Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't forget the "odd" ones

This is the second in a series of articles dedicated to school-going kids, written for the GUYS AND GIRLS section of Ceylon Today.

There once was a boy who rarely talked. He used to bring newspapers and novels to school. He had his favourites. Sherlock Holmes, for one thing. He loved to read Sinhala translations of ghost stories. But everyone ignored him. They didn't read. Didn't like to. So this boy used to go to a corner and sit there, all by himself. Same story in his van. Didn't talk much. The others never disturbed him, and never even wanted to speak with him. They thought he was arrogant and proud. So they used to make fun of him. They put him aside as a strange kid, someone to joke about. He didn't cry, of course. He was smart. He went on reading, went on writing, until one day a new student to his class befriended him. He was happy. The others didn't matter to him anymore.

I met him some time back. It didn't take long to understand how intelligent he was. He had a wide eye for anything and everything that passed him. He could remember things easily. No, he wasn't brilliant at his tests. But outside school, in what he talked, what he read, and what he watched, he had a lot to think about. Problem was, no one was willing to listen to him. So he did what you and I would have done in his place. He began to think to himself and be more independent. He created a world for himself in his mind, which only those who were really interested in what he liked could enter. He shared that world with me. A lot. He was special, this boy. Very special.

Have you met him? You would have, in your school or pretty much anywhere else. There are others like him. They are special. They come under different names. Some call them "nerds". Some call them "oddballs". Not all of them are brilliant, of course. They don't always get great marks. More often than not, however, they are "special". They don't talk much, for one thing. This isn't because they have nothing to talk about. This is because the things most others talk about are useless and boring to them. Yes, boring. Take one simple topic you talk about everyday. Take a sport. Everyone loves cricket. And cricket players. They talk endlessly about scores, statistics, and match-predictions (the "who'll win or lose" question). Do you think everyone you talk with will be interested in them?

It all comes down to one thing: popularity. Cricket is popular. Kids love the game. They play it. It's only natural that they talk about it. Everyday. So yes, almost everyone you talk to will be interested in it.

Now let's take another topic. Take "books". Who'll be interested in them? Not everyone. And there's nothing wrong in that. If everyone in this world loved reading and hated cricket, it would be very dull to be in. So those who talk about books are less, much less, than those who talk about the upcoming World Cup. That's natural. What would you prefer, cricket or reading? Not too difficult to answer now, is it?

Let's think about this a little more. Everyone talks about cricket. Or do they? And if they do, what about those who don't like the game? Or those who get bored by it? What do they do? What kind of things are they interested in? Would you like to sit next to them in your class and talk about what they like? Or would you rather sit by your own "set" and talk about the things you like?

The point is this: some of your friends may not like what you do. You may like what most of your other friends do. Those who get bored with talking to you, who want to go into their own little worlds, who have their interests and hobbies (which you hate), can be left behind. You may sometimes ignore them. That's when they decide to sit somewhere else and think to themselves. Yes, they can be very intelligent in this. More than some of your other friends. "But," you may think, "if he can't talk with me about the things I play or do, what's the point?"

This is the wrong way to look at them, to be honest. A better way would be to think: "If he's so alone all the time, there must be something special in him". After all, not everyone likes reading, right? So it's only natural that not everyone will like cricket. Those who dislike cricket, however, are far less (far, far less) than those who dislike books. Because of this, those who don't talk about cricket or any other "popular" topic can be left out. They shouldn't. If this world only had people talking about the sort of things you are passionate about, it would be just as dull as a world which didn't have the things you talk about, wouldn't it?

So think a little. Don't always shrug off those one or two "special" friends who don't like to gossip. Befriend them. You'll find them refreshing, even interesting, to talk with. You'll find yourself briefly taken away from what you usually like. You'll meet other things to become interested in. And, at the end of the day, perhaps you'll be a more enlightened, more intelligent person than you would be if you were to ignore that friend and sit with your usual "gang". Isn't that what life should be about, after all? Looking for new things to try out and think about, instead of sticking with what you usually like?

Written for: Ceylon Today GUYS AND GIRLS, November 30 2014