Justin Kane Elder
Every one of us is unique and special in countless ways. There are no identical humans living or passed. Even twins have distinct personalities and traits, just as no two flowers are the same. Yet we are taught to fit in, lineup, and praised for following suit. Why is this? Why do we need to conform? When there are numerous examples of unlimited human potential. There are stories of people overcoming paralysis, disease, poverty, even blindness. We have traveled into outer space, combed the deepest depths of the ocean, and even begun to understand the molecular composition of the universe. Despite this, the notion of conformity persists and rules our culture. Not that conformity is wrong, but is it right to conform without question?
I was born with a perfectly circular birthmark on my forehead, right where my third eye is located. In some cultures, this would be considered a holy mark; in my society, it was a source of ridicule. My peer group would find endless ways to poke fun, mock, and belittle me for looking different. After years of perpetual abuse, my family started to notice a change in my behavior, instead of being the dreamy-eyed forest-child filled with wonder and excitement. I was beginning to isolate and withdraw from the world. After the loss of my best friend Monica, the situation accelerated. Sensing this change, my Ama asked me if I wanted to have my birthmark removed. Not even knowing this was an option, I considered how it would feel to be normal. I relished the idea of fitting in and quickly accepted her offer.
The procedure was quick and painless, leaving me with a small indiscreet scar on my forehead. Once I returned to school, I was quickly accepted as “one of the boys,” and my days of being an outcast faded behind me. After a few years of being part of the “it” crowd, I started to understand it’s superficiality. No one cared about each other, only themselves. They were hollow, empty, and only concerned with the surface of their lives. Which felt counterintuitive and wrong to me, so I began to reject their ways and seek something different. This search brought me to many paths that would slowly become the foundation of my individuality. I found skateboarding, which led me to snowboarding and eventually surfing. All of which celebrated an alternative lifestyle to the popular 9 to 5 culture surrounding me.
It wasn’t until years later that I understood my regret for removing my birthmark and that my many ways of being different were just an attempt to regain something I was born with. After coming to this realization, I stopped seeking alternatives and became comfortable with who I was. No longer bound to the limiting belief structure that is popular culture. I understood that when we embrace our individuality, we can bring our true voice to bear upon the world, a voice that speaks the inner truth of how we as individuals make the community better by providing freely of our gifts. For only by giving do you receive the gift that is given.
Make proud the mask that is your birth.