Search This Blog

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Strays: Thoughts on those who don't conform or fit in.

I am leading this blog post with part of my story, not for attention, to gain sympathy or empathy or anything like that, but instead to establish my credentials for personally understanding the subject of what I call 'strays'.

So, those of you who know me pretty well know that I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family.   I'm not going to get great detail about how or why I say it was dysfunctional as that is not the point of this post.  I will say however that there was anger and alcoholism present.  Let's just say the dysfunction hampered mine and my siblings 'socialization'--whatever that means.  We went to school looking like the poor family in a middle class school.  A telling time for me was when this kid ripped my shirt after picking on me and was told to bring a replacement shirt for me.  The next day he brought a couple of beat-up old looking shirts and when I complained about their condition, he noted he was just replacing what he tore.   Suffice to say, I was humiliated.  Our home life had that poor look too.  Additionally, we were taught that it was more important not to bring trouble or grief home than to stand up for ourselves.  In other words, not to bring unwanted attention from school or wherever.  I know for myself that led to me avoiding fights (or at least defending myself) most of the time during elementary school.  I was more afraid of getting in trouble for getting into a fight than defending myself.  Furthermore, I never got to know any of my relatives like aunts, uncles, cousins or Grandparents and due to our dysfunction at home, my opportunities for socializing were tremendously limited.  Given all of the above as well as sexual abuse, I never had a chance to socialize properly into or to be the 'popular' or 'cool' kid.  Instead, I was going to be the awkward, low-esteem kid, who didn't know how to relate, who was intense at times, who painfully craved approval and was focused on survival.

I was more likely to be picked on than to be appreciated. Honestly, at times I would have been grateful to be invisible.    In any case, due to all these circumstances, I developed a strong tendency to view myself as an outsider and to be very introspective.  As I have reached my mid to late 40s, I realize that far from being unique, that there are many who for various reasons did not fit the mold of the in-crowd or those who could at least blend in enough to fake it.   When we use the word 'stray', we think of an animal who could be a beloved pet, but instead of having a home is forced to survive out in the 'wilderness' for a while, if not forever.  As I see it relates to people by denoting someone who may have a place to live, but doesn't quite have a home, at least in terms of an accepted group.  But, like a stray animal, often times such a person below their unpolished and maybe awkward exterior, has hidden value and the potential to thrive in the right setting.

Back to my story.  I felt I would never 'fit in' and maybe didn't deserve to.  Perhaps, I never truly never will totally 'fit in'.  I used to view that as a curse, but, as time has gone by, as I've gotten older and had more time to consider things.  In some ways, this is a blessing.  Instead of being a 'cog' whose credentials entitled me to roam among a group of 'surface' friends, I know those who count me as friends do not require me to offer my credentials as the price of admission.   In short, I know that I can be who I am and will be accepted (and even loved) for that.  To me, this is better than trying to be a "Jones".  Had I 'fit in' from early on, I may have never had the richness of meeting and getting to know others who didn't grow up 'credentialed' either.  In other words, 'strays' who are beautiful, individual, non-pretentious souls who value people and relationships over being a 'Jones'.

Suffice to say, I've had the opportunity to get to know people of many stripes.  Many of them, for various reasons don't fit any particular 'mold'.   In other words, they are good people, but don't necessarily fit in the nice cozy, comfortable, 'corporate' and (sometimes) counterfeit cliches.  They won't necessarily have a huge circle of friends, but the ones they have are legitimate.   As I mentioned, I refer to them lovingly as 'strays'.  I'm a proud stray.  Sure, like everyone else I want to fit in.  I don't want to feel like an outcast in a cold unfeeling world, but I don't want my relationships to be defined by me being accepted because I am 'socialized' in the 'approved' way.   So, whom and what do I view as 'strays'.   Not all points will apply to those people I see as strays.  But, I digress.

WHO IS A STRAY (AS I SEE IT) AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ONE?
  • A stray is someone who doesn't fit into the usual social structure.
    • They may not be widely accepted in church.
    • They may not be widely accepted in school.
    • They may not be widely accepted in corporate.
    • The don't necessarily comfortably fit into any cliches or group.  
  •  A stray is someone who for some reason (often beyond their control) cannot easily fit in well.
    • Their family of origin had limited means in an environment which was littered by family with means.
    • They have or had physical or other limitations in an environment where others don't.
    • They have a dysfunctional family in an environment in which all others seem to have a 'normal' family.
    • They do not have the 'approved' or 'normal' interests for those whom they are surrounded by.
  • A stray is someone who doesn't necessarily follow 'the way' of groups they are around.
    • They value their independence over being accepted.
    • They can and do engage others and will try new things, but will not (and often times are incapable of) being something or someone they aren't.
    • Their interests do not necessarily fit into any specific group.
    • They can't necessarily strongly relate to groups that they are considered part of or that happen to share a circle with.  Though, they can appreciate them.  Examples below:
      • They are around hunters, but do not hunt.
      • They are around bikers, but do not bike.
      • They are around cooks or bakers, but do not cook.
      • They are around devote people of their faith who like 'Christian' or 'gospel' music, but they aren't in love with such music. 
      • They are around those who are public speakers, but struggle to speak in front of large groups.
      • They are technical types, but they don't feel like identifying as a 'techie'.
      • They are around those who drink socially, but they don't feel a strong desire to.
  • A stray values truth or authenticity vs. just trying to fit in.
    • It doesn't mean they don't any effort to relate, it just means they aren't willing to sacrifice who they are in the process.  They'd rather have truthful, authentic and deeper relationships than 'friendships' of convenience.
    • Even if they don't necessarily realize it, they do have their own unique identity.  It is a matter of realizing or finding it.
    • Trying to be someone who they aren't to fit in doesn't feel comfortable to them. 
    • At one point, they may have tried to fit into a group or groups, but either were not welcomed or didn't feel the same of being in place.
    • They tend to relate best to others with a similar sense of 'being out of the mainstream'.
History is littered with examples of people that were viewed as different, odd or who just didn't fit in but later grew to be accomplished.   Andrew Jackson started out as a humbly in the Waxhaws region of NC.  He was an outsider to the political class, but became a hero in the War of 1812 and later became the Seventh President of the United States.  But, perhaps the most famous 'stray' in history was Jesus.  He was born of humble virgin birth with His earthly father being a carpenter.  He could have 'fit in', but he challenged the orthodox views of the day.  Jesus, by choice and obeying the Father, chose not to identify with prestigious and powerful, but instead chose to relate to the modest.  With His authority He could have been a rich and powerful ruler, but instead He choose to be a stray.  He walked a path in obedience of His Father, sacrificing His life for ours.   He could have had it all, but instead He focused on what was important, being there for us, shunning the comfortable life and a set home.  He truly was the ultimate 'stray'.  Know who He was and how He viewed 'strays' aka 'the meek', make me realize that if He can see value in those who are forgotten or overlooked, then perhaps I'm not too important to do the same.

Just some thoughts.