That’s a question I’ve asked a lot in the schools where I’ve worked, where it seems pretty common for the “different” kids to be picked on. Answers vary widely. Different is wearing the wrong brand of jeans. Having purple sneakers. Wearing glasses that don’t quite fit the “accepted” style, or instead of contact lenses. Not having money; having too much money.
What none of the kids I’ve asked seems to be able to tell me is who decides what “different” is. A couple of high schoolers I spoke to recently said it’s the media, which does have some truth to it. After all, the media is the one who advertises all the jean brands, and the “right” color sneakers, and so on. TV shows present their own ideas of attractiveness and normalcy. And often, anyone who varies from that presentation is considered different, whether in a middle school or an office building.
Different varies from person to person. The kid who wears purple sneakers might consider the ones who all wear matching sneakers to be different. A kid who wears glasses might think of someone with contacts as different. Of course those who fit what the majority considers to be “normal” will wind up being the popular kids at most schools. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t different in some way.
Whatever one considers to be different, though, and whether one is popular or not, that doesn’t give anyone the right to put someone down for not being exactly like them, or not being the way they think people should be. In my novel Connection, Shanna Bailey is picked on and harassed because of something she didn’t do, and because she talks to herself and spends a lot of time alone. Jonah Leighton is teased and even feared by his school mates because he meditates in the school lobby and has some beliefs that don’t fit in with what most of the other kids believe to be true. Is it right for them to be bullied and teased? Many of the other kids in their high school seem to think so.
Don’t get me wrong. Connection isn’t a book about bullying, or about how great the “weird” kids can be. It’s about two kids with special abilities who encounter a demon. But if there’s one thing I’d like readers to take from it, aside from an exciting story, it’s that maybe people who are “different” aren’t as unlike you as you might think.
Do yourself a favor. Or do me one, depending on your point of view. After you read this blog, say hello to someone you wouldn’t usually talk to because they’re “too different”. You might just find out you have more in common than you think.
Jo Ramsey is a former special education teacher who uses her experiences (and sometimes her former students) to help create her stories. She’s been writing since age five, though Connection is her first published young adult novel. Jo lives in Massachusetts with her fiance, two daughters, two cats, and a fish. You can learn more about Jo and her books at http://www.joramsey.com/