Living with diversity often requires us to feel uncomfortable.
I have never been one to seek the limelight. I was not often the center of attention among my peers growing up, and the few times I was, I felt very uncomfortable. As a result, I lived a life trying to blend in and never stick out.
Not only did I move to a highly homogenous society, but I also spent my first year living in one of the smaller cities, far from the capital Seoul. As ridiculous as it may seem, in the first few months after moving there, I continued trying to blend in. Not surprisingly, I quickly found such efforts to be futile.
As an example, many people in that city used bicycles for transportation, and I soon had one of my own. When I rode by bike to the market and back, people would often stop and watch me ride past as if it were the strangest thing they had ever seen. I often felt like I must have three heads or some other extreme abnormality to attract so much attention just going about my daily routine.
My “abnormality” was simply my race, my otherness.
That year I decided to embrace my otherness, and I found it to be a liberating experience. By the time I left Korea several years later, I had made a lifestyle of intentionally putting myself in situations where I was the only “foreigner.”
No, it never got easier to walk down the street and have people stop and stare, to have children stop and point at the “way-guk-in.” However, I did become more comfortable with who I was and who I wanted to be.
My experiences in South Korea changed my life forever. Not only did I largely leave behind the need to blend in, but I also developed a measure of empathy for those who feel shut out, ostracized, and “other.” As a result, today I have a heart for those who feel unseen as well as those who feel exposed simply because of who they are.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes shame resilience and lists “owning our story” as an important step. I agree; I believe the first step to embracing differences as strengths rather than weaknesses is to first embrace our own imperfect identity.
To what extent have you not yet owned your own story?
Be looking next Tuesday for more from the “experts” on this topic!