3 Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd

Kindness, Character and Authenticity

When I transitioned from elementary school to middle school, I made lots of new friends. While I appreciated them and felt more comfortable with them than anyone before, I was still troubled by the fact that I was growing apart from the people I had been friends with earlier in life. We were heading in different directions – our interests differed, and our attitudes and personalities didn’t mesh well anymore.

During my years in middle school, I started struggling with the desire to be popular – to maintain my new friendships and rekindle old ones so I would have more friends (the number seemed important). I would have done just about anything to reconnect with my former friends. I’m not proud of what I did.

There was a boy in many of our classes – we’ll call him Andre – who was often the butt of the joke among my former friends. His family wasn’t from this country, and he had a foreign name. He was also a reserved type – a gentle person on the quiet side. My former friends made fun of him for being different. Wanting to be liked and accepted by these people, it seemed like a no-brainer to jump on the bandwagon and make fun of Andre as well. If I could make people laugh, they would want to be around me. They would like me, and I could have both my old and new friends.

There was tension between me with my old friends and me with my new friends; I could be myself with the new group, but not the old one. Sometimes there’s a difference between fitting in and being where we want to be. Rather than acknowledging when I was not where I wanted to be, I kept playing the chameleon. I ran the risk of jeopardizing my good friendships in this way.

I teased Andre for quite some time, and I made sure that the people around me heard all my jokes at his expense. They did, and they laughed. I never felt good about treating Andre this way, because I knew he didn’t deserve it. But it was fairly easy for me to ignore my own judgment when my “friends” were laughing. Then one day, Andre said something that completely changed the way I treated others.

And then It Happened

We were sitting in social studies class (I was in the 8th grade at this point), and I heard Andre and another boy a few rows back whispering. The other boy asked Andre who he thought was prettier – me or my (newer) friend, whom we’ll call Jenn, who was sitting next to me. After a moment of thought, Andre responded that he thought Jenn was prettier. I was very hurt, and I flung around to inform him that I’d heard everything he said.

Andre’s face changed; he felt bad despite how poorly I’d treated him all this time. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but she’s always been nice to me.”

That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t talking about our appearance; he was talking about who we were as people. My friend Jenn was a prettier human being because she treated people kindly and with respect. I was an ugly human being because I did not. I knew he was right. I felt it, and my own judgment that I’d been ignoring came welling up and gushing forth. I needed him to echo my own conscience in order for me to start listening to it.

Andre changed my life. He taught me a lot of lessons in that one sentence, ones I’ve tried to keep in mind and pay forward throughout my life. This article is my way of passing his lessons on.

1. Be Authentic

Identity is a tricky thing. It’s hard to get a grasp on who we are, particularly when we’re young. We’re always becoming who we are, and the choices we make are a substantial contributor to who that person is.

The path of least resistance when making choices that shape our identities is to go along with what those around us are doing. But since our choices define us, we’re not becoming our own person when we do so, we are drifting along, become like everyone else.

That’s what I did when I tried to regain friendships by mimicking other people’s behavior. I wanted to feel liked and accepted, and it didn’t matter if it was really me that they liked or some version of themselves that I was acting out. I was borrowing their postures and ideas. Rather than asking who and how I wanted to be, I asked what would make others like “me.” Instead of doing the work of developing my own ideas and postures – standing out – I fell in line with those around me. It took Andre’s honest words to point me in a different direction, and I’m eternally grateful to him for that. 

2. Focus on Your Own Character

Going along with others blindly wasn’t the only sense in which I took the easy path. The way in which I went along with them – by cutting another person down to lift myself up – was a very lazy, not to mention immoral, method of boosting my social status.

In a sense, making fun of Andre made me feel like I was one of the cool kids, because I was on the dominant side of things (the one making fun rather than being made fun of). It can be tempting, particularly when you’re young and just beginning the work of becoming who you are, to attempt to solidify your own worth by treating someone else as though he or she is beneath you.

Cutting another person down doesn’t lift you up, though. When we try to feel better about ourselves by this approach, we’re doing it all wrong. Rather than looking to our own actions and choices to establish our worth, we’re shifting the focus to someone else. You’ll never make efforts to develop and improve yourself unless you shift the focus back to yourself. Andre helped me do that; he pointed out that a person’s inner attractiveness is determined by his or her own actions and behavior, not a comparison to someone else.

3. Be Kind

I was not choosing and acting like the individual I am when I mistreated Andre. I did it because others were doing it. Every time I made fun of him, my heart and head were out of alignment with my mouth because I ignored my own judgment and feelings about my words.

I started acting like an individual when I chose to realign my conscience and my treatment of others. The boy I’d been so mean to did me one of the biggest favors possible: He turned me back toward myself. He helped me listen to myself again. Andre pointed me to the “road less travelled” – a harder and more demanding route to go down, but one I wouldn’t trade for smooth sailing and a lack of authenticity.

Andre also helped me to understand that the way we treat others is a very important part of our character. At such a young age, he had the insight to understand that what makes a person beautiful is his or her character, not how they look. He not only turned me back toward myself, but inspired me to examine who that person was, how I wanted her to become and what I could do to make myself a prettier human being.

Become a "Prettier" Human Being

It’s not easy for me to think about myself during the time that I mistreated Andre. That’s because I now believe wholeheartedly that no human being is inherently more worthy than another. We all have dignity – rooted in our power to affect the world and our potential to become who and how we want to be. Every individual has something special about him or her that deserves our respect – interests, values and a unique perspective on the world. We can make ourselves more worthy of others’ time, energy and respect by our actions – one of which is treating others with the basic respect they deserve.

What I wanted from my former group of friends was not respect, but cheap laughs and attention. Andre’s words made me think about whom I wanted respect from: First, from myself, and then, from pretty human beings like my friend Jenn, and from Andre himself. I wanted my character to be appreciated. I began working toward becoming a prettier human being myself by treating others with the respect they deserve.

There have been several hiccups, mistakes, downfalls and obstacles along my path to prettier humanity. I did not achieve it overnight, and it’s still a work in progress. But I know that my character is stronger now than it was when I mistreated others. We can all find ways to be a little kinder. I encourage you to think about Andre’s words and the many lessons they have to offer. Don’t just be who you are today; work toward becoming better tomorrow, and the day after.

It Starts with You

Making the change to be a kinder person is an excellent choice. You can also work to create a kinder world around you as well. Andre did this, whether he meant to or not, by pointing out to someone that character is more valuable than the number of friends one has or the amount of laughter he or she gets at someone else’s expense. Sometimes it takes another person’s insight to help us get on a good track. In whatever way you choose to do so, consider pointing out to people that kindness is far more meaningful than cheap laughs…that acting with kindness – instead of cutting someone else down – is a much better way to live.

Don’t be discouraged if people don’t change or respond gratefully to your words. Ten years went by before I tracked Andre down to thank him for all he’d done for me; in some cases, that gratitude never comes. You’re planting a seed by making the choice to show more kindness in the way you treat others, and any time you speak on behalf of kindness over cruelty; your friends can choose either to ignore or to cultivate that example and that message within themselves. You won’t always know the impact you have on another person, but you can be proud that you did your part to make the world a kinder place.

Written by Amée LaTour

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Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle