See You On the Other Side | Teen Ink

See You On the Other Side

December 8, 2021
By winter275 SILVER, Seoul, Other
winter275 SILVER, Seoul, Other
7 articles 2 photos 0 comments


Suppose that Jake is an arrogant high school junior who plays varsity football and is extremely popular. One night, the ELA fairy sprinkles some golden powder on Jake’s angular face, and he has a dream that puts him in the shoes of a Korean student on his way to school: skinny and near-sighted, yet unbelievably intelligent in the numerical sense. During his in-dream commute, Jake expects to be made fun of for his near-sightedness and slight build as he wonders where the rest of his body went. But halfway through his first class, which Jake tackles with such finesse that he disbelieves his former inadequacy, Jake is beyond surprised, for he finds himself not so much a disgrace as a widely-envied idol, venerated by all and feared by many. Later in the day, he notices a classmate much like his old self getting excluded from a group discussion for his lack of intellect. Jake is shocked. He jolts awake and returns to reality.




What came to mind when you read the word above? Have a think about how it relates to “PART I”. Where do you think your perspective on outsiders came from?


Does pluralizing the word change its meaning or connotation?


Most people know an outsider or two; some are outsiders themselves. But how does society determine whether an individual is an outsider? Many tend to oversimplify the matter and think of people who seem weird or different -- regarding their behavior, preferences, and physical appearance -- as outsiders. However, because no two people are perfectly identical, identity and character fall on a continuous spectrum rather than into clean-cut categories. It is impossible, hence, to classify people as either normal or weird. Yet, people still manage to sieve certain members of the community, placing them into the outsider bracket, and they do so by subconsciously evaluating others with a criteria: a range of socially acceptable characteristics. Anyone who falls within the range is considered normal, and anyone who falls outside the range is considered weird, strange, or different. The outsider’s experience is a universal one, therefore, because those perceived as normal are actually unique individuals who mask their true identities in pursuit of social acceptance, and those who don’t bother are the ones who inevitably stand out.

Humans have an innate need to feel embraced that stems from our evolution. For instance, consider Gregor in The Metamorphosis; he woke up one morning and found himself transfigured into a giant arthropod. To his great dismay, he was treated poorly and unwelcomed by his family. Gregor could have easily left the household to live alone in the wilderness, but he chose to stay despite the mistreatment. It is conveyed by this example that, in beings with sheep mentality, the need for belonging is so strong that one will endure even the harshest of circumstances to escape seclusion. We evolved into a social species because the benefits of living in company (e.g. increased safety, access to mates, and more abundant sustenance), for our biological makeup, far outweigh the benefits of living in solitude. Because the health of a community depends upon the actions of its members at the individual level, it didn’t take long before we developed a built-in mechanism to identify and correct behaviors that jeopardize the majority. Even though this mechanism is not as necessary in today’s advanced civilization as it was long ago, our brains are still equipped with it, and now, it is commonly referred to as bullying.

In a school setting, there are almost always cliques, and children who fail to fit into one, like bullied children, are outsiders. Such individuals are often dismissed as inferior or lacking, but we often overlook that brilliance stems from weirdness in certain cases. Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the most successful inventors of all time and a framer of the United States Constitution, had odd quirks that would have gotten him bullied as a kid. Unfortunately, exceptional children sometimes end up believing that they need to change (because of their natural instinct to fit in) and try to assimilate by concealing their idiosyncrasies and augmenting common traits. Be that as it may, I believe that bullied children tend to have weaker-than-average emotional intelligence, as this is one of the predominant traits that determine popularity. Consequently, such individuals lack social standards know-how, and combined with their likely pessimistic perception of people, they ultimately fail to effectively conform and instead cloak the human traits that they ought to display. 

This phenomenon is not exclusive to bullied children, however, because at the other end of the spectrum, even the most popular children might conceal imperfections and boost their favorable qualities, though for an entirely different reason to their socially-rejected counterparts: to stay at the top of their school’s social hierarchy. Moreover, these children probably have high emotional intelligence which enables them to successfully elevate themselves and eliminate potential competitors. Celebrities function in a similar manner; the entertainment industry uses the media and all sorts of techniques to present its entertainers as flawless and superior to the bourgeois. This larger-than-life appeal not only amuses millions of followers, but it also establishes in the minds of these followers an unrealistic standard for self, distorting the criteria used for evaluating the people around us. Our eradicable need for feeling accepted, fueled by the media and its idols, has created a standard for both the ideal man and the ideal woman in nearly every developed society; and the biggest problem with this standard is that it’s nearly impossible to achieve, if achievable at all.

Some may argue that it is possible to achieve perfection because its existence wholly depends upon consciousness: Perfection exists because there are consciences to believe in it, and it will thus perish the moment everyone dies. While it is true that the concept of perfection exists because there is consciousness, perfection is merely a man-made illusion that does not manifest in the real world. To elaborate, suppose a woman considers a man as perfect. Her perception does not change the man in the slightest; his flaws remain unfixed, and the only things that have altered are the thoughts of the woman. There is a distinct difference between being perceived as perfect and achieving it. The same logic applies to celebrities: Though many consider certain celebrities as perfect, the celebrities’ (off-screen) imperfections live on. Perhaps this is why the public reacts so vigorously to celebrity scandals and paparazzi photos that challenge the idealistic reputations of those household names. 

Withal, social standards vary tremendously across the globe. For example, the beauty standards in South Korea are very different to those in the United States. In Korea, men who have an androgynous look are appealing, whereas in the US, a more rugged look is favorable. The difference in preference between these two peoples is not due to that they are inherently different (Koreans who grow up in the United States have a more American perspective, and vice versa). Furthermore, cultural perceptions change throughout time. For example, Sam Steinberg’s (“an outsider who flitted at the fringes of one of the country’s most elite universities”) artwork was unappreciated while he was alive, but it rose in popularity only after he passed away (Yee). Everyone is a unique individual regardless of origin, and regional tendencies only exist because people are born into civilizations with existing social norms. Babies absorb these norms like sponges and are usually fully cultivated by their eighteenth birthday. They will be considered as insiders in their current places of residence, but perhaps not in others with dissimilar cultures: this is exactly what happened in Jake’s dream. Thus, normal people only seem normal because they learn to fit in, and they are capable of instantly becoming outsiders in societies with different social standards. If everyone were to grow up in solitude, then our innate differences would reveal themselves in full effect. 

One might argue, however, that insiders are not outsiders until they are rejected, even if they are bound to be outsiders in foreign lands. This argument is comparable to saying that an apple is not food until it is eaten. When one moves to another region, and the social standards are vastly different there, it doesn’t change the fact that the people there are as diverse as the people from the previous region. By nature, we are all outsiders kept together by social conventions and compromises. So even if an individual was considered an insider back at home, he/she was not really an insider, but rather an outsider who successfully showed and concealed the right things in order to fit in.

Nowadays, people rarely contemplate why we feel the way we feel, and behave the way we do. Yet once the topic is explored, it becomes evident that much of how we function roots back to our prehistoric ancestors. They started off as a populace of solitary inhabitants, but over time, evolution glued them together, forming the basis for modern civilization. Even after all these centuries, the way our minds work remains fundamentally unchanged. We have an instinctive need to belong, and in the pursuit of social acceptance, most of us mask our true identities, while those who don’t inevitably stand out. This begs the question: Will our minds ever change? Maybe if given enough time, evolution will do its work like it always does, assuming the human race survives long enough. Or will natural selection fail to keep up with our technological progress? Perhaps we’ll never know.


Works Cited

“Isn’t Everyone a Little Bit Weird?”. myPerspectives English Language Arts Grade 10 Volume 1. Savvas, 2017. p. 130.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. myPerspectives English Language Arts Grade 10 Volume 1. Savvas, 2017. p. 137.

Yee, Vivian. “Outsider’s Art Is Saluted at Columbia, Then Lost Anew”. The New York Times, 2015, Accessed on 7 December 2021.

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