By Definition

A good friend of mine made a facebook post on December 5th, asking people's opinions on two questions. She specifically tagged me, asking my thoughts. I had to mull on it for a while, but I felt like my thoughts were important enough that I didn't want to share with just her.

I've discoursed before on bullying in other forums, including my experience when she invited to go visit the kids in detention with her. Knowing that she's going to weigh heavily my response and have it help shape her discourse with them made me feel like these next words would be even more important.

The questions to consider
#1-- What is the difference between "unique" and "odd"?
#2-- What makes someone an "original" or a "freak"?

Alot of people gave the standard, sort of knee-jerk reaction answers. Two of the words are how we define ourselves and help build us up, while the others are negatives other label us with to tear us down. That sort of thing.

But I disagree. Like, almost completely. It's not that simple. I wasn't vocal about it either, because she's one of the few people who remains in my life from a more conservative background than I can generally stand to associate with. So I wasn't sure how her friend-base would take to my truths. In short, I was scared to have a different opinion. I didn't want to be "odd." Not their label, but my own perception of them and how they would label. Those are different in nuanced ways.

I'm getting away from myself before I've even started. Stop. Step back.

Let's start with question one. Difference between two words. I'd have to argue that the difference is that the words practically aren't even related. Unique and odd don't even fall along the same parallel in my mind.

Miriam Webster defines UNIQUE as "very special or unusual" and "belonging to or connected with only one particular thing, place, or person." Furthermore, it states "being the only one" and "being without a like or equal." "Unique." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. .

ODD is defined as "strange or unusual," "different from what is normal or expected," and "happening in a way that is not planned or regular." Additionally, "being without a corresponding mate" or "differing markedly from the usual or ordinary or accepted." "Odd." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. .

Let's break it down. To me these words are very, very disparate. Unique to me denotes something singular, almost anomalous. There is no replica, no duplicate, nothing like it. Unique stands on its own, apart. Odd reflects un-same, but it still ties to the greater whole. It relates, it can be measured against something else, it still has place, even if that place is apart. There can be more than odd. People can be odd in the exact same way. This isn't attainable with uniqueness. Once you achieve any level of sameness in the realm of unique, the realm has been lost. The landscape has morphed and changed, and unique has broken.

That said, labels are not mutually exclusive. I could have an entire other super long deconstruction post on labels, but I won't for the sake of brevity and focus. I acknowledge that there is some overlap. I'm not saying these are completely, wholly unrelatable terms. Just that the relation is not as strong as many people make it out to be. You can push the boundaries of odd until it becomes unique, but there's a point where once you've transcended to unique, you have to abandon odd. They can't exist at the same time. I don't know that I can illustrate just where that point is, but it is.

I also don't think it's relevant to delve into the attachment of values to these words. Yes, most people see unique as a positive, but what about those of us who that being unique creates an uncrossable chasm of separation from everyone else? And so it isolates and hurts us more than it helps? That's a pretty lonely way to look at unique. And most people would call odd a negative, but what about those who see "odd" in a different light as something that sets them apart, keeps them with but away from the masses, and thus take strength from embracing the label? Some of my oddities are my favorite qualities about myself.

The second question to me hinges on the word "makes." What makes... warrants a foray into definition, perception, self-labeling, and group-labeling. I don't know that I have the time and energy to go deep into all that. It can get messy, and philosophical, and aporetic very quickly. Yup, cop-out. So let's stick to the words themselves for now. Original is is understood as "[A] document, film, painting, etc., which is created by someone and from which a copy or translation is made" and "a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way." Likewise, "a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity." "Original." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. .

Most of the responders to my friend squashed original and unique into an impossible box of co-existence. Original much more closely relates to odd than it does to unique. Original denotes a copy has been formed from it. Original is comparative in nature, just like odd. It is separate, but relatable to the whole. Again, it cannot occupy the same space as unique, just like odd couldn't. Because of their inherent ties to others, they annihilate the possibility of the existence of uniqueness.

Freak is characterized as "a sudden and odd or seemingly pointless idea or turn of the mind," "a seemingly capricious action or event." Also, "archaic: a whimsical quality or disposition" and "one that is markedly unusual or abnormal." "Freak." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. . Even this word that seems to be generally associated with negativity and harmful connotations requires further scrutiny. The same advocacy I've given to odd can be applied to freak. Some people love the word freak, cherish it, and let their "freak flag fly." Another Merriam definition includes the word "hippie" and not everyone considers hippieism a bad thing.

I think really there are myriad reasons and arguments that can be applied to these terms to shade them one way or another. And really, when you throw them all in a pot and boil away everything, that shading is the only thing that remains. I guess we're having the conversation anyway, though I'll keep it brief. Making is an action word, it involves doing, energy, effort. What makes someone these things is action. From themselves or someone else. These words are all lifeless and unimportant until we pick them up and start to paint with them. We can color them with our emotions, biases, and experiences. We can paint ourselves and we can paint others. But in the end, that's what it will always come back to. These terms can be fluid, argued, attached and discarded like fashionable or horrific accessories.

When I went to detention with her before, the lesson was all about showing them they could be in charge of what labels stuck to them and which ones didn't. These words are no different. Words have power, and so do we. To accept, to mold, to change, to heal, to hurt. Power is all around us. We can imbue words with that power, or we can choose to let them bounce off us like harmless drops of water. When you take a step back from language, the way we use it, the ways others use it, and trace back the power there to the wall plug, we find only one thing driving all our interactions, classifications, and understandings.


If you want to use those words to empower yourself, by all means do so. Thrive and prosper. Be odd, be a freak, but be great while you are. If you use them to hurt yourself, tear yourself down, or as self-torture, you should stop. You should seek help. You should find a way to move past that. There's enough already out there that will try and smash you to dust... you don't need to help the process along. If you find yourself using these terms to hurt others, or build yourself up by separating them out and holding them beneath you, you need to stop. You're damaging. And you're part of a larger problem. Flippancy and thoughtlessness are rampant, and the use of words in this way are some of the dark heart of bullying. When I didn't know how to protect myself, I came away bloodied and bruised. I can't even count how many times. I was surprised when after seeing the documentary "BULLY" with friends how unlike their experiences that movie had been. I was shocked actually. Because that was my reality, and my normal. Whenever someone else uses chooses to use their power to make their words weapons, often to try and tear you down in a feeble attempt to bolster themselves, I admonish you to hold fast to the words of David Brinkley:
A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.

Bullying is difficult, terrible, and exacts a toll. But you can move past, move up, and find strength in broken places.

Having lived in broken spaces, imprisoned in cages built by other people's words and perceptions painted onto me for many years, I now try and live in a way that is as embracing as possible of all terms and language, underlining them with the intent and power of building, helping, and healing. Really, I just try not to get hung up on labels at all. I'd sooner just wash away all the labels that get thrown at me and just BE.

Define me with all your words
Then find me a lesson to be learned
Try to brand me or burn me and I won't let it hurt me

Define me as what I am
Then try me as just a simple man
I’m no harm to you, I’m just doing the best I can

And if I’m defined by what I do
Then what am I supposed to call you
The shadow of a broken past you abused

And if I can stand on my two feet
I’ll break the wall where we will meet
I’ll document our combination for you

We’re starting this party tonight
Where people will be undefined
And love who they want, when the judgment is done
And won’t have to hide

We’re starting this party right now
Where people can shake off their doubts
And send out their love as it moves through the crowd
And people can shout

That they love a man
Or they love a woman
And no one will be judged for love
And I can’t be judged for who I am

Define me with broad clich├ęs
But I won’t undergo any hate for a stranger’s mistakes
I’ve struggled through the boundaries of society’s needs
And now I’m not trying to please
It’s freeing

Define me as God’s child
I am human and we’re all in the wild
This Earth is as much mine as yours in the end
So let’s unite as friends

But if I can lie in nature’s bed
Without the roses killing me dead
I think the Earth has got a point
And we’re a moving joint

And if I can say my prayers at night
I think I’m doing something right
Let’s open up a song of safety
And carry through the night

We’re starting this party tonight
Where people will be undefined
And love who they want, when the judgment is done
And won’t have to hide

We’re starting this party right here
Where people will shake off fears
And mass tolerance is replaced with resistance
And everyone cheers

That they love a man
Or they love a woman
And no one will be judged for love
And I can’t be judged for who I am


Praveen RS said…
I like your blog and ur post very much
Very nice post

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