The word “alternative” as in “alternative lifestyle” is defined as “relating to behavior that is considered unconventional and is often seen as a challenge to traditional norms.” A synonym for this concept is “avant-garde” which is derived from the French “vanguard” and means “a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas" and “the foremost part of an advancing army or naval force". The people in the front of an advancing army and those who challenge traditional norms have something in common.
When you stick out, literally or figuratively, you get attacked, hit hard. A world of hurt is just waiting for anyone or anything that dares to be different, in this world. It’s like a sandstorm, particles large and small scrape by, unceasingly, and wear on anything that sticks out. And if a piece gets scraped off, it is in danger of joining the maelstrom and being yet another thing that tries to rasp away at that which does not conform.
It can really, really suck to be that which does not conform. Whether the person tries to shrink, hide, or change to be like convention, or whether they make a stand in defense of their uniqueness, there is pain. Humanity is wired to notice and often to be afraid of that which is different. It is seen as a challenge, as a threat. This is unfortunate, but a reality.
Those of us born neurodiverse seem to be inherently alternative. We do not fit any measure or mold that the majority of the world recognizes. There is very little about us that is usual, ordinary, or conventional. This means we are in some ways forced to confront that choice. We can either attempt to conform, or we can celebrate our unique qualities. Both of these options have a price and take work.
This choice isn’t one that can really be made once and finished. It is one that we make every day, every hour, every minute, with every word we speak, decision we make, and thought or emotion we allow to take root in ourselves. There is also nothing that will really allow anyone to choose one way or the other completely. Living in connection with a society or culture means that we as human beings are impacted by that connection. That is simply how it works. No person, as far as I know, is a complete island, unaffected by that which they touch.
While the drawbacks and harm caused by being a square peg assaulted nonstop by round holes are well known and understood, there is good that can come from it, as well. Even aside from the concept of being at peace with who I am as a person and making choices that support rather than suppress that, consider that word, vanguard. It is a concept of being in front, leading, moving forward. Ideas that were once radical, and incurred much wrath upon the vanguard individuals who championed them, are now commonplace. It is sometimes easy to forget that progress which is currently being enjoyed at large and without comment once was considered heretical and treasonous, and was the cause of suffering, in the past.
The first definition of the word “alternative” is “(of one or more things) available as another possibility.” Any person who chooses, and chooses again, and again to live their life in an unorthodox manner may be leading a vanguard of change that will one day benefit many more people than themselves. By making that choice, to be true to their authentic selves, and allow that to be seen by others, that person is showing all of us that conformity is not the default because it is of greatest benefit to everyone. They are showing us that the freedom to choose is the important part. If someone considers this essential question and comes to the conclusion that convention serves them best, that is also excellent. It is that choice, considering all the alternatives, that will lead each individual to the best outcome.
It is one of the scariest things possible to stick out. And one of the bravest.