When I did English Language at college, we learnt how each person has their own language, or idiolect. These are the words and phrases that are personal to you as an individual. I have a friend who describes everything as “really great” and another who pronounces penguin incorrectly – these things are part of their idiolects, and go some way to making them who they are. It’s a beautiful thing, part of what makes you special, but not everyone is proud to show off their personal way with words.
We all also have what’s known as a sociolect; the way we talk when we’re in certain groups. You might make a few rude jokes with your friends in the pub, for example, but your language is a lot more polite when you’re with your grandparents. The words you use may be a lot more negative when you’re complaining with your colleagues, but more upbeat when you’re chatting with people after church. Even though we each have our own language, our own idiolect and way of communicating, we adapt depending on who we’re with. It seems that, right down to the very words we choose to say, we’re all just desperate to fit in.
I think I’ve mentioned already that I was not one of the cool kids at school. I was a nerd, I was socially awkward and I just didn’t fit in – but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Whatever my “friends” were into, I would try and be into that too. Whatever they were doing, I would join in regardless of whether I actually wanted to or not. And whatever they said would become part of my language too. The problem was, it didn’t work.
I remember in middle school a lot of the cool kids swore a lot. I personally don’t like overuse of a swear word (partly because my Mother raised me right, and partly because I think swearing is just lazy shorthand when you can’t think of a better adjective). But with these kids, I upped my cussing game. For every noun, I added three foul-mouthed adjectives. But one day another kid turned to me and said, “Chloe! Will you just stop swearing all the time?” I thought I had learnt the rules of being cool. I thought I had tricked them into thinking I was one of them but they saw right through me – I was a nerd in sheep’s clothing, and everyone knew it.
When we feel insecure, we try and change who we are in an attempt to hide those insecurities. If we’re secretly quite shy we might overcompensate by being really loud and brazen. If we’re worried people think we’re boring we might crack a lot of jokes. We wear a mask to hide our flaws, not realising that people are not only well aware of the mask, but that’s the thing they find irritating. And while we shouldn’t try and change who we are because we were fearfully and wonderfully made – and we should celebrate and embrace all of what God made us to be – there’s another reason we shouldn’t try too hard to fit in with everyone else: we aren’t fooling anyone.
Think of someone you know who always does something really annoying; the know-it-all who starts every sentence with, “Well, actually…”; the friend who apologises for every little thing; the misogynist whose aim in life is to be the biggest “lad” he can. We get annoyed at people for these irritating behaviours, but often they’re acting this way in an attempt to be less annoying. They’re insecure about something and trying to cover it up, but they’re only making us dislike them all the more in the process.
Does this know-it-all person really think he’s better than you, or does he worry that he doesn’t have anything to offer in conversation and so learns a load of facts to try and seem interesting? Your friend apologises all the time for getting in the way and bothering people, not realising that the constant apologising is the very thing that is bothersome. And, I promise you, most of the biggest “lads” you know are the men who are the most insecure in their masculinity, and are overcompensating to make up for it.
I’ve noticed that the more I’ve given up trying to be “cool” and just been myself, the less annoying people think I am. When we accept who we are, when we embrace our little quirks and idiolects and ways of being, other people accept who we are. People can tell when we’re pretending, and it’s the pretending that gets on their nerves more than anyhing else. But when we’re genuine and authentic we connect with others on a deep level, because it’s refreshing to spend time with someone who isn’t trying to be something they’re not. We spend so much of our lives trying to be somebody else, and not only is that incredibly sad – it’s also pointless.
So, my friend, be yourself. Be the wonderful weirdo you were made to be. Live your life in the way that only you can. And when other people rub you up the wrong way, remember that they’re probably just trying to hide a massive insecurity and doing a bad job of it. They’re human, we’re human, and when we cultivate a culture of honesty and authenticity with each other – when we remind those around us that it’s OK to be ourselves – we realise that not only are we not as annoying as we thought we were; we’re actually pretty flipping wonderful.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti