Not Like Us

The edit for Rumi’s Field has been intense this week, and has felt more important to pursue than other things. That said, there are lots of “other things” going on, ideas and feelings bouncing around inside of me to explore, and I don’t want to lose my habit of writing almost daily.

I read an interesting interview with John Elder Robison the other day, in which he discusses his new book, Switched On. John Elder feels like an old friend at this point, since his book on his Asperger’s experience, Look Me In The Eye, was one of the first I read on the matter. And, as a longtime fan of his brother Augusten Burrough’s memoirs, I feel like I’ve known John Elder longer than that.

The interview covers much interesting ground regarding the new book, and John Elder’s experience in a research study that might be used to “treat” some of the aspects of autism. I’m reading the book now, and will report more fully later. What catches my eye right now is this comment made on the article.

Years ago a professor from De Paul U., Chicago, said in a rehab admin class I was taking, “The only effective response to Not Like Us is when every Outlier has learned to be their own ambassador. And even that will be only partially effective against prejudice and discounting, because Not Like Us is a primal response that every human must consciously learn to control.”

There’s something about that phrase “Not Like Us” that really goes inside of me. Partly just from learning that it’s a “real thing,” a concept, a phrase, one that’s in use by others as they look at the world, and not a mere figment of my wounded ego. Partly because of my own outlier experience, the manner in which Not Like Us operates in my family of origin, and my own attempts to be my own ambassador. And partly because I find myself feeling quite disturbed when I look at the current cultural and political “wars” going on here in this country, at the racism, the classism, the groupism, the scapegoating, the blaming. It really does feel like a primal response that has flown wildly out of control, which helps to shed light, perhaps, on the iconic One of Us scene from Freaks.

It feels like a bad time to be Not Like Us.

photo credit: fREAK-fEST via photopin (license)

1 Comment for “Not Like Us”

Sally Erickson


What a helpful concept and idea: That from our tribal beginnings we had natural “not like us” instincts. “Not Like Us” so: be careful, check it out, take your time, friend or foe?, tasty or poison?, draw a line, hold a boundary, keep them over there, but close enough that my daughter might sneak over and find a better suited mate!

But with a world going insane with resource consumption and resource depletion everything feels scarce. So “Not Like Us” has become “Kill it” or “Jail it” or “Expoit it” or “Steal from it”. War, basically. Not boundaries, but annihilation. And yet “Not Like Us” actually has all the potential to add variety to the gene pool, creative ideas to the dialogue, resilience and richness to the world through cooperation and appreciation of differences. On a personal level I’m really glad I found someone “Not Like Me” because my life is so much more interesting.

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