I have often been curious how some people attract strange folks. Maybe I’m the strangest of them all hehe. What do I mean by strange? folks who stand out for one reason or another in their places of work, neighbourhoods or just by how they do life. And standing out, in this case, is perceived to be negative. People who have a consistent contrary opinion or do things a certain way that’s not common or popular. I’m sure we all could list folks we know who fit this description. Maybe we are those folks ourselves hehe.
Some of the weird people I know are surprisingly thriving in their occupations and lives in general. As humans, we tend to stick to those who are like us. Folks with whom we share similar outlooks and values on life. That gives us comfort because such people will see what we see and tend to agree with our views most of the time. While that may be a good thing I wonder if our environment (read friends) can keep us from exploring what else could be out there. Different is good also.
Richard Templar says in his book, The Rules of People, “that some weirdos are great people”. He goes on to say, “we are all pretty conventional as a social species. We like what we know and feel safe with what we know. When we meet someone new we pigeonhole them right away based on how they appear or behave.”
While that may be human nature I think I have missed out on a lot of good interactions with folks who crossed my path but sadly didn’t pass my narrow marking scheme. I have to find a way to continuously manage (if not suppress) my biases. Whenever we dismiss someone on flimsy grounds then it’s our loss I think. That person might just have been the one to open us up to a new way of thinking that would elevate us to new heights.
That was my experience last Saturday. I joined a small group on a hike to Kereita forest in the Aberdares. It was a chilly morning but we hacked it. For once the summit of this hike was inverted. we were to reach the waterfalls at the bottom of the forest as our climax. Go down then back up. There was this mzungu lady in shorts. She stood out quite a bit. With all the cold we were feeling then to see someone in shorts, I quickly pigeonholed her as crazy.
She was quite fit and was our team Subaru (hikers who summit and return before everyone else). She wasn’t feeling as cold because she probably was born and brought up in a much colder part of the world. We didn’t speak much initially but got paired up in a second part of the hike with a different group. She became chatty (again I pigeon-holed her as opinionated) as we waded through the slender paths in the thick vegetation.
Somehow I managed to reduce the internal volume in my head and just listen to her stories. I picked that she’s very impatient (her words) and lives life with urgency. I found her frustrations hilarious when she narrated how on her previous hike at Eburu forest she summitted an hour before everyone else. The fact that she had to wait an hour for guys to catch up drove her nuts. We all have different capabilities so some grace should be dished out here, I told her. She agreed with a rider suggesting that people should be grouped according to their abilities. Not sure how that can be done.
Away from hiking, we discussed how we can add value to the club where we are both members. I was surprised when she mentioned that she had been asked to serve on some committee and give her input. Her strong opinions were noticed despite her impatience. I tend to think it’s her heightened self-awareness that makes her stand out. She shocked me further when she told me that she offered to help the chef at the club improve the food they make, especially Italian dishes since she’s originally from Milan. And all this for free. That’s a good person right there, I thought. We need more doers than talkers in the world.
A conversation with a Kenyan cannot be complete without talking about politics. So we touched on that at the end of our hike and proceeded to have tea together at a nearby restaurant. And just like that, someone who started as a weirdo became my friend. I even paid for her tea just to reinforce our new friendship hehe. When I look back I think talking less in my mind and mouth gave her a chance. As a result, I got to see beyond my biases. She was more comfortable in her skin than I am so that encounter was a good challenge for me.
Were there people much like me on that hike? absolutely. But I’m glad to have spent the time with this kickboxer lady (yes she does that too). She was being herself in this (and I’m sure every other) situation. That was my challenge of the day. Her life seemed to have more colour than many conventional folks I know, including mine.
Folks may we stop avoiding people who we can’t click. Or those who seem quite different from us. Instead of buying into stereotypes or labels put on others by society, let’s get out of our comfort zones and give them a chance. We may just discover that we are the weird ones and get enriched by those interactions. My learning last weekend was to work on being myself in every situation. How liberating is that?