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“Think different.” Two words which conjures up the imagination, and somewhat unfortunately Apple’s marketing strategies. If you’re able to strip out the product placement and marketing aspects of this corporate behemoth, then these words remain a simple yet effective ideology.

I went to bed last night and habitually put on the TV to relax a little before nodding off. On TV was William Shatner’s Raw Nerve. It’s a pretty good television show. Good ole’ Bill aka swashbuckling and melodramatic Captain Kirk interviews a variety of people in an unscripted fashion, and doesn’t hesitate to ask some very pointed, uncomfortable, and unscripted questions of his often famous guests. Last night’s show was a repeat of his Rush Limbaugh interview.

Now, I am not a fan of Rush. I would go even so far as to say that I hate him. I grew up frequently listening to his rants in my father’s car – it was enough listening to know that he often came off as bigoted, racist, homophobic, and at times sexist. I feel that I have some first-hand knowledge into the prejudices he often expounds – perhaps more so than the average liberal who gets all their information regarding his personality on a second or third-hand basis. Although I don’t like his ideology, I was willing to watch the show because Limbaugh very rarely gives interviews.

One reason why people have said that he doesn’t give interviews is that Rush does not handle himself well in confrontational situations. He tends to be a bit of a “hot head” and when his arguments are taken to task in a public forum, he often comes off looking like a loud-mouthed imbecile. My reasons and justifications for watching Rush aside, what I found fascinating was less his political discourse, but rather his personality traits and upbringing. You can catch part of the interview below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yehzoh6ycME

To quote Limbaugh:

“If there was a black sheep in the family then perhaps it was me, because I’ve never been a conformist. I was hugely rebellious. I hated school because it was what everybody else had to do. I hated being locked up from the second grade on in a room. My childhood was spent in duress and silent protest.”

Now, I can’t speak for others but I completely felt upon watching this that both Rush and I shared a commonality with our early childhood. Since kindergarten, I couldn’t sit still. In my parent’s and teacher’s conferences, the teacher would tell my parents that I was “out to lunch.” I simply didn’t pay attention to anyone because my interests could not be captured. Perhaps this is brain chemistry, maybe my brother dropped me on my head one too many times, or perhaps this is a result of upbringing and eating too many sweets as a child – I honestly cannot say. All I know is that I was extremely hyperactive and the teachers felt that I didn’t respect them due to my obliviousness towards them.  As a partial result, my grades throughout elementary school and into junior high were abysmal. Year after year, the principles and teachers asked my parents to have me put me behind a grade. I even recall defending myself at the end of junior high school – trying to convince the principal that I had to go to the next grade with the rest of my fellow students.

Shatner brought up a good question to Rush – “when did you know?” And that’s what got me thinking about this article today. When do people realize that they’re different? The better question is, “when do people accept that they are different and are okay with that?” Do people waste their whole entire lives trying to fit-in? Or do they even really give this a second thought?

It was really easy for me to recognize my differences early on. I was getting into heaps of trouble for one. Secondly, I had straight, jet-black hair and slightly slanted eyes in a predominantly Caucasian atmosphere and other children were quick to point that out. The ultimate realization of being different (and not necessarily accepting this) can be pinpointed within my first grade home room with our music teacher.

Every morning we were asked to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance. One friend that I grew up with, Kris, refused to stand and he got into trouble for it. He explained that he couldn’t recite the pledge citing the “under god” portion as it went against his religious beliefs which happened to be Jehovah’s Witness. His mother came in, and the issue was quickly put to rest. The next day, when the pledge was being recited, I looked over at Kris and he just sat there with a smile on his face. I decided to do the same thing and not stand up either. This had nothing to do with “patriotism” (what kid really comprehends patriotism at that age) and more to do with the fact that Kris was able to get off, and was apparently sitting there with a beaming smile on his face. He got out of it and I admired him for his tenacity to stand up.

So after watching all of this drama unfold, I tried pulling the same exact stunt the next morning by also citing “religious beliefs” – but unfortunately no one came to my defense. The teacher was going to have none of that. Instead, I was forced to stay a few minutes after class as an embarrassing punishment. For the remainder of the year, I watched Kris every morning sit there and laugh as the rest of the kids had to uncomfortably stand at attention and recite this boring passage like clockwork. This single incident is my first clear recollection into outwardly disobeying authority figures and not trusting them completely – and getting shot down for it. It was to be a lesson that I would take with me every day going forward.

Disobeying or not following the rules is one thing that can lead to further troubles, but at what point do we as children or adults give up that fight and accept who they are? Are there people in this world that always follow that “safe” route of rules and regulations? Do they never try break laws, argue with their parents, and always try to pay their bills on time? Are they afraid to speak up? Are they afraid to “look” out of place? I don’t think think anti-conformity is a black or white issue – it more follows a spectrum or “balance beam” that we all sit upon. Some people are definitely more rebellious than others and others more conformists – whether that’s for reasons of nature versus nurture (or perhaps a little of both) will always be hotly debated.

As I grew older and went through high school, I continued to get into trouble constantly. Grades were failing which caused further problems with my parents. My personal and social life was in shambles and I became depressed and further isolated. Kids were being mean. At a certain point, one day I woke up and said “screw it.” I had reached a point of having enough of trying to change who I was to be more like the other kids. I couldn’t change the shape of my eyes. No matter how I had my hair cut, I still couldn’t disguise my heritage. And if other kids wanted to point out these “flaws” through bullying or other means, then I was going to just let them and try to pretend to ignore their comments. As time passed and I stopped reacting, the harassment more or less stopped.

One day in 10th grade, I was sitting at a popular sidewalk hangout on Monroe Ave. with my friend Eric. A tall guy with a dog collar and a pink rooster mohawk walked past us. I blurted out, “what a freak.”

Eric turned around and looked me dead in the eyes and said, “no, you’re the freak.”

That was my moment of Zen and acceptance of my differences as well as those of others. It was quite ironically, this was one of the most liberating feelings.

This is similar to the famous children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Ugly Ducking” in which the “duck” one day realizes that he’s not a duck after all, and that he is actually a swan. It’s a story of identity crisis and the coming of age. It is a story that appeals to all of us over a hundred and fifty years later. There’s a reason why this story speaks to the very core of who we are as individuals.

Now, I’m not holding Limbaugh up on a pillar by any means. He probably couldn’t be any further opposite than I am when it comes to beliefs. I also view him as the puppet master of a bunch of stooges that hangs on his every word. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that he has a large following, and when he says something, he receives a lot of attention. He’s become successful financially. I’ve speculated that a lot of what he says is intentional – he knows exactly which buttons to push in order to achieve that notoriety. Whether or not he actually believes what he says is immaterial here – the fact is that he knew from a very young age that he was different – and he pursued his differences regardless of criticism to get to where he was headed. That is his defining personality.

This pattern also applies to many other famous people in society and not just him – whether it’s great thinkers that come up with new ideas, inventors that develop new concepts, musicians that create their own signature style, movie directors who want to try a different script, or painters that show things from a brand new perspective. At a certain point, they’re not afraid to “think out of the box” in the face of adversity. They question the rules and regulations which dictate how the norm should operate. Sometimes it’s a complete failure, other times people are destined for obscurity, and other times they make their way through the noise. If you play it safe, then expect standard results. Perhaps that’s humility. Perhaps that has more to do with caution. But if you are going to try something new, don’t be afraid to go ahead and do it regardless of what others have to say. After all, there’s really no harm in trying to think differently.