I was bulled in high school. This is only relevant because of what it taught me later in life. The kids who bullied me were assholes at the time, and I hope that they’ve grown into happier, kinder people since. (Though I wouldn’t be sad if they stubbed their collective toes every time somebody reads this post.)
As a victim of bullying, I became defensive about the things I liked. Anything I exposed about myself became something someone could use to hurt me. It meant that I hid my enthusiasm and assumed that I’d be judged harshly for it. I developed a layer of pretentiousness as a defense mechanism, and I carried it into college, where I decided I would become a philosopher.
Then I met John.
John and I took Applied Philosophy together, though we were not friends at the time. During one class, our professor asked us whether we would rather live in a world where everyone meant to do us well, but with negative outcomes, or in a world where everyone meant to do us harm, but with positive outcomes. I don’t remember my answer, but I remember John’s quite well. He replied that he’d happily live in the latter of the two worlds and added, “I could live in Castle Greyskull.”
I probably sneered at him as I retorted: “John, there are no superheroes in philosophy.” (What a jerk, right?)
At the time, I didn’t take John seriously. While it was obvious that he was very intelligent, I didn’t understand him at all. He seemed entirely comfortable being exactly himself. He loved professional wrestling, and Anime, and had a big laugh. John radiated happiness, and self-acceptance. John carried himself in such a way as to be completely devoid of shame, and twenty-something philosophy major me just couldn’t get it.
During lunches and dinners, as I passed by the table where John sat with his friends, he would heckle me. “What about Wolverine, Nick? Is there a Wolverine in philosophy? What about Godzilla?” (Damn right there’s a Godzilla in philosophy.) It didn’t take long for me to relent my pretentious position, and John and I became fast friends.
I like telling this story about John because, for all the reasons that I love him, one of the biggest is how fully and completely John accepts himself and loves himself. He embraces joy openly, loves people for who they are, and is as generous and as friendly a human being as you could ever hope to meet. People talk about the difference between biological family and chosen family, and I definitely claim John as my brother. I love him about as much as I love anyone. He has inspired me to become a better version of myself. It’s a hell of a gift.