The Many Perspectives of the Outsider
I am very aware that there is some ambiguity in the title of this post. There is something about both looking inwards and outwards. For me this continues to be an exciting journey of discovery where I need regularly to check my assumptions; for example:
- a colleague and friend is deeply involved in researching cultural differences. One aspect has been exploring the experiences of some Japanese women living in the UK. One of the comments was, ‘ I felt different from the rest of the group, not because I was Japanese, but because I was the only one who was not a mother’. This reminded me that what I might regard as obvious to the observer (?) might be very different from the actual experience of those directly involved
- apparently small acts can have a major significance. In the early days of meeting a Russian woman who was working in a coffee shop in Bloomsbury, she told me that she was job hunting. I pulled together some material I happened to have about interview technique and gave it to her when I next visited. The fact of my simply giving her the material was of much more significance than the content, she later explained. In an ‘ alien world’ small acts of kindness, perhaps particularly from one of the aliens can have great symbolic value. Perhaps especially where many of the previous experiences had been indifference or hostility
- there is something about the advantages that can flow from being an outsider, for example in seeing how suffering from impostor syndrome can provide invaluable perspectives (see my post about Imposter Syndrome)
- the fact that sometimes one can feel a stranger to oneself. For example, being taken aback by a colleague who says, ‘ You really can now do this on your own; you are no longer a novice !’ She was right!
Also, on this last point I am reminded of many forms of neurosis which can involve a sense of separation from self. For example Alexander Lowen writes of the narcissist as being somebody who is fearful of her/ his vulnerability and therefore seeks to show to the world an image of power and control.
Perhaps a key, and indeed topical theme is that of transition:
- obviously there is literally the fact of going to a strange or different place; even when having physically arrived, one can still feel ‘ not yet present’
- also one can be in transition in terms of aspirations; one has outgrown one’s current role……or the organisational culture has changed and one is no longer comfortable, ‘ at home’ with it
- perhaps one is transition in terms of identity; as a result of many small or dramatic changes or a sudden shock one no longer knows who one is. I am reminded of a friend who went back to her roots in a former French colony and felt awkward and intrigued by the merging of the intimate and the foreign both within her and between herself and her family
Clearly those themes of transition can overlap and reinforce and indeed clarify each other.
Perhaps, almost by definition being an outsider involves being both a part of and apart from; being on a journey in one’s head, heart and spirit.