Presented by Erin Davey during a Cultural Identity Event on January 13, 2012 in Williston Northampton School’s Cox Room.
by Shel Silverstein
Small as a peanut
Big as a giant,
We’re all the same size
When we turn off the light.
Red black or orange,
Yellow or white
We all look the same
When we turn off the light.
So maybe the way
To make everything right
Is for God to just reach out
And turn off the light!
A favorite writer and philosopher of mine and so many others, Shel Silverstein, had his priorities aligned in such a fashion that one may not recognize where and when his most important life lessons were staring you in the face. On one page he speaks of a “Flying Festoon” while on another he speaks of a little boy and an old man conversing over their common troubles. How and when are we to understand or recognize when some of life’s most influential teachings are searching for us to find their meaning?
While lacking a persuasive religious analysis to Silverstein’s poem, No Difference, I can certainly speak to its ability to hold true in my life and even yours. While we are consistently faced with cultural conformity and societal norms, we are more often presented with difference. The only problem lies within our own abilities to not just acknowledge them but to appreciate them. I was once victim to such naivety.
To be different does not hold the words “strange” or “unusual” within its definition. It simply means, “not the same as another.” So why are we so terrified to be different? The fear of ostracism has forced our behavior to act according to plan when instead; we should be tackling what it is that makes difference beautiful.
I was once faced with a challenging situation during my junior and senior years on my ice hockey team in college. A teammate of mine—we’ll call her Megan—lived a very different lifestyle than mine. Born and raised in Kansas, she placed a lot of emphasis on her religion and her strong conservative beliefs. I on the other hand, have not practiced my Catholic religion since I was a kid and by force of definition, could be considered a very liberal person. Our lifestyles clashed and although we were teammates, we could not face each other’s differences. I could not understand why someone of her upbringing would want to be at a liberal arts college like Connecticut College, and she could not accept my lifestyle as an out lesbian.
Civility is expected of teammates in any setting, no matter their differences. However, there were multiple times during our practices where I did not feel safe. During competitive drills, Megan would use her strength and size to hit me, hard. While recognizing that hockey is a physical game, one that I have been a part of my whole life, I have never felt this kind of threatening attack especially from a teammate. On a consistent basis, Megan’s strength overpowered mine. If I tried to fight back, she’d hit me harder. My coach spoke with her several times about what she was doing on the ice and that if she were to do it in a game; she would be called for multiple penalties, and possibly, get kicked out of the game. Soon, my coach started to put the pieces together. Knowing who the two of us is on a personal level, my coach started to see that we didn’t get along due to lifestyle differences.
Although frightening at times and frankly, extremely confusing, I was not about to let this effect my role on the team as a player and a leader. My main thought was that I could not understand how one’s difference could affect someone so much to the point of anger. There are plenty of psychological inferences we could diagnose but this seemed deeper than that. Here I am, on the ice, one of my favorite places in the world, and I can’t even do a simple drill with my teammate without worrying that I might get a concussion or injure my body due to a lack of acceptance? While I would never push someone into believing something that is against their personal morals, I do not understand why the sense of fear must instill within our everyday caused by difference. Although I struggled with my sexuality and the comfort of it in the past, I never felt ashamed or fearful that what I was doing was wrong. In Megan’s eyes, my lifestyle, believed to be a choice, is wrong on all accounts.
Fear is the main foundation of difference when it is presented to those who are all alike. But who is it that’s afraid? Even writing this story, I wavered between my words and thoughts and stories because I was afraid that I might make others afraid. Am I going too far? Is this going to be too much? Can THEY handle it?
I believe can handle it because I’m not going to change. If I stayed at Williston for 10-15 more years, the students at Williston would experience a life with me as I settled down with a spouse to begin a family. The experiences and the passion I put into my job at Williston have NOTHING to do with my sexuality. It is only one thing that makes up the person that is Erin Davey.
When it comes to our differences, we allow others to define us solely based on what separates us from the “norm.” Consistently, whether it’s our race, gender, or sexuality, those who are “different” are forced to project it in order to search for acceptance. A white heterosexual male or female does not need to project their lifestyle simply because it is already assumed. I am more often thrown into the “norm” category of “white heterosexual female” than I am white, gay, female. Why? Because it’s so much easier to label each other based on what society believes is normal.
While it is wonderful to be unique, we can’t let that fear of difference stand in our way of acceptance. This is my home and a place I feel safe. So why be afraid? This is who I am and no one on this campus should feel that they are unable to be who they are based on our surroundings.
We’re lucky! Don’t fear difference when it’s staring you in the face. Embrace it and ask questions! The poem finishes by saying, “So maybe the way to make everything right is for god to reach out and turn off the light.”
Although I love Shel, I believe it’s time to keep the light on, recognize and accept our differences, not fear them. Thank you.