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The Joy of Being Like Others

At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.

This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.

–Henri Nouwen

As a child, I strove to excel in everything!  I wanted to be the smartest, the best and the most different.  I considered being like the other girls as more of a curse than a sense of companionship or sharing.  When I found out that most girls liked pink, blue and yellow promptly became my favorite color.  Purple soon thereafter suffered a similar fate.  When I discovered that women were more likely to perform a certain activity in a certain manner, I became an expert in just the opposite.  To this day, when I give or receive directions, I always make sure that I include street names.  Sometimes I try to throw in a north or west, direction-wise–but I’m really only kidding myself.

Anyway, when I read the above quote from Henri Nouwen, all these years of trying to be different came flooding to my mind.  To be fair, I didn’t come up with being different on my own!  How often in advertising do we hear the words limited edition, one of a kind, truly unique, a cut above the rest… I could go on and on with my list but I think you get my point.

Then I thought, why is it that we have such a deep-seated desire to  be different from one another?  Sure, we want to be noticed, praised and affirmed.  But why does our culture seem truly to despise “fitting in” or “going with the status quo”?  Is it because maybe, just maybe, the status quo really is something special after all?  Could it be that there is an insidious attack, a quiet war being waged against belonging to and in a community  What is wrong with being a part of a group?  What is wrong with blending in? (Don’t get me wrong, I know all about groupthink and the craziness of mobs and mind control and such)  Of course I’m not talking about such things.  I’m talking about true community where the people joined together belong to and depend upon one another.   What would it be like to really know that we depend on other people?  Would you feel differently about your food if you bought it from the man next door?  Would you feel more a sense of connection?  Of indebtedness?  I will wager that his health would suddenly become more important!

The same holds true for a wealth of other professions.

I’m just saying, there must be something inherently beautiful and good…and just right about living in community with our fellow humans.  Any thoughts?

Check out this post at Seeking Simplicity blog for more about community and relying on others.

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