Learning how not to care what others think

Let me tell you a story.

It begins with a young boy who, upon moving to a new school, wanted to reinvent who he was in order to better fit in with the “cool kids.” This boy changed schools when he was in eighth grade, and while the idea of having to make all new friends was scary, the chance to change his reputation was exciting. At his old school, this boy was known as the weird kid, the one who liked Sonic the Hedgehog a bit too much, who was a teacher’s pet, and who was sheltered in the ways of the “real world.”

He wanted to distance himself from these ideas.

Upon moving to the new school, he did his best to portray himself differently. He tried to hide what he considered his less savory qualities, and behave he thought the “cool kids” behaved. At first, the students of the new school were fascinated by him, as they would be for any new face. What was he like? What does he do? Does he smell? What was his old school like? And so on.

But, in his attempts to keep what he considered his less cool qualities held back, he came off as bland and uninteresting. Not a real person. That, combined with the fact that he had to make a conscious effort to keep his nerdy tendencies out of the spotlight turned this into an exhausting exercise that didn’t really work. For anyone.

However, he clung to the idea that he was still new and of course he wouldn’t have a lot of friends. After all, he had only been at the school a few months. Making friends is challenging and he couldn’t expect to be the life of the party overnight. Cliques had years to form, and jumping right in was all but impossible. These ideas proved to be a comfort when loneliness struck, and allowed him to continue to hide who he was.

Then something happened.

He discovered FullMetal Alchemist.

According to the summaries he read online, FullMetal Alchemist was about two brothers who attempt to revive their dead mother through the art of alchemy. Unfortunately, this process fails, and the brothers pay a high price. The series is about the brothers’ adventures as they travel the world, attempting to fix themselves with the help of the Philosopher’s Stone.

It was a new world to the boy—it was something he hadn’t seen before.

The boy’s experience with anime up until that point had been exclusive to Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, which were popular for some time before drifting out of public eye. The boy, in his love for video games, had found some anime-styled games appealing, and one of his favorite games at the time, Skies of Arcadia, was in that style. But in his high school, watching anime was social suicide, watched only by those who dressed funny and were seen as socially awkward. No matter how appealing the anime seemed, the boy resisted it, thinking it was a path he didn’t want to travel down, and would only make it harder to make friends.

In high school, such dramatic thoughts are common.

But one day, the boy was sitting in his favorite reading chair at home, a book held in his hands. He wasn’t reading it, however, his eyes were unfocused and his mind was elsewhere. He was having an epiphany.

He realized something simple, but painfully hard to wrap his brain around. He realized that he wanted to watch FullMetal Alchemist. He wanted to experience the story and see what happened. He wanted to know more. And, if he lost some friends because of it, then they weren’t really his friends at all, were they? He didn’t hate anyone because of the movies they watch or the books they read. Why should he let others get away with that behavior? Why shouldn’t he expect the same kind of respect from others?

The boy watched FullMetal Alchemist, and was hooked from the first episode. He has since watched the whole anime, owns a complete set of the manga (Japanese comic books), has plushies based on the characters, and much more.

And, surprisingly, he didn’t lose any friends because of it. No one immediately hated him or treated him differently just because he watched the show, or carried the manga around to read in school. But, he found people who shared the same interest as he did, and formed lasting friendships because of it.

He got a favorite show, some good friends, and was happier with who he was.

This boy now watches whatever anime he wants, reads whatever manga or books he wants, and plays whatever games he likes. He’s much happier now, has more friends, and no longer tries to hide his interests.

Even if it’s social suicide. Being a cool kid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.

Have you ever experienced an epiphany like this?

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