about you is to just get practice at fielding the questions. Ivy’s been in this situation dozens of times, so now she almost has a formula for how to introduce people to her unusual characteristics:
Ivy also tries to be true to herself; for the most part, she sticks to her guns, insisting that if someone was going to treat her like something is wrong with her, it’s them who’s in need of an attitude adjustment, not her in need of a behavior change:
Or with counseling Bailey on how to show others what she can do:
Learn what about you makes others uncomfortable, and try to find ways to break them in. Do you have an unusual feature or a foreign accent? Be the first to show it’s not a taboo subject or mention it in conversation. Is the group you’re trying to interact with aware of something you’ve done or something you know that makes everyone uncomfortable? Find a way to talk about it or find a way to talk about why you can’t talk about it, so that everyone’s at ease.
Meri Lin from Negative One has trouble dealing with her parents’ views, because her parents disapprove of her loving a person of a different race and national origin. But she just plain can’t see why that should be a problem:
Her family can’t see why she would be interested in sharing her life with someone so different from what they’re used to. But Meri Lin remains open-minded, and she finds her parents’ attitude disappointing.
Even though she now has to deal with her parents’ disapproval and prejudice, Meri Lin made the right choice. Someone has to be the first to look past what makes us different from each other and start building bridges.
Now, on the other side of the coin, what if you meet someone who seems very different? A person from another country, or a person with religious or cultural beliefs very different from your own? Generally, everyone feels safer by not associating with the “different” person, and no one wants to be considered an oddball by going over and trying to befriend them.
But keep in mind that there are plenty of places where YOU would be the oddball, and surely you would appreciate it if someone were to take you under their wing.
All it takes is a kind word sometimes to help an outcast person feel more comfortable. Ivy, while trying to find an acceptable way to interact with Nina and her family, is very grateful for Francis Fairchild’s attitude:
If you know someone who doesn’t fit in and you don’t know how to help them, just do your best, and don’t put the person on the spot or contribute to their alienation by spreading rumors or talking behind their back. Just be honest, and never exclude someone just because they’re not like you. Try not to point out faults or strangeness unless there’s some graceful way to talk about it, because it can and will make the subject feel very awkward. Ivy, for instance, did not particularly enjoy Nina telling her “I like your ears,” because she’s a bit sensitive about them:
Make sure that you find the proper balance between awkwardly avoiding an obvious subject and harping on it. A little honesty and a little humor goes a long way. And try not to fall victim to the stereotypes of society. Ruben is an oddball by choice, and he has this to say:
After her baby is born, Meri Lin finds herself in the awkward position of getting used to something she thought was impossible . . . and having to come to terms with the fact that it exists in her daughter. But she has the right attitude about how to treat unusual people, right from the beginning:
But I can't expect her to behave like other babies. That's about as likely as her growing some pinkies. —Meri Lin, Negative One, 0073
Most people don’t choose to be different, and in that case people can be bitter, confused, or upset by the things about them that do not match. Make it easier for them by being understanding and non-judgmental. Simple actions like that may earn you a lifelong friendship.
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