“And here comes the snow… A language in which no word is ever repeated.”
Last week the sky was filled with falling snow. It was the most snow I’d seen in a while. Watching all of those snowflakes fall down, I was reminded of a book called Snowflakes that I once picked up in the bookshop years and years ago. I remember picking up the book and flipping through it, utterly fascinated by the images of snowflakes, each unique and each so magically beautiful. I can remember thinking, “Wow. This really is amazing.”
We are all pretty familiar with the idea that all snowflakes are unique, but seeing them in all of their unique glory really hit home for me. (Check out Snowflakes on Amazon and “Click to Look Inside” to see some of the images from the book.) I’ve always known snowflakes were unique, but seeing them really makes it more real.
And, of course, it brings me back to that analogy between snowflakes and people that implies that we, like those little flakes of snow, are all unique. While there are so many similarities between us as people (which can be a great thing!), we really are all so unique and, when you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. There are so many people, yet we are all uniquely who we are. It’s so cool to think about it that way, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. How can we be unique and still keep our connection to others? How can we, like snowflakes, come together to make the world more beautiful? When you think about how rarely we really see an individual snowflake, how we see them falling from the sky in clumps, clinging to each other, we really can see how much we are like them. We are unique, but we want to be together. We need to be together.
This is a concept I’ve often struggled with. For the most part, I’ve had the desire to be different. I’ve always wanted to be unlike anyone else. To be compared to someone else has always been irritating to me. Even when it’s been complimentary, I always think to myself, “I’m nothing like that person. I’m me.”
I wanted to be a snowflake.
I wanted to be so unlike anyone else. Just like a snowflake, I wanted to be something that could be examined very closely without it being at all difficult to tell how I was different from all of the others.
It’s so easy to place ourselves and others in boxes. It’s so easy to define each other by appearances or skills or qualities. We want that, I think, because it makes us feel like we’ve got people figured out. It’s always so much easier when we can describe someone simply. Think about how much easier it is when you can say to someone, “Oh, she’s really nice. You’re going to like her,” rather than those times you have to say, “Well, she’s nice, but… She can have a bad attitude sometimes. But usually she’s nice. Most of the time. Don’t worry, you’ll like her.” When people are easy to figure out – when we can put them neatly into a category like “nice,” we like that. We want to be able to simplify things, and I get that. It makes things a lot easier, and who doesn’t love easy?
Unfortunately for us, when we get down to the heart of it, we can’t really put people as neatly into boxes as we’d like to. People are more complex than that. People are more unique than that. Even the nicest person in the world can be mean. Even the most horrible person can be sweet. Every person, every situation, is unique — and instead of trying put people into categories, we should embrace them for who they are.
Just like when I was flipping through the book filled with page after page of unique snowflake images, it can be overwhelming to see everything as separate and independent and so, so different. We want things to be in categories so we can understand them. We like to be able understand things and sometimes we come across things or people that just don’t fit into categories. When this happens, we can feel overwhelmed. But what if we stopped having categories? What if we realised that we could all be uniquely who we are all the time and that we didn’t have to fit into anyone’s categories (even our own)? What would that be like? Scary, yes. Overwhelming, yes. But also liberating.
What would it be like if we came across people the way we might an exotic animal? What if we assumed nothing and waited to learn about them, waited to hear what they had to say about the world instead of making assumptions based on their appearance or our preconceived notions of what a human of their age/type/race/gender/ethnicity/religion/etc. should be like?
What if we started out with every new person we met as a completely clean slate? What if we truly saw everyone for the unique person that he or she is? If we stopped comparing and contrasting and realised that, no matter how hard we tried to categorise someone, he or she would only fully fit into one box — his or her own — the world would be a lot better. We wouldn’t be assuming people should act or be a certain way. We wouldn’t be judging others with the harshness that can sometimes jump so readily ahead of even our most kind thoughts.