According to my Arab traditional heritage, there are three things which are impossible to exist: the ghoul, the phoenix and an unconditionally loyal friend. If I were to add a fourth item, that would be the existence of two people who are typical in every aspect possible on this planet. Even identical twins are never identical characters; they might be replicas of each other in terms of looks, but no two people, no matter how much they resemble each other or think alike, share the exact same ideas, interests, ideologies, tastes, etc. If they share any of these, they are bound to be different when it comes to other aspects. However, even though difference between people is a fact of life, people living in a certain community tend to view a person who thinks or behaves differently from the rest of the community with suspicion, or they might even view such a person as a freak.

One possible explanation for viewing a different person as such is that the people around them feel that this person constitutes a threat to the system of life they, and their ancestors, have been adopting for ages. Many people by nature feel secure within the confinements of their traditions and system of beliefs. Therefore, when a person is not following in the same footsteps, they feel threatened as this shakes their long-held beliefs while human beings, by nature, feel a sense of security in clinging to such beliefs. I remember that almost everybody I knew was totally and completely against my decision of joining the humanities section, rather than the science section, in high school, the preparatory stage for college. In my society, you become a doctor (that is a physician, dentist, or pharmacist), an engineer or a disgrace to the family. The very idea of joining the Faculty of Arts and studying English language and literature, my eternal passion, was shocking for almost everyone around me, and for me, it was amazing how they all kept repeating, as if reading from the same book, “You’re good, and you can become a doctor or an engineer, so why should you ruin your future and join the Faculty of Arts?” The very simple answer I had back then is that I can’t deny the importance of medicine and engineering, but I hate science like hell while I’m so passionate about learning languages and literature. I was insulted in every way possible by almost everyone (except my dad) as if I had decided to convert to another religion. They behaved as if their firm beliefs were mercilessly shaken, and they were only convinced I had taken the right decision after I obtained my PhD degree. I was terrifying to them simply because I was trying to be different.

Another reason for adopting a hostile attitude towards a person who tries to be different is that many people are not in fact happy with their lives, and they cannot admit it. Attacking a person who is different in this case comes as a defense mechanism that makes the attacker feel good about himself/herself when he/she attacks someone who has decided to ignore the mainstream system of behaviour, especially if that person’s difference has resulted in him/ her becoming happy or successful. The way marriage is viewed in my own society is a clear case in point. When a girl reaches marriageable age, almost everyone (i.e. every woman) in the family tries to find a suitor for her. If the years pass without this girl getting married, she is “bullied” by society, especially her relatives (i.e. female relatives), in the literal sense of the word. They start treating her as a pathetic being worthy of pity as well as a good material for gossip (i.e. the ugly spinster), and the attack becomes much fiercer if the girl has succeeded in establishing a career or is enjoying her life some way or another. The irony about that stems from the fact that most (“most” and not “all” of course) of these women are, in fact, leading a miserable marital life in which they are subject to domestic violence (whether physical or verbal), and they are denied divorce either because their husbands do not approve of it or in order to avoid being social outcasts, for divorce remains a stigma for life in many societies. Such people do not realize that their attack on a girl who has not yet got married is more of a defense mechanism; it is as if she should suffer as much as they have, so they cannot tolerate her being different.

People might also exert tremendous effort to make a person feel bad about himself/herself for being different simply because the society lacks the culture of encouragement. Everybody has their own share of problems, and hence many negative feelings. These negative feelings are sometime projected in the way a person is dealing with another who insists on being different. The desire to learn to play music or travel on a trip or buy a “trivial” thing for a relatively big sum of money is always received as a sign of immaturity, and a person showing such a desire is always mocked or even severely rebuked. In fact, the desire to do something unusual does not necessarily entail harm done to others or hidden evil intentions. People’s violent reactions to such desires might be analyzed as reflecting of their bitterness towards a routine life and their inability to break free from the shackles confining them to a set of activities they mechanically do on a daily basis. They seem to think subconsciously, we’re not happy with our boring routine, so why should you be?

To put it in a nutshell, adopting a certain lifestyle or taking a certain decision to please others can be described using one word: a folly. You’d never be able to please everyone around you, and if you do, that will be at the expense of your own happiness and success. You’re likely to be attacked if you try to be different because for some people you become either scary or a source of envy. Forget about people. Follow your own passion. Follow your own heart. You’ll find them waiting for you to lead you to happiness and success at the corner of the road less traveled by.