The Secret Power of Not Belonging

Woman walking alone on a misty beach
Woman walking alone on a misty beach

I have often lived at opposite ends of the scale, which is rare for most people to experience. It seems unique to experience both ends of the spectrum. When you think about being born Muslim and being raised Catholic, it is intriguing. I would like to ask questions to a person in that situation. The funny thing is, when I bring this up during a dinner party -- especially when there are people of different religions around my table -- there usually is a minute of total silence...

I went from being in an orphanage to suddenly living with a family in a diverse environment with certain privileges, including a good education that would grant me benefits. On the opposite end of the scale is the yearning for your lost culture and your people on one side, along with the knowledge that the new life offered may be better than what you have left on the other.

Having one foot in the West and one foot in the East meant that I was constantly defending myself. When I was in the Netherlands, I was bullied and called ugly names for having a specific skin color. Later, when I was with Indians or Asians, they were not always very kind either. They did not accept me as I was. They did not understand my lack of knowledge of my origins and called me "a fake." Which I suppose is very true! Sad, but very true in their eyes and even in mine. They have no idea how I long to know more, but I have no idea where to start or who to ask. After all, it is our parents who teach us such things. Pieces of culture are passed on from generation to generation: family recipes, family sayings, family jokes.

But I have finally embraced this end of the scale as well. It was about time, as I realize I can fit not just in those two cultures, but in many more. I learned to fit in the worlds of India and Pakistan, as well as North America and Europe. And that gave me an extra edge. Because I have an openness that most do not have, I can be more accepting of other cultures and minorities. I can relate to them in such a way that they will let me into their inner circle. Whether they are Japanese or French, they welcome me in, as they know I accept them as they are.

Being able to seamlessly glide in and out of different environments and cultures has become a true gift for me. It opens up my world and I get to see that we all experience the same pain, the same sadness, the same joys, and the same concerns

If it had not been for these adversities I had to go through, I would not be able to truly embrace my own diversity today.

Do you know what diversity means in your life? For me, it is the acceptance of the true definition of uniqueness, of anything that does not fit in your comfort zone. It is too easy to accept only the people who fit in your little world, but if you step out and you accept the uniqueness of a complete stranger in every sense of the word, someone with another background, language, and culture, you are truly accepting their uniqueness.

Adapted from With All My Might by Gabriella van Rij. (Vancouver: We Open Doors, 2011.)