I didn't know it at the time, but our time in Greece marked the end of my childhood. By eleven I was struggling with real issues that are known to mark the teenage years. The desires of childhood were quickly being replaced by a deep feeling of alienation and cultural dislocation.
Psychologists refer to this as "Reverse Culture Shock". It is experienced by those who return to their own culture after having lived aboard. I cannot say what life would have been like had we not lived outside the US, but I can speak about the feeling of dislocation that I felt upon my return.
Who am I? What can I do? Why am I so different that everyone else? How can I fit in? How can I break free from the expectations that others place on me? It took me twenty years to answer these questions to my satisfaction. Now I have learned to celebrate the differences, but at eleven it was a source of great pain.
I have always known that I was very unique, and that this was part of my destiny in life. I am now learning to embrace that uniqueness and view it without judgment. I am not superior or inferior, just different from others.
I have lived my life as an alien in almost every group I have been a part of. Attempts to communicate how I think and feel have left me with a deep sense of disconnection from others. There are perhaps six people to get me at all and only my precious wife that truly understands me.
I have always been a part of several wonderful groups, each filled with people desiring meaningful relationships. Together we have lived life with purpose and meaning, and accomplished many mighty deeds worthy of song.
Family, Church, and Work have always been at the center of my life. I believe that relationships are critical. But my greatest sorrow is that in any group that I am in, I feel alienated and alone. This is directly related to the differences in how I think and feel. It is very difficult for me to understand others and for them to understand me.
Without this deep emotional bonding relationships always seem superficial and transactional to me. I like being around others but have difficultly trusting people. I don't believe that most people would try to actively hurt me, but I also don't believe that most people would sacrifice for my benefit.
I first noticed that I was different than others in sixth grade. I tried to do what normal kids would do but was unsuccessful. I tried to play sports and found it to be the most horrible experience of my school life. Competitive sports became equated with humiliation and shame and torture in my thinking and that idea has lasted to this day.
I struggled to explain why I didn't fit in. I was a fat kid and was also one of the smartest kids in the class which could explain why others felt either superior or inferior to me. But there were other kids that were either smart or fat that did fit in. These simple explanations did not seem to explain the differences that I was seeing.
I had spent fifth grade living in Greece and spoke Greek. There was no one else that had been out of the country. This experience did in fact give me a fundamentally different view of the world and politics. This was a time of race riots and war protests in which the government fired on its own citizens and supported racist laws and mass oppression. These events looked very different when viewed from oversees.
Americans were deeply divided along generational lines. Older people were seeking to preserve the way of life that they knew and the power that the status quo gave them. Younger generations viewed this as form of immorality and were intent on disruption. Not everyone was in each generation was completely the same, but there was a very strong bias to think a certain way. Most people were deeply committed to the generational mandate and did not cross the generational gap.
Sixth graders are almost certain to represent the views of their parents. So the natural philosophy of my classmates was on the side of the conservatives, whose motto was "America, Love it or Leave it!" The liberal slogan of the time was "Hell No, We Won't Go". Even from the age of 10 I have never taken my cues from my peers. I had a deep belief in my own judgment to form my own opinions. From early on the contrarian and rebel attitudes where my defining identity.
At the time I attributed this disconnect to having a different life experience. Now I actually believe that it runs deeper than that. The views of my peers have little bearing on what I believe to be true. I am wired to be a contrarian and challenger to the prevailing group attitudes. Whether the group is family, church, work, or school I refuse to be pressured into thinking a certain way.
One of the most uncomfortable recurring experiences that occurred to me throughout middle school and high school was the dreaded "Prep Rally". We would gather in the gym and work up a religious fervor on behalf of the "Eagles" (and trash-talk the "Panthers", our mortal enemies). Years later this has been replaced with "Elephants" versus "Donkeys". I have a visceral reaction to blatant nationalism in any form.
Any situation that requires a particular way of thinking and feeling, is viewed with deep cynicism and resistance. These things appear to me as a sort of loyalty test, which asks, "Are you really one of us?" The answer to these tests for me is always, "Clearly, NO, but thank you for reminding me of that!"
Forcing me into a specific viewpoint or dogma and demanding adherence is taken as a hostile act and creates attitude of resistance. I will not allow others to impose their views of reality on me. Sometimes I hold this inside but often let my disagreement be known. Inevitably attempts at mind control alienate me from any group that I might otherwise feel aligned with.
Two of my strongest Enneagram profiles are "Type 8 - Challenger" and "Type 1 - Reformer". These types make me desire to shape the opinions of others while being immune to being shaped by others. This is not a learned behavior but one that is built into my genetic code.
Embracing this part of my human nature is recognizing that this trait is both a strength and weakness. My thinking is always fundamentally independent. I am seldom influenced by what others think, which produces both unique opportunity and risk. I will find allies on the journey but will always feel like an alien. I will journey with others as long as we move in the same direction but will part ways when the common ground is gone.
I will seek for deep relationships with a few people that I will trust with my life. I will treat all people with respect, especially when I disagree. I will learn to live with the tension of never feeling completely at home. I will seek to build a network of meaningful connections and tactical alliances with others that share my values. I will learn to accept limited influence over what others think, feel, say, and do.
I will be at peace with the way God made me and seek to have the best life possible.