As Generation-Y, we pride ourselves on our acceptance. Sure, we’re not perfect, but we’re getting better, right? We elected the first African American into presidency, we rallied against the word “retarded,” and we’re leading the charge for marriage equality.
I’d say, with a few exceptions, we are a pretty accepting generation. We are more accepting of differing life choices and of every person for their differences. “Glee,” a popular primetime television show of Generation-Y, explores a variety of lifestyle choices and portrays acceptance of every individual for who they are. For instance, one episode featured a transgendered black guy. (I mean, a transgendered black girl. No, wait… I’m so confused. Okay, individual. That works. Transgendered black individual.)
Anyway, for the most part, our generation has developed a strong moral code: don’t make fun of someone’s race, don’t make fun of someone’s sexual orientation, don’t make fun of someone for being disabled, don’t make fun of someone for a mental illness, etc.
And this is good. This is really good. As a generation, we are recognizing the importance of being accepting of people with different backgrounds, different lifestyles, and so on.
But what about that kid, that kid who’s just plain weird? You know him. I mean, he’s not quite autistic. He’s not in a wheelchair, he’s not a minority, nor is he gay. He’s just your average white kid, who, for some reason, is a little off.
He doesn’t pick up on social cues. He says things that don’t fit the conversation. His jokes aren’t funny. It’s like he just doesn’t know how to act around people.
This is where Generation-Y falters, becoming less accepting and more intolerant. As much as we are for equality and respect - for the people we feel have been oppressed by society - we fail to extend those same principles to someone who is, simply, considered a weirdo.
In our society, it’s as if we expect someone to have a reason, a justification for being different. If a person is born a certain way, that’s fine. He can’t help his race, his sexuality, or his physical and mental challenges. We’ve even come to appreciate the rich diversity that those differing perspectives offer us.
However, in the case of an individual who just can’t seem to learn basic social skills, you see the limits of our generation’s acceptance.
We giggle amongst ourselves when this person says something off-key. We roll our eyes at their bad jokes. We whisper about whatever social faux pas this person has committed this time. We don’t try to talk to this person, and we’d be curt in cutting the conversation if this person tried to talk to us. Essentially, we ostracize this individual.
And we rationalize that people like this deserve this treatment because they are ignoring our social cues and social norms. And when we try to explain why we don’t like this person, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint the issue, and so we settle on the obvious observation, yet obscure assessment, “They’re just weird.”
Why, though, as an otherwise accepting generation, are we so condemning of that weird kid? Sure, we can shrug our shoulders and say if this person would just learn some social skills, then they would have it easier.
It’s not that simple. “Weird people” are considered weird because they process the world differently, and they interact with the world differently. They see things from a different perspective, and they express themselves in a different way. Why do they do this? Who knows. Maybe they were simply born that way.
And you know, maybe these people could just pretend to have the same perspective as everyone else. Maybe these people could force themselves to interact with the world in a conventional manner. But why should they have to do that? Why should they have to keep their “weirdness,” their unique way of processing and interacting, “in the closet” so to speak?
Often times, when someone is openly “weird,” their peers and colleagues bully them. If not directly, peers will bully these people behind their backs. They ostracize the person for being “weird.” In doing this, the bullies are trying to force their own personal beliefs, perspectives, and behaviors, onto this person. The message is clear: conform, or you won’t have friends.
Here’s something Generation-Y often struggles to recognize: ostracizing weird people, because they don’t express themselves in a “normal” manner, is just as discriminating as ostracizing any other group of people. It’s just as negative to discriminate against homosexuals because of their sexual preference. No individual can alter what feels natural, or what makes them who they are.
Generation-Y is an accepting generation, and that’s something to be proud of. We’ve come a long way from historical struggles with equality, respect, and civil rights. But as a generation, we need to challenge ourselves to extend our acceptance to “that weird person” and all others who differ from ourselves, or those that we may not understand. In doing so, we might finally influence a genuinely equal society, in both mind and matter.
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