I'm not sure if I'm getting nicer as I get older (unlikely but possible), or if a little bit of perspective just goes a long, long way. Whichever it is, I find myself a whole lot more tolerant of people who don't fit within the narrow confines of societal norms. And oh how narrow those confines can be at times.
The other day I was in one of my usual food shopping haunts. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention, just gathering the items I needed, but the conversation at the checkout registered with me at some point. It wasn't the words so much as the context. The checkout operator was polite. Very polite. The customer was talking a lot. Possibly too much. And after he had been served he just hung around and kept on talking, perhaps lingering inappropriately. I tuned into the words as I joined the line - something about going from three people at home to only one now.
Cheerily he said goodbye, oblivious to the odd looks coming his way from here and there. He was one of those people who misses social cues - socially maladjusted I suppose you might call it - and after he left, the checkout operator made a comment I didn't quite hear about it being any wonder there was only one person at home now.
It made me kinda sad, partly because I realised I had met the man just days before. He'd turned up on our doorstep asking for Frank. There was a problem with a lock on the gate over the road where both he and Frank park their trucks, and he needed a phone number in order to get the lock fixed before he could go home. I suppose he was a little odd. One of those people who leans on their words and phrases to impart a meaning I can never quite work out, despite their assumption we are on the same wave length and I know the secret meaning of the raised eyebrow and meaningful look. He was a nice man though. Friendly, reliable, and certainly helpful when Frank locked himself out of the truck yard on Saturday. He might not fit the shallow mould our culture attempts to squash us all into, but he is honourable and plays his part in the machinations of society - holds up his corner of the world I guess you could say.
It makes me sad thinking about people like this. There's a whole host of them out there. The misfits who don't quite understand all those unwritten societal rules, like not talking too long or loud at the check out. Some more obviously don't fit, the people with physical disabilities. We're slightly kinder to them because we feel sorry for them and society dictates we mustn't discriminate. But people with learning disabilities, or brain injuries, where the difference isn't so obvious, we don't cut much slack. We stare, we judge, we comment after they've left the room. We don't know how to deal with them. And the eccentrics? There's no need to feel sorry for them or worry about discrimination so we outright mock them. They're a little bit cooky aren't they?
I have a suggestion. Perhaps we could just deal with them all as people? They're different from us for sure - but who wrote the rule about everyone having to be the same anyway? Identical cookies cut out of dough. Carbon copies. Can't we accept people as they are? Yes, they might lurk on the outer edges of our spectrum of normal, but they're still people and they make our society richer in so many ways. Sometimes economically, but more in terms of adding colour and spice and variety and joy and challenge and compassion and truth.
People who don't fit our social norms are rarely pretentious - they're as real as they come, and I love them for that realness. I want what they have. I want to care less what other people think and to motor through life doing what needs to be done without worrying so much about how I look or what I'm wearing or what she said behind my back. Maybe they miss out on things because they can't do all we can, but maybe they have true gold.
People who don't fit - I think I can learn from them. When I see them in the street, they are a gift to me. They remind me of what is important and what is not. My petty worries slink away when faced with such authenticity.
I might be getting nicer, and maybe I'm more tolerant. But maybe I need to try a little dancing on the edges of societal norms and see where it takes me. It could be liberating. A journey into living true.