How to Truly “Be Different”

What is now truly different is the old way of doing things; rebellion has become a rather drab and uniform affair of everyone being “different” in essentially the same rainbow way.

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It’s funny to be writing this on a typewriter; but truly, I think there is a great deal to be said for the slogan “be different.” Pope Francis infamously told a World Youth Day audience to “make a mess,” and that is exactly what I’ve been doing with this typewriter for the past thirty minutes.

Spurred on by an editorial in the latest issue of The European Conservative, I have been marveling at the paradox we have arrived at: the new “normal” of the untethered radical Left is the result of their being different. What is now truly different is the old way of doing things; rebellion has become a rather drab and uniform affair of everyone being “different” in essentially the same rainbow way—all the while professing their diversity.

Similarity and difference dance together in a delicate balance which is necessary to every friendship, marriage, and community. One has to have enough in common to relate to the other, yet enough that is dissimilar to make a fruitful and interesting meeting. Yet the difference must not be so radical that complete incompatibility exists.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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Pouring oil into oil doesn’t make a dressing; but pouring vinegar into oil does; and pouring vinegar into baking soda makes an explosion. Perhaps more lessons could be learned from exploring the condiments on our shelves, but for the time being let’s explore the contents of ourselves instead.

Have we become sufficiently different (in the modern sense) that we are much too similar to everyone else? Are we allowing the drab (even when rainbow) relativism of our postmodern, consumerist America to catch up with us? 

When was the last time we were not entertaining ourselves by scrolling? When was the last time we cooked a meal from scratch? When was the last time we swam in non-chlorinated water?

I fear most of us are becoming homogenized fat. Symptoms include:

  • Forgetting what natural fruit juice tastes like
  • Reaching for our phone within the first few minutes of waking up  
  • Only quoting movies, not books
  • Forgetting that fried chicken nuggets were once live animals
  • Forgetting that the current pontiff is a controversial figure
  • Not thinking of “having kids” and “having sex” as two sides of the same coin
  • Not knowing what the word esoteric means
  • Thinking of walking to work as inconvenient
  • Not batting an eye when you realize work is so far away that you can’t walk to work
  • Putting prayer off for tomorrow…or better yet, the weekend

Someone in this state is well on the way to having eyes but not seeing, etc. In its terminal form, patients tend to exhibit the following characteristics: 

  • An inability to fit adventure into their schedule
  • Hardening of the imagination, which becomes infertile
  • Wondering where the brightness settings for the sun are
  • Believing that money is life’s most precious commodity
  • Not using their free will because they’ve forgotten it exists
  • Believing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  • Wondering when the rest of the world will catch up to the Amazonian dream
  • No longer caring that their phone controls their life
  • Thinking more about their investments than anything else
  • Chronic forgetfulness of God
  • Inability to let the sound of a concerto or symphony wash over them and echo over the ocean vastness of their soul

If you’re like me, you’ll find this a horrible fate. And you’ll probably also see the presence of worryingly similar symptoms in yourself. And you’ll want to know what to do about it.

I think the secret lies in a little term hidden in the list above: free will. A story is told of Thomas Aquinas. One of his siblings asked how she might become holy. He responded with a single word: velle. Will it. I do not think Aquinas was a voluntarist. But this anecdote conveys an important truth: although some may do violence to us, very few things happen that we do not want. Life may not be exactly as we wish, but we often have more control over its arc than our slothfulness leads us to believe. Life may not be exactly as we wish, but we often have more control over its arc than our slothfulness leads us to believe.Tweet This

If we don’t want to become homogenized fat, the first thing to do is just that: not want to be it. And then we need to get off our homogenized behinds and start doing something about it. Common rehab programs include the following (physician recommended):

  • Listening to upward of five hours of classical music per week
  • Smashing your smartphone and getting a flip phone instead
  • Learning to fish and eating what you catch
  • Praying the psalms daily
  • Reading The Lord of the Rings
  • Hiking twice a week
  • Learning to play an instrument
  • Memorizing poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Eating roadkill (the fresh stuff you’ve hit yourself)
  • Randomly reading books on natural history
  • Shopping at the thrift store
  • Knitting
  • Using a typewriter
  • Making soup from scratch, including boiling bones for broth

Patients who have followed this program report numerous long-term health benefits. Being different like this may result in:

  • Feeling addicted to fresh air
  • Renewed wonder, childlike in its saturation
  • Poetry flowing out of your fingers at inconvenient hours
  • Not knowing the movie quotes people are referencing
  • Choosing to do something slowly instead of quickly
  • Finding that rock music gets on your nerves
  • Not remembering that you’re missing your smartphone, because you aren’t
  • Wondering why life feels so good
  • Wishing there were real dragons to kill
  • Providing hospitality to friends and relations—and actually enjoying it!
  • Getting caught up in long and invigorating conversations
  • Spending more time with family
  • Finding the psalms your natural prayer

In case you think this is idealism, just earlier this evening I watched a friend take a hammer to his smartphone (there is no social media post about it, so you’ll have to take my word). If you need music recommendations, I’ve written about that elsewhere. If you need a recipe to cook your fish—I’ve got you covered. If you’re wondering what to do…but wait. 

Stop making excuses. Be the change you want to see. Be different. Do it. Velle.


  • Julian Kwasniewski

    Julian Kwasniewski is a musician specializing in renaissance Lute and vocal music, an artist and graphic designer, as well as marketing consultant for several Catholic companies. His writings have appeared in National Catholic Register, Latin Mass Magazine, OnePeterFive, and New Liturgical Movement. You can find some of his artwork on Etsy.

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